City Hall (Photo)

London's City Hall, Sept. 20, 2018.

Since being elected in 2018, Doug Ford’s Conservative government has had its fair share of impassioned public outcry over its decisions, but his mandate that all municipalities must drop ranked ballots got little more than a whisper. 

In October 2018, London became the first city in Canada to use a ranked ballot voting system in its municipal election. In November 2020, the Ford government passed Bill 218, restricting municipal elections to a first-past-the-post system — the voting system that most are familiar with. 

FPTP is used federally, provincially and municipally across most of the country. Under FPTP, voters cast a ballot for one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. 

There are multiple variations of ranked balloting, but London’s 2018 election used a system called the instant runoff voting method. Western University’s University Students’ Council uses the same system in their presidential election.   

London’s IRV system in 2018 asked voters to rank their top three candidates. At first, only voters' top preference were taken into consideration. If no candidate received a majority of votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes was eliminated and the votes they received were redistributed to each voter’s second choice. This process repeated until a winning candidate was determined.

Ranked ballots help to address common criticisms of the first-past-the-post system. Under the FPTP system, voters sometimes are forced to choose the “lesser of two evils” instead of voting for the candidate who they feel most strongly aligns with their values. 

This is called “strategic voting” — voting for a less-preferred candidate over a more-preferred one, because the voter believes that the less-preferred candidate is more likely to win against a third candidate who aligns even less with the voter’s personal values. 

Ranked ballots don’t force voters to make this choice.

It’s easy to look at the benefits of keeping the ranked ballot system in purely economic terms. London will spend an estimated $51,000 simply to return to first-past-the-post for the upcoming election — an entirely preventable expense.

There is also something to be said about the societal implications of the Ford government’s decision. 

Cities, by virtue of their smaller size, should be hotbeds for good ideas at a local level. Other Ontario cities, like Kingston, Toronto and Cambridge already wanted to imitate London and implement ranked ballots in an upcoming election — now they can’t.  

A city can be a microcosm of its province and country, and a testing ground for good ideas that can scale up to change the world. The Ford government’s passing of Bill 218 doesn’t give cities this chance, and in doing so, does a disservice to not only London, but Ontario and Canada as a whole. 

The Ford government has offered little explanation for their move to axe municipal choice to use alternative voting methods. One explanation from government sources is that the ranked ballot system is too expensive for municipalities — even though no municipality has been forced into the system, and instead is able to choose the system that works best for them, and that many of the higher costs associated with London’s 2018 were one-time costs used to make the switch. 

Ford also called the ranked ballot system “confusing” — despite the fact that he was elected to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party using precisely such a method — and said that FPTP is the method that has been used since Confederation in 1867 — an argument that provides absolutely no evidence for the benefit of a FPTP system.

However, just weeks after the Ford government made the decision to remove municipalities’ ability to use ranked ballots, ​​a report from Western’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance indicated that London’s move was a “success” — with high public interest and an efficient organizational system. 

At the same time, candidates from groups historically underrepresented on city council — like Arielle Kayabaga, the city’s first Black female councillor — reported feeling empowered to run in the election due to the ranked ballot system. For a city council with only four women on a council of 15, and only two people of colour in a city where nearly 20 per cent of residents identify as a visible minority — this points to yet another advantage of the ranked ballot system. 

It’s clear that local choice is beneficial and can lead to positive outcomes. But it appears the government has no plans to reverse course and allow municipalities to exercise their freedom to elect their representatives in the way that works best for them. 

The Ford government should reverse course and allow municipal governments to run elections as they choose — and we as students should absolutely pressure them to do this. We need to advocate for local choice, whether that’s through protests, contacting our Members of Provincial Parliament, or supporting local and provincial politicians or organizations — like Fair Vote Canada —pushing for ranked ballots in cities and across the province. 

Every other major political party in Ontario — the Liberal Party of Ontario, the New Democratic Party of Ontario, and the Green Party of Ontario — has publicly stated that they will repeal Bill 218 if elected to form a government. 

In 2026, when it comes time for the next provincial election, if the government hasn’t reversed course, it’s time for us to consider this issue very seriously when we vote. Our democracy is at stake.

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