Why scrap ‘first past the post’ system of voting?

By MPP Toby Barrett

This spring your Ontario Legislature has been debating legislation to scrap our longstanding ‘first past the post’ system of electing municipal councilors – the system of whoever comes first in number of votes, wins.

The so-called Municipal Elections Modernization Act will bring in a ranked ballot system. Instead of voting for a single candidate, a voter will rank the candidates in order of preference. The votes will be counted and the candidate with the least votes drops off the ballot paper. All ballots that ranked that candidate as the first choice are then distributed to the candidate the voters had ranked as their second choice. If no candidate has received over 50 per cent of the vote, the lowest candidate once again drops off and their votes are redistributed to the next choice ranked on the ballot. And so it goes until a winner rises to the top.

Case in point, in 1996, Dalton McGuinty won the Ontario Liberal Party leadership on the fifth ballot after coming in fourth on the first ballot – he was not the delegates’ first choice, period.
I personally see this ranked system as a means to rig, not fix. Anyone who watches a horse race knows the horse that crosses the finish line first is the winner.

During Legislative debate, I pointed out this system of ranked ballots “stands in contrast to the long-standing tradition of first-past-the-post, which goes back hundreds of years in our British system. It goes back thousands of years, if you think of ancient Greece, for example. Think of the Greek Olympics . . . thousands of years of foot races. The first one to cross the line wins.”

Many municipalities have passed resolutions criticizing the changes, including Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Niagara Falls.

The Town of Minto passed a resolution to “not support a ranked ballot system for municipal elections in Ontario for the following reasons:

(1) Issues of splitting the vote, negative campaigning or abandoning a race are generally not problems in rural Ontario;

(2) ‘One candidate one vote’ councils elected in Ontario have built communities that are the envy of the world, with open, transparent and fair races with very few issues;

(3) Ranked ballots will be confusing and will increase cost for training candidates, election officials and voters as well as require expense and unnecessary equipment;

(4) Ranked ballots may encourage political parties to run slates of candidates to attempt to win as many first-, second- and third-place votes so that a party secures the office over an individual.”

Changing the entire electoral system based on the views of a small number of people not only shows disrespect for our democratic system; it is irresponsible. I cannot support a bill that allows government to change the way municipal councillors are elected without first consulting the people. We live in a democracy.

Elections belong to the people who vote, the people who come out every four years to vote for the person who represents their values and supports their issues. These people need to have their voice heard if there is to be a change in the voting system.

Holding a referendum is protection for voters. Without that requirement, there’s nothing to stop governments and special interests from rigging the electoral system to benefit themselves and keep themselves in power.