Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto's singin' the first-past-the-post blues

By: Metro Published on Mon Jan 06 2014

We’re less than a week into Toronto’s 2014 mayoral election and I’m already singing the blues.

Not because of the presumed slate of candidates and what they’re saying, but because of the exhausting speculation that comes with elections that use the first-past-the-post system.

Already we’re seeing articles focused more on electoral math than civic issues. Can the incumbent, Mayor Rob Ford, win in a crowded field even though recent polls indicate that about 60 per cent of the population won’t even consider voting for him? Is there a danger of vote splitting amongst too many conservative candidates, making the race a cakewalk for presumed progressive superstar Olivia Chow? Should a candidate without much name recognition, like former budget chief David Soknacki, drop out of the race, for fear of being a spoiler?

The answer in all cases is maybe. Or maybe not. Who knows? Let’s speculate endlessly!

There was good reason to hope that 2014 would be the last mayoral election dominated by this kind of discussion. Last June, city council voted 26-15 in favour of a resolution authorizing the potential use of ranked ballots for the 2018 mayoral race. With ranked ballots, instead of voters being confined to just one choice — leading to tiring vote-split scenarios and speculation — you’d get to rank your top choices. Easy as one-two-three.

Good news, right? Sure, except the city can’t move to ranked ballots without permission from the provincial government. At the time, the assumption was that our pals at Queen’s Park would be quick to pass the needed legislation to give the green light to Toronto.

But I guess that was a bit naive. It’s now been 208 days since council gave the thumbs up to ranked ballots and MPPs have yet to move any kind of legislation on the subject.

The unexplained delay has me worried. With the strong possibility of a spring provincial election, this whole electoral reform issue has the potential to get pushed to the back burner — or worse. We could be stuck with first-past-the-post for many mayoral elections to come.

I went to Dave Meslin looking for some reassurance. As the driving force behind the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, Meslin has been pushing for these reforms for the better part of a decade. He’s concerned about the delay but still hopeful.

“Things move slowly at Queen’s Park, but I’d be surprised if we don’t see legislation in February,” Meslin told me. “It’s been over six months since city council submitted this small and simple request, and it would be disappointing if the government chose to ignore our elected councillors.”

Disappointing is right. Councillors voted for change. Queen’s Park needs to respect that decision and give Toronto approval to change the way we vote.

This post was originally published at on 2014-01-06T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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