London taxpayers on hook for province’s ranked ballot decision
LONDON, ONT. -- The provincial government’s decision to scrap ranked ballots as an option for municipal elections has prompted a city councilor to call for financial compensation.
On the second anniversary of London becoming the first city in Ontario to elect its council using ranked ballots, Councillor Shawn Lewis says it’s unfair for local taxpayers to bear the costs of a provincial decision.
"It’s changing the rules half way through the game," argues Councillor Lewis.
Lewis explains that much of the $515,000 city hall spent to adopt a ranked ballot system were one-time costs for public education, technology, and auditing.
At the time, those were viewed as investments towards future ranked ballot elections.
He says that money will be wasted if London is forced to abandon ranked ballots.
"They need to pony up the cash," says Lewis. "Not only for the cost of switching back, but they should also be reimbursing us for the investments we made in 2018 to move to a ranked ballot, because that was an investment made in good faith."
A ranked ballot allows voters to indicate their first, second, and third choices among the list of candidates.
On Tuesday, the provincial government announced it will scrap the ranked ballot option for municipal elections to prevent more cities from incurring the cost of transitioning, and to ensure province wide 'consistency'.
On Wednesday and Thursday CTV News asked the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing if London will be reimbursed for the costs related to making the switch to ranked ballots and the subsequent switch back to a first past the post system?
No answer was provided.
Instead, a ministry spokesperson referred CTV News to their original statement. It makes no mention of reimbursing costs.
Lewis says council accepted, in good faith, that changes to the Municipal Elections Act by the Liberal government of Kin 2016 would last more than one election cycle.
"It’s not fair to London and it’s not fair to the other communities that have started down this path themselves," adds Lewis.
A new report from Western University’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance describes London’s experience with ranked ballots as "successful".
"Less than one per cent of ballots were filled out wrong. Seventy per cent of ballots cast made use of ranking, so I think that’s a sign the people of London got the message and what was given to them," explains Director Zack Taylor.
Kingston and Cambridge have already held non-binding referendums which supported a switch to ranked ballots in 2022.
Taylor says the province’s decision raises questions about municipal autonomy.
"What difference does it make to a Minister or a Premier, or an MPP on how people vote (municipally)? And I find it strange they want to have consistency across the province because people only live in one municipality at a time."