Submissions to the the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing:

the Municipal Elections Act

July 27, 2015.


I am making here a written submission about the idea of the provincial government of doing something to encourage ranked ballots in municipal elections. Exactly what this is, is not clear to me from the literature I have scanned. There seems to be some space given to the idea of a public consultation. No other options but RB are put forward in the province's literature, as far as I have seen.

This will not be a long submission. I only heard about what was happening lately, and I have been very busy. It does not look to me like there is much chance of stopping this Ranked Ballots abomination from being rammed through. The only opposition to this is from the Fair Vote Canada (FVC) organization, which I was formerly involved with. FVC is hopeless as advocates for anything, for reasons I will discuss below. I withdrew from FVC because I only have one life and only so much time and energy. I would rather spend it on other important issues where there are people to work with, who are capable of effective advocacy.

So I will not spend much time with this. It is likely the Ranked Ballot (RB) creeps will get their way, but it is not so critical anymore, at least not for government at higher levels. Local government in Toronto is in such a mess that RB cannot do much more damage. Repairing it requires a much more comprehensive reform movement, which must go far beyond mere voting systems.

The proponents of RB come mainly from the federal Liberal party. The idea was originally to rig voting so that Liberals would be elected forever. This is always the hidden motive for bringing in something like RB. There are not many places in the world where RB is actually used. Australia is the big example; it has been used there for a century. It has achieved its purpose of restricting politics to a two party system.

At one time in Canada, I do not recall dates offhand, the Liberal party in British Columbia succeeded in establishing in RB there for awhile. The thinking was that it would keep the CCF, precursor of NDP, out of office. In that instance it brought about several decades of rule by the Social Credit party.

Some Liberals are still pushing it provincially and Federally, but the NDP and Conservatives are not so stupid. Federally, things are moving towards a system of proportional representation. This is what almost the whole world uses, outside the English speaking world, because it works with popular democracy instead of against it. In real democracy, elections are about ideas and not personalities.

It appears the idea of promoting RB for local government was to legitimate the idea before introducing it to highest levels. Part of the strategy was shutting down any potential opposition. Toward this, the FVC organization was very aggressively disrupted and intimidated. This was very effective because FVC was and is dominated by the kind of "polite" Canadians who would rather concede anything than have to get their backs up.

This has been going on for years and has pretty well destroyed FVC. I am not going to chronicle it here. Lately some FVC types have decided they would be clever by using the RB campaign as an opportunity to promote the Single Transferable Vote ( STV) system.

Another calamitous idea of some FVC people is that they do not want to engage in public consultation or, worse, a referendum because private interests will try to influence it. This is the worst kind of antidemocratic attitude. Fortunately it is not in the ascendancy in FVC at present.

Now I get to my big theme in all this. Any fundamental change to the rules in a democracy must be done by a process of public consultation and referendum. The process must not be manipulated toward one particular result or only two options. All options for voting reform must be considered.

We had in Ontario a good model for altering the basic rules of voting in the province. We had a provincial consultation in which randomly selected voters examined all options for proportional voting reform and made a recommendation, which was put to a referendum. What they proposed was a mixed member proportional (MMP) system.

Of course, anything that gives the public some power is opposed by those with an elitist mentality. Those who own newspapers are especially bad. The basic technique for killing MMP was to prevent the public from hearing anything from the "Yes" side, and then pouring misinformation from the "no" into the vacuum.

I repeat, that any serious reform of municipal government will require a much stronger reform movement than is presently possible. I do not think FVC, including its Ontario branch, is up to the task. But I could put my two cents in about basic principles a voting system should have. Some of these refute ideas FVC has put forward.


FVC says that an RB system would be a good system where only one person is being elected. The problem with that is that electing a single person to an office, such as the mayor of a city, is never a good idea.

Students of democratic systems note that a "presidential" system, in which power is split between executive, judicial, and legislative branches, is a wrong headed concept. It is elitism; a desire to only have to deal with a single person in order to get what they want, rather than all this messy debate and procedure.

A "parliamentary" system, in which the legislature has control over the executive, is much more democratic. The person or persons to hold executive functions should be chosen by the legislature. In our federal and provincial governments, the executive is chosen by the members of parliament from among themselves. This system is common all over the world, even in local governments and where there are no political parties.


The biggest problem with our "single member" system is not even how the members of council get elected, but the fact there is only one member per constituency. One person alone cannot effectively represent all the people of an area. You need at least three to have most major points of view represented in the legislative body. Most countries have multimember constituencies and do not understand this handful of countries, mostly English speaking, which do not.

Multimember constituencies greatly reduce opportunity for corruption and cronyism, which is why it will be unpopular with many city councillors. Special measures will have to be put in place to prevent councillors from trying to divide up multimember constituencies among them.

Ask someone who tries to get something done that requires cooperation from city government, when the local councillor does not want it, or thinks that person is not part of her party or clique. The possibility of simply walking down the hall to one of the other councillors in the district will make local government much more responsive and fair.


Something that is becoming an accepted principle of government all over the world is that any change to the rules of the game, whether ward boundary changes, voting system change, or an amendment to the fundamental laws, must be by citizen consultation and referendum.

Sitting members of the legislature have no say in this; they are in a conflict of interest here. This is the one serious thing the provincial government could do to facilitate local democracy and governance. Most other provincial interventions in local government are likely to be destructive. Toronto needs to take over most of the powers and functions of the province.


The great lesson from provincial referendums on voting reform is that such referendums must be given a chance to work. They must be held separately from a general election. The "no" to RB side must be given adequate funds to do its job. The "yes" side will have plenty of resources to put its view across.

In item (4) of its own presentation, FVC says; "We are ready and willing to help Ministry staff educate the public about the opportunities in this legislation for improved representation of more citizens on municipal councils."

What I have found is that FVC is a spectacularly bad advocate for the cause it presumes to promote. The problem is that it is set up more like a debating society than an advocacy organization. Its history has been of becoming paralyzed by internal disputes at every critical moment. Various government interlocutors have been frustrated by their inability to figure out just what FVC is advocating. Publications and leaflets FVC turns out tend to be long winded and confusing.

It is hard to see how an effective "No to RB" organization could be called up for a local referendum on RB. In the Ontario and B.C. referendums, with the "yes to proportional representation" camp organized mainly by FVC people, many volunteers were exasperated by the organizing committees refusal to challenge government bias against the measure, and to demand adequate funding. The local chapter of FVC has been utterly unable to stand up to the intimidation tactics of the local RB crew.

Many FVC people have the conceit that they are the repositories of knowledge about voting systems. Academics who study voting systems are slightly disdainful of FVC and disagree with many of their conclusions. For information about voting systems, it is academics whom government should consult. Professor Denis Pilon at York University would be a good person for the Ontario municipal affairs ministry to start with.

As for a "No" organization, experienced organizers should be hired to set up a resource office to catalyse groups campaigning for a "no" to RB and "yes" to STV or other proportional system. There must be no more "set up to fail" referendums. If government calls one, it must insure that the public has the full information to make a decision.

This is my submission. If the ministry would like to hear more from me, or invite me to make oral submissions, I would be happy to do that.

Tim Rourke