Brampton council says no to electoral reform despite ethnic mismatch with residents | Toronto Star
2016/10/18 Leave a comment
The gap between representation at the municipal level and other levels of government has been an issue for some time (all federal MPs and provincial MPPs from Brampton are Indo Canadians, over reflecting their share of the population and the first-past-the-post system).
Ranked balloting may be part of the solution but there are likely other factors involved, including the lack of political parties at the municipal level:
On Wednesday — as a federal debate on the issue draws near and with new Ontario legislation that gives cities the option of ranked balloting — Brampton council voted 11-0 against the idea. Meanwhile, Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral method is being used by fewer and fewer democratic nations around the world because it’s recognized as a system that too often puts people in power despite their having little voter support.
“Each city councillor in Brampton has the support, on average, of less than 4 per cent of the city’s voters, yet they’re making decisions that affect the entire city,” says Pat McGrail, chair of Fair Vote Peel, who made a presentation to council Wednesday, advocating for a ranked ballot system whereby candidates would need the support of a majority to get elected.
Brampton councillors who responded to the Star said they voted against ranked balloting because voters might find the system too confusing. It works by allowing voters to rank at least three top candidates (cities can opt to allow more candidates to be ranked on each ballot). The candidate who receives the least first place votes is eliminated in each round and their votes are redistributed until one candidate has a majority.
But critics point to research that shows the current first-past-the-post system often leads to municipal councils that do not accurately reflect the ethnic diversity of cities. In Brampton close to 70 per cent of the city’s residents are visible minorities. Only one out of eleven members of city council is a visible minority.
“That’s not just a Brampton problem,” says Dave Meslin, an expert on the subject who is authoring a book on electoral reform and has helped with the federal government’s current public consultations on the issue being conducted in every riding across Canada. He says Canada is now alone in its use of first-past-the-post for every level of government. “The lack of diverse representation on municipal councils is a glaring problem across Ontario.”
He points to U.S. research that shows ranked balloting in cities has significantly improved representation that more accurately reflects the electorate. Vote splitting, where an incumbent can rely on a concentrated base of supporters, while a number of other candidates fight for the remaining voters — often the vast majority — is something that can’t happen with ranked balloting, Meslin says.
In the 2014 municipal election, of all winners, Brampton Coun. Martin Medeiros received the least number of votes — 4,188, or 22 per cent of the votes cast in his ward. He beat Shan Gill by 100 votes. There were 15 candidates in total who ran for the council seat Medeiros now occupies. With a city-wide turnout of 36 per cent of eligible voters, applying the same rate, Medeiros received the support of about 7 per cent of eligible voters in his ward.
He did not respond when asked to comment on his decision not to support ranked balloting.
The provincial government was asked if its new legislation under Bill 181, which gives cities the option of using ranked balloting for elections, falls short because it leaves the ultimate decision to the very politicians who might get defeated by the new system.
“We feel that municipalities are responsible levels of government and are in the best position to make decisions in the best interest of their communities,” said Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Conrad Spezowka.
McGrail says low voter turnout is another problem with first-past-the-post. “The central problem of first-past-the-post is divide and conquer while appealing to your base. People become so disenfranchised they don’t even bother to vote.”
Sukhjot Naroo, a Brampton resident and co-founder of the social network Brampton Beats, which has almost 4,000 members who focus on municipal issues, says he doubts Brampton council will accurately reflect the city’s population as long as vote splitting continues. He lists an increasing number of issues accompanying Brampton’s rapid demographic shift, from zoning for places of worship to funding for a variety of culturally specific activities, that don’t get proper representation on council.
“Everyone on council will benefit from vote-splitting. The incumbents don’t want change. They’re just trying to protect the status quo. Out of eleven votes, not one even considered ranked balloting. Not even Gurpreet Dhillon, the only South Asian member of council, because he now has his base of supporters and can grow that through his growing political connections.”
Dhillon did not respond to questions emailed to him.
Toronto’s Katherine Skene says she’s dismayed, but not surprised by Brampton’s 11-0 vote. “I would hope that councils, before voting on the issue, there would be broad public consultation to find out what the voters actually want.”
Skene is co-chair of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, where councillors last year voted 25-18 against a provincial option to allow for ranked balloting, a reversal of that council’s earlier position to bring ranked ballots about. Mayor John Tory supported the idea during his election campaign and maintained his support in last year’s vote.