Open Letter To Minister Steve Clark re: Ranked Ballots (Bill 218)

A child helps their parent cast a ballot. Photo by Arnaud Jaegers

The following open letter was penned by Kingston City Councillor Robert Kiley on the evening of Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 — the night before Kingston City Council will, once again, vote on the matter of ranked ballots.

Dear Minister Clark;

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and ever-listening ear. You are a champion for Ontario municipalities. As a city councillor in Kingston, I appreciate your open and honest approach to politics. On many occasions, I have seen you to be a true partner in government and a moderate voice in the legislature. For this I am grateful.

I was thus surprised — and dismayed — to hear of proposed amendments to the Municipal Elections Act via Bill 218 which would remove Ranked Ballots as an option for municipal elections; potential changes suggested with no community consultation. Even if you had asked, I’d say voting systems for local government should be the purview of local government, not Queen’s Park.

Indeed, I share the sentiment of Premier Ford (as he explicitly stated to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario last year): the provincial government needs to get out of the way of City Halls, leaving us to our own affairs. Bill 218 does the opposite.

In Kingston, for example, over 20,000 residents voted in favour of Ranked Ballots in the 2018 referendum on that very topic. In other words: in the most direct form of institutional democracy currently available to us, constituents clearly said (with 63% of the vote) that they support a move away from First Past The Post to Ranked Ballots. To put the numbers in context, if you totalled all the winning councillors’ votes in Kingston, you’d sum roughly 16,000 votes. That is to say — save the mayor who had about 24,000 votes — the resounding mandate from the last local election is for Ranked Ballots. 

Moreover, Ranked Ballots are proven, simple, and effective tools that deepen democracy, increase diversity, and encourage civility – realities I think we all agree are needed in politics. Perhaps that’s why all federal and provincial parties use them in their leadership races, yours included.

Concerning costs: Ranked Ballots represent small charge for big change. In my city, for instance, the Clerk’s Office has estimated that Ranked Ballots will cost between $200-300,000 in additional expenditure per election. That’s approximately $3.50/voter/term, equal to 7 cents a month/voter/term or nearly 1/1000th of one percent of municipal spending in Kingston. I believe that a system which gives women, people of colour, and positive politicians an increased chance of being elected is worth this, frankly, shockingly low financial investment.

Lastly, I am writing this letter to you personally and as an open letter, on the eve of yet another Kingston council motion to support Ranked Ballots (all three of which, over the last four years, have passed). I do this to bring even more attention to the issue. But these thoughts are not mine alone. I know that many of my council colleagues share these convictions, in Kingston and across the province. Statements from Peterborough, Barrie, Cambridge, and other municipalities, demonstrate this.

In sum, I’d like to start where I began: with respect and gratitude for your leadership and partnership. I hope that you will adhere to the fundamental principles of democracy in respecting Kingstonians’ will on Ranked Ballots. Doing so will benefit all of Ontario by keeping appropriate autonomy for municipalities in elections. Yes, please remove the potential amendments to the Municipal Elections Act in Bill 218.

Councillor Robert Kiley
Kingston ON, Trillium District

Robert Kiley is Kingston City Councillor for Trillium District and a high school teacher. He writes a monthly “behind the scenes” Op-Ed article for The Kingstonist. He tweets at @robert_kiley.

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