Paterson: The electorate has spoken very clearly… but ultimately it will be up to the councillors

Mayor Bryan Paterson speaking with the media on election night, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2018. Photo by Dominic Owens.

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2018, the majority of Kingstonians voted in favour of moving to a ranked ballot in the next municipal election – but there is just one issue with that.

Despite the fact that 62.93 per cent of the voters in Kingston voted ‘yes’ on the referendum question on whether or not to change the way the city elects its officials, those results are not legally binding because less than 50 per cent of the of the electorate voted.

So what does that mean for Kingston voters in the next election? Presently, that is not known. In the end, it will be up to the new city council to decide whether or not to implement ranked ballot voting in the next election. However, in the eyes of the newly re-elected Mayor Bryan Paterson, the way to move forward has been clearly laid out by those that did vote just days ago.

“I had been clear all along that I would respect the outcome of the referendum either way and, yes, there’s no legal requirement for council to move ahead with a ranked ballot, but I think that the message that we heard from Kingston voters was very clear that this is the direction that they want to go,” Paterson said.

“My personal view is that that’s political direction that council should take.”

Paterson said that, once the new council is in place, he is planning to bring forward a motion to council that will direct city staff to being the process of implementing a ranked ballot in the next election. But that motion will require the support of council in order to move forward, he explained.

“Because it’s not legally binding, it is a political decision,” said Paterson.

“My view is that the electorate have spoken very clearly, but ultimately it will be up to councillors to make their own decisions.”

This is not the first time the City of Kingston has had to deal with such a situation. As Paterson pointed out, it was only four years ago that the same thing occurred with the referendum question regarding whether or not Kingstonians wanted to have a casino in the city.

“It was not legally binding because we didn’t get a voter turnout of 50 per cent, but, again, and I said exactly this four years ago, that it was a very clear statement by the electorate,” he said of the majority of the Kingstonians voting against the idea of having a casino in the Limestone City.

“I think it was our first or second meeting [of council] that we brought forward a motion to inform the province that we were not a willing host [for a casino],” Paterson recalled.

“So I’m following the same pattern as I did last time, but ultimately councillors would be free to vote either in favour or against the motion when it comes forward.”

While Paterson did not say whether or not he prefers the ranked ballot system over the first-past-the-post system, he did say that he doesn’t believe elected officials should dictate how the electorate votes.

“My personal view is that I do not believe that politicians themselves should ever make decisions on changing an electoral system. And the reason for that is because it’s too easy for your own personal ideas or motivations to get in the way,” he said, noting that politicians would then be able to vote in favour of an electoral system that they could potentially find beneficial.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re ever talking about a change to the actual system, it needs to be decided by the voters themselves.”

And with London, Ont. having just employed ranked ballots, Paterson said that Kingston now has a great case study to work from if and when the City implements the same system.

“I think that that provides an opportunity to learn, to understand what worked well, what could have worked better, and ultimately to make sure that, as we move forward with a ranked ballot, that it’s done in such a way that everyone understands how it works, and that the actual counting of the ballots on election night goes as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said.

So while Kingstonians will have to wait until city council makes an official decision – and their term of office won’t begin until Tuesday, Dec. 4 – their mayor has indicated he will work towards implementing the directive they voted in favour of.

“If we trust Kingston voters to decide who the mayor and councillors should be, then we should trust them to make the decision how they want to elect a mayor and councillors,” Paterson said.

“I think that it’s clear that Kingston wants to move ahead with this, and so I’m fully supportive. At this point, I believe that that direction is clear, and so I’m happy to pursue it.”

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