Earlier this fall the Ontario government gave the green light for any municipality in the province to change its electoral system from the traditional ‘First Past the Post’ system (FPTP) to a ranked ballot system. Details will be presented in a report from staff at our November 15 council meeting.
As a reminder of the difference between the two systems – Under FPTP, each voter selects one candidate (one vote for mayor and one vote for a district councillor) and the candidate with the most votes wins. In a ranked ballot system, each voter ranks candidates from most preferred to least preferred. When ballots are counted in the ranked system the winner must achieve 50% +1 of the total vote. This means if there is no candidate with 50% +1 after the first vote count the candidate with the fewest votes has their ballots redistributed among the remaining candidates. This redistribution continues until a candidate gets 50%+1 of the total votes and is declared the winner.
Under the new provincial rules, Kingston can proceed with a ranked ballot system in the next municipal election (set for fall of 2018) only if City Council passes a bylaw by May 1, 2017 – which is less than six months from now. In my view, there is simply not enough time between now and next May to sufficiently inform the community and seek their input on such an important decision.
I am proposing instead that we put a referendum question on the ballot in 2018, asking Kingstonians directly whether they want to stay with the FPTP system or switch to a ranked ballot system in future municipal elections beginning in 2022. That way, every Kingston voter can have a say on this important decision, and we will have almost 2 years (rather than just a few months) for education and information to be shared with all residents. This information could be shared in a variety of ways, and we could even form a representative citizens group that studies the issue in depth and makes a recommendation on which system they believe would work better.
For these reasons, at our November 15 council meeting I will be putting forward an amendment to the staff report on ranked ballots asking for a referendum question in 2018. I believe that changing the way that we elect local representatives is a rare and important occasion where direct consultation is needed. We look to Kingston voters to elect a mayor and 12 councillors every four years and we should also look to them to choose their preferred system to elect them.
As this important community discussion kicks off I hope you will share with me your thoughts and ideas.