Monday, October 06, 2014

Kudos to Premier Wynne for remedying our democratic deficits

Political Reformer Premier Wynne
While many premiers, MPs, politicians and commentators wring their hands about the low voting counts in elections, and the feeling of impotence of many citizens, Premier Wynne of Ontario has decided to stop whining and do something about it.

With one bold step, Wynne will provide Ontario municipalities with the chance to try a radically different method of electing municipal councillors than the undemocratic first past the post sytem:

Premier Kathleen Wynne has ordered her municipal affairs minister to give Ontario cities the alternative of employing ranked ballots in the 2018 civic elections.

In her mandate letter to Ted McMeekin, Wynne spells out the importance of leading from the activist centre” with democratic reforms.

“We will spot emphasis on partnerships with organizations, communities and individuals to support foster continued economic growth and make a positive impact on the lives of every Ontarian,” the premier wrote.

“This collaborative approach will shape all the work we do. It will ensure we engage men and women on the troubles that matter the most to them, and that we implement meaningful options to our shared challenges.”

The advantages of a ranked election system are spelled out in the RaBIT website, and also discussed in two Wikipedia articles – on its use in the USA, and a general one.

Wynne’s instructions are wider than simply using the ranked system:

Substantially, Wynne has instructed McMeekin to start an evaluation of the Municipal Elections Act following the 2014 municipal elections” next month.

“You will assure that the act meets the needs of communities, and that it offers municipalities with the solution of making use of ranked ballots in future elections, beginning in 2018, as an option to initially-previous-the-post,” she wrote.

More to come?

By crafting the mandate of her Municipal Affairs Minister to ensure that the Municipal Elections Act must “meet the needs of communities”, Premier Wynne has given the Minister a pretty wide mandate.

Transparency and Open Data:

For example, the Minister should check out the suggestions of the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education on the need for open data to allow for more transparency in municipal government. This is one way to ensure that communities have ready access to information about their municipalities, so as to find out avenues to meet their various needs, and to inform themselves of the steps being taken by their councils.

Citizen Referendums &  Initiatives:

The Minister should investigate changes to the Act to provide for democratic input in civic decisions through some form of citizen referenda, or citizens’ initiatives. See also the Wikipedia summary of particpatory democracy.

Barriers to Running for Office:

Another topic the Minister should investigate is whether the Act needs amendment to allow municipalities to experiment with different measures aimed at reducing barriers to citizens running for election to the municipal council, and what support should be given to enourage wider participation by under-represented groups (such as women and minorities).

Citizen Input into Municipal Governance:

The Minister should review the use of Creative Insight Councils and Wisdom Councils as a means allowed to municipalities under a revised Act to encourage greater participation by citizens in the identification of needs to be met by the council, and methods to meet those needs.

He should also consider amending the Act to allow the use of collaborative e-democracy methods, along the lines spelled out in this article.

The Act should also allow for municipalities to experiment with different forms of empowerment through public participation in municipal governance. These could include the setting aside of a portion of the municipal budget for allocation by citizens to chosen activities or needs (participatory budgeting), including forms of neighbourhood planning.

Funding could be provided under a revised Act for the establishment of municipal Think Tanks with membership from citizens and experts, focused on local issues. One example could be a regional ThinkYoung organization, aimed at increasing the involvement of young people in municipal affairs and governance.

This initiative by Premier Wynne could be one of the most significant steps taken by any level of government in  Canada to improve the state of our democracy.

Successful outcomes in various municipalities undere this program would encourage other provinces to try similar experiments, and other levels of government to modernize their governance practices.


  1. BC used preferential balloting in the 1952 and 1953 provincial elections and provincial elections from 1926 to 1955 used preferential ballots in Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat ridings. So kudos to Wynne but it's been done before and should be implemented municipally, provincially and federally as soon as possible.

  2. Thanks, CuJo; and I agree - the sooner we have it at all three levels of government, the better! Any idea where we could find out more about these earlier experiments, and why they died?

  3. An online search would do. I can't remember which textbooks I had years ago that referenced it. I do remember that the Socreds won a minority in BC in '52 by being everyone's second choice. They ran under the same system in '53, won a majority while wiping out the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives for 2 generations and promptly reverted back to FPTP.


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