stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
Ontario city's election an experiment in democratic reform
space
London is the first Canadian city in recent history to elect representatives using ranked ballots
space
By ADAM RADWANSKI
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, October 20, 2018 – Page A8

LONDON, ONT. -- In a matter of days, Canada's boldest experiment in democratic reform will produce its first set of results.

Those who advocated for the historic move away from firstpast-the-post voting hope it won't also be its last.

On Monday, London, Ont., will be the first Canadian city in recent history to elect representatives using ranked ballots, in which voters mark their top three choices rather than just one, allowing an instant runoff in which losing candidates are eliminated and votes redistributed until someone has a majority. And once it's over, the spin battle will begin - about whether that system deserves to be adopted elsewhere, or whether it's enough of a bust that it shouldn't even be used again in London.

There have already been enough warning signs leading up to election day, particularly around voter confusion and apathy, for those who opposed the change to begin warming up their told-you-sos.

Supporters argue that it was always going to take a while for politicians and voters alike to get the hang of the new system - and that if you look closely, there are enough positive signs in this campaign to point to its potential to make politics more engaging, collaborative and civil.

In retrospect, the enthusiastic manner in which London moved to adopt ranked ballots in time for this year's election left little leeway to manage expectations.

"I never in a million years thought we would get as far as we got," says Josh Morgan, a firstterm city councillor who promised while campaigning for his seat in 2014 that he would push for the adoption of ranked ballots. Back then, municipalities still didn't have the authority to make such a change, under provincial law.

Then-premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government made good on its promise to open the door at a moment when London was uniquely inclined to leap through it. After years of scandal that saw former mayor Joe Fontana convicted on criminal charges, a wave of change in 2014 meant 11 of 14 city councillors were rookies, and observers say they were looking for opportunities to show they were cutting-edge. So while two other Ontario cities (Kingston and Cambridge) opted for referendums on whether to adopt ranked ballots to be held during Monday's provincewide municipal elections, London skipped that step.

Hopes for what the system would achieve varied. Mr. Morgan says his primary incentive was that "more information from voters can only be a good thing." For one of his colleagues, Tanya Park - now running for mayor - it was about requiring candidates to seek majority support, which might improve civility. For another, Jesse Helmer, it was reducing advantages of incumbency and encouraging more people to run, including women and people of colour, which also drove some civic activists to push for it.

In May of 2017 ranked ballots were approved by a 10 to 4 vote.

But the change appeared to go unnoticed by many Londoners, and there were warnings from bureaucrats about the practicality of rapid implementation.

London city clerk Cathy Saunders now says logistical worries, mostly around vote-counting, have been resolved. But she is less confident about voter education, even after many public demonstrations about how ranked ballots work.

"I have no concerns with the count," Ms. Saunders says. "I have concerns with members of the public being confused about how to mark their ballot."

Accounts from candidates and campaign workers speaking with Londoners this fall suggest such uncertainty abounds, especially among older voters. One common misconception is that if they mark only one candidate, their ballot will be spoiled. Another is that ranked choices will be tallied in a points system, which leaves some voters incorrectly thinking that by marking the same person three times they will give that candidate additional support.

Adding to the confusion is that while ranked ballots are being used for mayoral and council elections, it's still first-past-thepost for school trustees.

Ms. Saunders says there will be extra staff at the polls to offer explanations, but that may not be easing anxiety that could prompt some voters to stay home.

"People do not want to feel stupid when they go to a voting station," says Paul Paolatto, a rightleaning entrepreneur and civic leader campaigning for the mayoralty. "And my concern right now is this program makes people feel stupid."

An additional source of irritation could come after voting ends. Although tabulated all at once electronically, results will be released in rounds, to make transparent how races play out as each losing candidate is eliminated. But only the first-round results will be released on Monday evening (a decision Ms. Saunders attributes to not wanting to force staff to work all night), meaning that if no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of first-choice votes, Londoners will have to wait until Tuesday.

In the more crowded contests - including a 14-candidate mayoral election considered to have four leading contenders, with Ms.

Park on the left and Mr. Paolatto, former Conservative MP Ed Holder and populist businessman Paul Cheng to her right - that could make for a very drawn-out process for voters accustomed to quickly knowing who won.

For proponents, the challenge is to point to less visceral signs of progress.

The most visible of those are in how candidates interact with each other, in the form of launching fewer attacks against opponents from whose supporters they might draw second-choice votes, and actively trying to find common ground.

The mayoral race offers evidence of both - notably in the treatment of Ms. Park. While Mr.

Cheng has shown little inclination to build bridges, the other two right-of-centre candidates seem to be going out of their way to say nice things about her. And Mr. Holder and Mr. Paolatto have been highlighting socially liberal or moderate positions - including Mr. Holder supporting supervised injection sites for drug users - that could endear them to Ms. Park's downtown support base.

"I do believe that people have to find some issues where there's crossover or broader appeal," concedes Mr. Paolatto, generally not a ranked-ballot fan, "and that's been helpful."

Another encouraging change in behaviour is happening more at the ground level.

As with most canvassing politicians, businessman John FyfeMillar didn't waste his time approaching houses with rivals' signs on the lawn when he campaigned for a downtown council seat in 2014. But this time, he says, he's knocking on every door. Unprompted, several other 2018 candidates mentioned the same thing - the point being that there might be second- or thirdchoice votes to be had.

"You get to interact with every voter," says Arielle Kayabaga, a first-time candidate competing against Mr. Fyfe-Millar, "and you don't feel the intimidation of them having already made their decision."

Ms. Kayabaga, who appears to be alongside Mr. Fyfe-Millar at the front of her ward's seven-candidate field, embodies the sort of candidate ranked-ballot advocates were hoping it would help attract.

Long active civically but not widely known before entering the race, the 27-year-old could become the first black woman elected to London's council. The new system helped persuade her to run, she says, because it would give her a fairer shot.

Ms. Kayabaga is a bit of an outlier in this election, which didn't draw a great influx of candidates from outside the political establishment. But the idea is that similar considerations will make candidate fields in future elections more gender-balanced and diverse. And that fits into the proreform side's favourite message at the moment: Be patient.

The advice they say they've received from cities elsewhere that have implemented ranked ballots - such as Minneapolis, Minn. - is that it will take at least a couple of cycles to get their measure.

By next time, maybe candidates will have learned from the 2018 results, and adjusted strategies in ways that produce the sought-after civility and consensus-building. And voters will know better what to expect.

Besides, they point out, there are many variables in any campaign. In this one, voters might have been grumpy regardless, after excitement over the mayor they elected in 2014 on a modernization agenda turned into disappointment when he wound up in a sex scandal and then decided not to seek a second term. So if turnout is low, it will be hard to tell how much that reflects on ranked ballots.

But those excited just 17 months ago about London leading the way know the potential consequence, if there's the appearance of a setback for democratic participation.

If not a return to first-past-thepost, it could at least add up to fresh ammunition for skeptics who argue that despite electoral reform's appeal to political wonks, most voters lack much appetite for shifting from firstpast-the-post.

Anne-Marie Sanchez, who heads the local group Women & Politics, says readying "countermessages" to complaints in the election's immediate aftermath is something her civic-activist community has lately been strategizing about.

"This can't just be an experiment for one election only," Ms. Sanchez argues. Jumping to conclusions too quickly, she says, "would be a waste of everything" - all the resources and good faith expended so far, and all the opportunity to see if London can point all of Canada toward better politics.

Associated Graphic

Arielle Kayabaga, a first-time candidate running for London City Council, speaks with prospective voters as she campaigns in London, Ont., on Sunday.

GEOFF ROBINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Stephen_Brunt Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page