We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, local economies teeter on the brink, and there are sweeping demands for social justice reforms, so naturally, the Ontario government has decided that now is not the time for change. If you were hoping that Guelph, or other Ontario municipalities, might be able to vote with Single-Transferable Vote (STV), or Ranked Ballots, in the 2022 municipal elections, get a new hope.
As reported by the Toronto Star and others, a bill introduced on Tuesday that’s ostensibly meant to protect Ontario workers and businesses from liability issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, also includes a change to the Municipal Elections Act removing an option to allow municipalities to used ranked ballots in local elections.
“Our government is maintaining predictability, and consistency to municipal elections, while better respecting taxpayers’ dollars,” said a statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Now is not the time for municipalities to experiment with costly changes to how municipal elections are conducted.”
It’s a “costly change” that was already in motion in several municipalities across Ontario, and often at the behest of voters. The City of London was the first municipality in Ontario to proceed with the option of STV in 2018, and in that same year, both Cambridge and Kingston passed referendums to make the change to STV in 2022. Several other municipalities, including Guelph, were also considering the use of STV in the next municipal election.
“There was a lot of pride in London to be the first to ditch the first-past-the post and for the city to be innovative and try something new. For the provincial government to take that away from a democratic elected council is really inappropriate.” electoral reform advocate Dave Meslin told the CBC.
“This overturns London city council’s democratic choice to use ranked ballots, it overturns the democratic result of referendums in Kingston and Cambridge, and it robs all 444 municipalities of Ontario of being able to experiment locally and try a new system,” he added.
Of course, this is not the first time that the Ontario government has pointedly interfered in municipal elections. One of the first acts of the government under Premier Doug Ford was to cut the size of Toronto City Council nearly in half less than four months before the 2018 Municipal Election, and just days before the close of nominations. The question of whether the Government of Ontario had the right is a matter that’s still before the Supreme Court of Canada.
“This is another gross abuse of power from a government that continuously undermines local democracy with snap decisions,” said Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner in a statement. “The irony is that Ford himself was elected as PC leader using, the same system used to elect Canada’s first Black federal party leader, Annamie Paul. This isn’t just an attack on local decision-making – it’s an attack on diversity.”
“I’m disappointed that Ford is using the cover of COVID-19 to attack diversity and democracy,” Schreiner added.