Presentation to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
Thursday May 5, 2016
From: Mike Cluett Local & Regional Councillor
Town of Milton / Halton Region
Good afternoon and thank you for allowing me to speak on Bill 181, the Municipal Elections Modernization Act, 2016.
I first off want to acknowledge that I am not speaking on behalf of the Town of Milton or Halton Region, but I am speaking to you based on my own opinions and experience as a municipal councillor since 2010. I understand our counterparts in the Town of Oakville have already endorsed the potential changes and ranked balloting, but Milton Town Council hasn’t predetermined what the best choice is without first consulting the public.
This is an important discussion. A discussion worthy of debate and engagement with Ontarians as we look for opportunities and evaluate our current systems and processes. Given the limited time that I have available I want to focus the committees attention a number of concerns that I have with the proposed legislation.
My main concern with Bill 181 is that it allows individual municipal councils in the province of Ontario to make changes to the way we elect our representatives with little or no public input from the voters.
The fact that these decisions can be made without holding a binding referendum at the bare minimum is concerning.
I can’t stress enough of the importance of seeking comprehensive public input and holding a referendum before any changes are made. Direct voter input about how we vote in elections is critical and I personally can’t support a bill that takes democracy away by allowing a government to change the way they are elected without appropriate consultation. As elected officials we have a responsibility to consult the voters in the province of Ontario.
Elections belong to the people, not members of the government in Canada, the province of Ontario or members of municipal councils.
The electorate must have a say on how that system is determined.
Ensuring that we protect the democratic process from being manipulated by the political process is non-negotiable.
Through this legislation, the provincial government has already decided that there are two choices and two choices only. We are aware that there are more than two electoral methods available, but they are not up for discussion apparently.
Ontarians must have the choice via a referendum before we embark on changing our voting system. Failure to do so is a slap in the face of voters and is counter to everything we stand for as a democracy.
Back in 2007, a referendum was held with the decision by voters to stay with the first past the post system.
While I agree that times do change and that governments should evolve, I do not agree with the government’s proposal to punt the issue to local municipalities. This circumvents the voters and does not take into account their desire, or lack thereof, for change.
This legislation does not mandate any public consultation whatsoever, including a referendum, before making changes. Municipal councils as small as 7 can quietly change the voting system in their municipality.
During the last municipal election campaign in 2014, I can not recall one area or municipality or candidate speaking on the issue of electoral reform and changes to the voting systems we now know.
So how can this legislation propose that municipal councils as small as 7 decide how people elect them without a mandate from voters?
Even the most recent polls after the last federal election listed electoral reform at or near the bottom of voter’s issues of concern. Electoral reform is also being discussed at the federal level of government where there continue to be loud calls for a referendum on the issue.
Another concern that I would like to raise with you is that by allowing municipal councils the ability to make these changes, you open the risk of self-serving decision making for personal and political survival.
Allow me to give you a brief history of my political career in Milton. I first ran for Milton Town Council in 2006 and came 92 votes short of being elected. Now, if ranked ballots were the desired voting system at the time, chances are that I probably would have been elected.
In 2010 I ran again and was successful. There were only 2 candidates in my ward and I garnered 80% of the vote, so ranked balloting wouldn’t have been an issue. Then again recently in 2014, out of field of 4 candidates I won with roughly 46% of the vote with my two closest opponents 20% behind me so in a ranked balloting system, chances are I would have still been successful.
So given my own personal experiences, I could chose ranked ballots and have no issues.
Conversely, I could also look at other members of my council and point to a councillor who was elected out of field of 7 or 8 candidates with 25% of the vote. This person could look at this opportunity and realize if there was ranked ballots, they probably wouldn’t be there so they’ll choose to stay with the first past the post system.
I bring this up to illustrate a point. By giving the authority to municipal councils to change their electoral system opens it up to self interest and self preservation over the merits of each individual system.
We have seen in recent by elections in the City of Hamilton and Town of Oakville, there can be a high number of candidates running for these positions…over 20 in Hamilton and 11 in Oakville vying for a spot around the council table.
Municipal councillors can now sit back and say I wouldn’t have been here if this particular voting system was in place so they make their decision based on their own self interests. That is a conflict of interest. Period.
Should any changes be made I the voting systems we have, those changes should be made across the board: federally, provincially and municipally.
The intent of this bill has been described as attempting at making it easer for people to vote. In many areas in this legislation, the opposite can happen and could lead to further confusion and voter fatigue.
Voting systems should be uniform instead of peace meal with one system for one level of government and another system for the other.
I can draw an example from my own area, the Region of Halton. Halton is an upper tier municipality comprised of four municipalities, the City of Burlington, the Town of Oakville, The Town of Halton Hills and the Town of Milton.
In Halton we elect our regional chair as opposed to other jurisdictions who appoint their regional chair. If the changes are made through this legislation, we could have the following scenario.
Out of the four municipalities we could have two choosing the route of ranked ballots and the other two staying with first past the post. That means residents in the ranked balloted municipalities can choose their local and regional councillors through ranking their choices and having to vote for the regional chair via first past the post.
This can and will lead to confusion with how we vote and can result with voters giving up and the opposite effect happening, declining voter turnout.
In summary, I feel that if the provincial government wants to go down the route to changing the way we elect our politicians in Ontario we must first start by getting a mandate from voters via a referendum. The group Defend Democracy has stated that our electoral system is the “basis of our democracy” and that no government or political party has the authority to alter our democratic system as “it is up to the people of Canada to decide directly through a referendum.”
No method of voting is the perfect and there are many views on which system is more representative of the people. But a government shouldn’t make these decisions. That decision belongs to the people themselves.
As an elected municipal official, I do support giving municipalities the authority to make decisions. Whether or not to allow wind mills within their jurisdiction, more flexibility on making planning decisions for high growth municipalities like Milton and Halton Region would be welcome changes, but those powers aren’t on the table today with Bill 181.
If we are going to look at making changes to our voting systems we need to start at the top…with the voters in the province of Ontario…as it should be.
Thank you for your time.