Ontario municipalities will have the option of using a radically different system to elect mayors and councillors in 2018, but ranked ballot voting will not be offered to school boards yet.
Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin on Thursday kicked off voting reform public consultations but vowed ranked ballots — with residents ranking their choices, rather than opting for one candidate — will be made available to municipality that wants to use it.
McMeekin said he hopes that, after the province passes enabling legislation, municipalities consider using the system which he predicted will inject more diversity into local councils and make campaigns more civil, because candidates will not want to alienate their rivals’ supporters.
Toronto looks on track to embrace the system, which could radically change both the campaign itself and the results. City council endorsed it during the previous term and, shortly after McMeekin’s morning announcement, Mayor John Tory (open John Tory's policard) confirmed his support for the change.
Under the current “first-past-the-post” system, whoever gets the most votes wins. In Toronto races with multiple competitive candidates, councillors take office with as little as 17 per cent support. Many are elected with fewer than half the votes.
With ranked ballots, voters select candidates in order of preference.
If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, the one with lowest support is knocked out of the race and their second-place votes redistributed. The runoff continues until there is a winner with majority support.
McMeekin said that, for now, the option will not be extended to school board elections because of some logistical hurdles.
That means if, Toronto council adopts the system, voters could face a ballot with both systems — ranked choices for councillors and a single choice for school trustees.
McMeekin said the wider municipal electoral reform will include municipal finance rules, third party advertising and how election rules are enforced.
Michael Urban of Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto said in an interview that he optimistic the public feedback will be positive.
Once approved, he said, the biggest challenge is for Toronto officials to execute the election well so the public does not sour on the system.
The public consultation ends July 27.