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Did we ever really have a choice?

Nick Seebruch

Published on April 16, 2017

If someone offered to you a kick in the pants, and the only alternative was no kick in the pants, then you aren't really left with that many options are you? Is that even really a choice?

That was basically the decisions open to Cornwall City Council during this Ranked Ballot process.

As I've explained in previous columns, Ranked Ballot voting is a preferable method over our current First Past the Post system in theory.

In theory, Ranked Ballot is fairly straightforward. If there are five people running for one elected position, voters rank their preferred candidates from one to five, the person with the most votes wins the job. The winner of the election wasn't the winner's first choice, then maybe they were their second, or third. It encourages politicians to appeal to a broad a base as possible rather than extremes.

In more complex elections, with many seats and many candidates, it is still fairly straightforward. Voters again rank their preferences and the candidates ranked #1 the least amount of times are eliminated.

However, the process that was presented to council by the Provincial government was very narrow, complex and in my opinion discouraged municipalities from considering alternatives to the status quo.

"I started out being very proud of the fact that we were one of the few municipalities that decided to have this conversation," Councillor Bernadette Clement explained at the Council meeting. "What we got was a serviceable presentation, but it focused on things like the technicalities and cost. (This proposal) dies because we couldn't explain why there were benefits involved in this although the point of this was to ensure that everyone who sits at this table gets the most support from the community."

Councillor Claude McIntosh said that the issues heard most often in public consultations was that people wanted them to work on the reasons behind reduced voter turnout.

"Its like trying to get kids to participate," he lamented. "Our votes don't count is the common refrain."

Councillor McIntosh felt that if people wanted Ranked Ballot voting, then the proposal should be brought to a referendum and that if it was implemented by council now, it would actually hurt the voter turnout in the next election rather than help.

I agree with him on both counts. The citizens of Cornwall should be the ones who decide how they vote when this issue comes up. Also, I agree that this version of Ranked Balloting at least will discourage voter participation.

This version of Ranked Ballot voting put forward by the province seems almost designed to be rejected by municipalities. Maybe the province feels it is too much effort to change the way citizens of municipalities vote. Or maybe they want to discourage the idea in case it catches on.

Either way, electoral reform is an issue that should be re-visited regularly. It has been too long since we have reviewed our democracy at all levels and it is time that it is given a proper going over and all practices for exercising this fundamental right should be on the table.