Take Toronto. It elects a mayor by winner-takes-all city-wide, and 44 councillors in 44 single-member wards, by winner-takes-all, with single councillors each claiming to represent all 60,000 residents of their ward. The worst voting system in Canada? Not as bad as Vancouver City Council, where 600,000 residents elect ten councillors city-wide by winner-takes-all-ten, so a winning municipal group can elect all ten councillors.
The Local Choice campaign, which all reformers support, wants all Ontario municipalities to have freedom to choose their voting system, whether they choose a winner-takes-all system or a proportional system. It says “Ontario’s municipal elections often suffer from low levels of participation, low turnover and poor representation of women, visible minorities and tenants.”
Living outside Toronto, I don’t know what is the best municipal voting system for Toronto. But I can try to be objective on the possibilities for democratic change that would reflect Toronto’s diversity.
As a world-class city, Toronto’s Councillors need to be aware of the diverse range of alternatives. If Fair Vote Toronto can educate City Councillors to understand the diverse options, that’s a win.
For mayor, Toronto could keep electing one city-wide (with hideously expensive campaigns), by First-Past-The-Post. Or they could change to the Alternative Vote (Instant Runoff Vote). This can still leave you with a dysfunctional result, a mayor and Council at loggerheads. Look at London, with a Council elected by proportional representation, and a mayor by AV (IRV): somehow they got a conservative mayor (Boris Johnson) and a left-majority council.
Or Toronto could have council choose the mayor. In the UK, most mayors are chosen by council, but a few like London’s are elected city-wide. This year, 10 English cities voted by referendum on city-wide elections of mayors; only one voted for that model.
For council, Toronto could stay with 44 single-member wards, with a single councillor for each 60,000 residents, no separate borough councils, and one person claiming to speak for everyone in the ward. That’s not very local, for a local government.
Berlin has been, for 100 years, the laboratory for democracy. It has 141 representatives, one for each 25,000 residents, and 12 boroughs with 55 part-time councillors each, one for each 5,300 residents. Of course they are all elected by proportional representation. For the boroughs, there is no threshold: with 5,300 supporters (2% of the vote) you can start your own party and get elected.
Other large world cities use STV, the proportional Single-Transferable Vote. Glasgow has 79 councillors (one for each 7,500 residents) in 21 wards (with 28,000 residents in each ward). Dublin has 52 councillors (one for each 9,750 residents) in 11 wards (with 46,000 residents in each ward); six of the 52 were elected as independents. Belfast has 51 councillors (one for each 5,300 residents) in nine wards (each with 30,000 residents). Wellington, New Zealand’s third-largest city, uses STV, with no municipal parties. It has 14 councillors (one for each 14,300 residents) in five wards (each with 40,000 residents).
You can see the problem: all these cities have far fewer residents per councillor than the Toronto megacity has.
Toronto could go to full STV with five-member wards, for maximum representation of diversity; it takes only 16.7% of the vote to win a seat. In Toronto, with only 44 councillors, that means the world’s largest municipal STV wards, with 290,000 residents in each ward. If Vancouver went to two five-member STV wards with 300,000 residents in each, that would be a definite improvement. (Note: Australia elects its Senate by province-wide STV, so they would still hold the record for largest STV constituency.)
Or if Toronto wants better representation for its diversity without such large wards, they could go back to the two-member wards the old Toronto City had for a century until 1985. That way, at least you have competing councillors, from wards the same size as a provincial riding. Or Toronto could use the “cumulative vote:” voters have two votes and can give them both to the same candidate if they wish. A cumulative voting election permits voters in an election for more than one seat to put more than one vote on a preferred candidate. When voters in the minority concentrate their votes in this way, it increase their chances for obtaining representation in a legislative body. As of March 2012, more than fifty communities in the United States use cumulative voting, all resulting from cases brought under the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Or Toronto could go to the “limited vote” or "Single Non-Transferable Vote:" voters have only one vote, but two diverse councillors, each representing a different group of voters. Did you know Ontario elections allowed the limited vote for Toronto's three MPPs from 1885 to 1894? Voters had two votes, three to be elected. The idea was to get a Liberal elected in Tory Toronto, until a Labour candidate almost won. The limited vote was the favourite semi-proportional system in the British Empire before 1914, even used in Calcutta municipal districts to let Muslims elect some councillors.
Or Toronto could go to STV with two-member wards.
Or Toronto could follow one of the recommendations of Paul Bedford, a longtime Toronto planner. He presents two schemes for at-large district seats in Toronto. The first is for 22 wards and 4 districts with 22 at-large councillors (5 or 6 each). The second is for 33 wards and four districts with 11 at-large councillors (2 or 3 each). (New Brunswick's two largest cities, Saint John and Moncton, both have the same Council structure: a mayor, two at-large councillors, and eight ward councillors, two from each of four wards, total ten councillors plus a mayor.)
If they want to stay with single-member wards elected by winner-take-all, they have to decide between FPTP and AV/IRV: which one will give better representation to Toronto’s diversity?
Perhaps a world-class city should have the world’s largest wards? Or perhaps Toronto needs to start by re-examining the megacity?
But they can’t use most of these options without the Ontario government giving them more choice.
Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act says “An elector is entitled to vote for as many candidates for an office as there are members to be elected to that office, but only once for each candidate. The elector shall make a cross or other mark on the ballot, within the space designated for the marking of the ballot to the right of the name of each candidate for whom the elector wishes to vote. ” The City of Toronto Act lets council divide or redivide the City into wards or dissolve the existing wards, but otherwise “the members of council shall be elected in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996” and “the head of council shall be elected by general vote.”
The Local Choice Statement:
“Ontario’s municipal elections often suffer from low levels of participation, low turnover and poor representation of women, visible minorities and tenants.
While cities and towns across North America are using innovative methods to make their local elections more participatory, diverse and fair, our cities and towns in Ontario are severely restricted by the Municipal Elections Act.
We propose that municipalities be given more choice, allowing them to customise their local elections based on local needs. Each Ontario municipality is unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
We call on the Ontario government to create enabling legislation that gives more choice to Ontario’s municipalities while also laying down parameters to regulate any moves towards reform.
The legislation would provide new regulations for tools such as runoff voting, municipal parties, single transferable vote, pre-election contribution disclosure, weekend voting, neighbourhood borough councils or others.
No municipality should be forced to change its system and we are not advocating for any specific reform. This legislation would simply provide local Councils with options, enabling them to open the door to local democratic renewal and to choose the system that best fits the unique needs of their community.”