Should Mississauga use a new system to elect mayor and councillors?


Published February 8, 2020 at 4:41 am


A recent report at Mississauga’s governance committee in late January looked into the prospect of using ‘ranked choice voting’ (RCV) as a means of electing local politicians in future municipal elections.

Instead of the traditional first past the post method where voters choose one candidate for mayor and councillor on the ballot, RCV allows voters to rank their preferred candidates from a voter’s first preferred choice, then their second, then their third preference..and so on.

If a candidate does not emerge from the first voting round with more than 50 per cent, the second preferred choices of the other candidates get redistributed to their other choices. The process ends when a candidate emerges with 50 per cent or more of the vote, as is explained in this video from the City of London:

Some of the benefits of RCV include increased voter turnout, providing more choices for voters, eliminating ‘vote-splitting’ and reducing strategic voting. 

In the last municipal election, only the City of London adopted this method of voting, which was legislated into law by the previous Liberal government but municipalities were given the choice whether to use RCV or not. Mississauga examined London’s use of RCV in their report during the governance committee. 

However, the conclusion reached in the city staff report focused mainly on whether RCV increased voter turnout.

“The use of RCV did not change the outcome of the election; the winning candidate in all 15 races in the City of London would have been the same winning candidate had the first past the post system of voting been used.”Looking at the mayoral and individual council races, for all of those that did not result in a 50 per cent plus one result on the first round, the leading candidate from the first ballot remained in the lead until that person hit the threshold. 

City staff’s recommendation was to not adopt the RCV method of voting, instead suggesting  the city continue to “research and review new technology with the intention of making voting easier.”

During the governance meeting, committee members voiced their opinion on adopting the RCV voting process.

Ward 5 Coun. Carolyn Parrish (Britannia-Malton) believed RCV was a preferable way of voting in municipal elections as well as being beneficial. “If you don’t want to rank your two and three, and just pick one, then you just pick one. There’s no harm in not picking two or three,” she said, referring to how some voters stick with voting for just one person.

Parrish also noted that all the first place candidates ended up winning in London, so “you (incumbents) don’t need to be clutching your pearls over this.” In the last municipal election, all but one of the incumbent Mississauga councillors who ran for reelection received well over 50 per cent of the vote. 

Ward 2 Coun. Karen Ras (Clarkson-Lorne Park) said RCV offers up better choices for when there is an open seat with no incumbent. The logic behind that is RCV would allow candidates to campaign collegially, without having to resort to ‘negative’ tactics and ‘strategic voting’. 

As for Mayor Bonnie Crombie, she made it very clear where she stood on the ranked ballot.

“Because of the disaster we saw in London, I don’t support it and I think a lot more education needs to be done,” Crombie said, adding her concerns that it took a whole day to find out the results of the election. “I also find it anti-democratic, undemocratic, because certain people’s votes get counted multiple times,” she added.

One thing you can say about Crombie’s position is that it is consistent. Here is Crombie speaking out against RCV during a recent town hall in Port Credit.

Bonnie Crombie on Ranked Ballots and Term Limits from Kantastic on Vimeo.

“If the province wanted it, then why didn’t they implement the system?,” Crombie openly asked, adding that she had concerns about voters getting ‘repeated votes’ and the challenge of mounting an ‘education campaign’…which is exactly what she said in the governance committee meeting.

This is a bit of a contrast between what Crombie said now verses in 2016 when the Liberals announced ranked ballots would be allowed for the 2018 municipal election. “I applaud the Wynne government for taking action to modernize the municipal election process and to strengthen local democracy,” Crombie said at the time.

The issue of RCV, as well as other measures in the staff report such as public notifications and a municipal rebate for donating to candidates, will come back later before Mississauga’s General Committee.

However, what is irritating is Crombie’s maligning of a voting reform system with words such as “disaster”. In the case of London, the results were finalized just one day after the municipal election.

For a city trying RCV for the first time, I thought they did pretty well considering the circumstances, so it was hardly a ‘disaster’. Mayor Crombie seems to be doing some ‘pearl clutching’ of her own, laminating that people had to wait one more day to find out who won. 

Another issue is her insistence that “certain people’s votes get counted multiple times” and that more education is needed. I think she either misunderstood or is being misleading about votes getting counted more than once. It’s the same person who votes; they just get more choices as to who they prefer from most preferred to least. 

If political party members voting in riding nomination races and leadership races are competent enough to use this kind of system, and if a city can put together a 54 second video to explain how RCV works, I’m not sure it’s that much of a struggle for people to figure out how to vote like this.

If voters in cities such as London (Ontario), London (United Kingdom), Minneapolis / St. Paul, San Francisco, Cambridge (Massachusetts) and Sante Fe (New Mexico) can figure out how to vote using RCV, and if cities such as Kingston, Cambridge and Barrie are willing to explore this option, why can’t Canada’s sixth largest city? 

Do you think Mississauga should explore the possibility of using ranked choice voting to choose the mayor and councillors?

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