Municipal elections have perhaps never had as much attention as they have in Ontario over the past few months, thanks to Doug Ford’s draconian and anti-democratic disempowering of Toronto’s city council by reducing its size from 47 to 25 councillors.
One of the questions, with just a few days until municipalities across the province elect councillors, mayors, reeves and school board trustees, is whether that attention will result in a greater voter turnout than in the past.
Voter turnout in the 2014 municipal election was 43% (turnout in the provincial election that saddled us with Ford’s Conservatives as 58%), which is disturbingly low.
While no doubt some voters will be more aware of municipal election issues and, as a result, more inclined to vote this year, there are others whose cynicism will keep them home on election day.
Municipal elections don’t carry with them the glamour of provincial or federal elections. With some exceptions in large cities, candidates run as individuals and not as representatives of political parties. Candidates often run because they have a pet issue, one that may or may not be of interest to the electorate. (Let’s be honest, some of the candidates in municipal elections are downright wacky, just looking for their moment in the spotlight, however faint and brief that may be.)
Candidates spend less money and don’t generally produce glossy, professional looking materials. All-candidates meetings often bring together all candidates for all positions in the entire municipality, making it difficult to find out much about the candidates running in any one district.
But municipal politics matter. Councillors make decisions about local infrastructure, community policing, services such as transit and libraries and property taxes. School board trustees, whose powers were significantly eroded by Mike Harris’s government in the 1990s, nonetheless have an important role to play in the delivery of elementary and secondary education across the province.
In particular this year, some school boards have spoken out against the repeal of the 2015 sex education curriculum by Doug Ford’s government. It is important to ensure incoming trustees are equally vocal in supporting teachers who use the banned curriculum.
This year, one municipality – London — is using a ranked ballot for the first time. Two others – Kingston and Cambridge — are holding a referendum on ranked ballot voting.
Under the present system – first past the post – each voter ticks one candidate for each position (mayor/reeve, councillor, school board trustee) and whichever candidate gets more votes than the others is the winner, even if that candidate has not received the majority of the votes.
With the ranked ballot system, each voter selects their first, second and third choice from the candidates for each position. If one candidate gets 50% plus 1 of the votes, then they are the winner, as they would be now.
However, if the candidate with the most votes does not get 50% plus 1 of the total votes cast, the candidate with the lowest percentage of votes is eliminated and their second choice votes are assigned to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate emerges with at least 50% plus 1 of the votes.
This is a bit tricky to explain in words, so I suggest you take a look at the video produced to help Kingston voters understand how ranked balloting works.
It is a voting system that increases democracy and ensures that those elected more accurately reflect those we voted for.
Get out and vote
Many of us are feeling pretty jaded and powerless about electoral politics after a few months of Doug Ford’s reign in Ontario and as we begin to hear about the plans of Quebec’s newly elected government. One advantage of municipal politics is how very local it is: you may well run into candidates/municipal politicians at the grocery store, library or dump. My son recently ran into one of Kingston’s mayoral candidates when they were both at the dentist. While the powers of municipal politicians may not be as grand as those of provincial and federal politicians, they live where they govern and they are answerable only to us.
You can find out if you are registered to vote by checking online.
If you are already on the voters’ list, you should have received a mailing that contains all the information you need to vote in your municipality. If not, you can find everything you need to know on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website, which contains a voters’ guide for the 2018 municipal elections.
Get informed and, on October 22, vote.