London

Democracy group to study London's groundbreaking political leap of faith

Unlock Democracy Canada, an organization dedicated to electoral reform, wants to study the historic 2018 ranked ballot election in London in order to understand why Londoners made the political leap of faith in the first place and whether it can be replicated in city halls across Ontario. 

Unlock Democracy Canada says it surpassed its $15,000 fundraising goal to bankroll the study

Dave Meslin is the creative director of electoral reform advocacy group Unlock Democracy Canada. (Supplied)

Unlock Democracy Canada, an organization dedicated to electoral reform, wants to study the historic 2018 ranked ballot election in London in order to understand why Londoners made the political leap of faith in the first place and whether it can be replicated in city halls across Ontario. 

The group made the announcement on Tuesday after it surpassed its goal of raising $15,000 through an online fundraiser that began in December. 

After governments in Ontario, BC, PEI and Ottawa failed to deliver on electoral reform, Dave Meslin, the organization's creative director, said it's important for the study to identify what made London adopt a new voting system, when so many others didn't. 

"London city council is the only government in the country where we have actually ditched first-past-the-post so this needs to be studied, what were the impacts, how do people feel about it and is it something that other cities want to look at?"

Only 3 Ontario cities have signed on for 2022

This what a ranked ballot looks like. The ballot shown here is a ballot used during a mock election held in 2018 to education London voters about how to participate in the new system. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

The Ontario cities of Cambridge and Kingston have already signaled they will join London in holding a ranked ballot vote in 2022, but the other 441 municipalities in the province have yet to sign on. 

With a ranked ballot, voters can choose up to three candidates in their ward and three candidates for mayor. The ballots allowed voters to rank each of those candidates as their first, second or third choices.

A candidate needs 50 per cent plus one vote to win. If no candidate reaches that threshold on the first ballot, the last-placed candidate is eliminated and his or her backers' second-choice ballots are counted. That process continues until one candidate reaches 50 percent plus one. 

Meslin believes ranked ballots not only give voters more choice, but could also stop some of the toxic and divisive politics people feel is getting worse. 

Toxic politics still a factor in London's historic race

Municipal politicians in London read mean tweets 2:42

"Ideally you end up with a little more civility in the race because you're not just looking for people to support you, you want your opponents' supporters to consider ranking you second," he said. "It should get rid of a lot of the negative campaigning."

Except in London's case it didn't. 

In fact, the 2018 fall race saw two female candidates smeared by fake websites that were traced back to London public relations firm Blackridge strategy.

Still, Meslin believes the benefits of a ranked ballot outweigh its faults and he hopes if enough cities adopt it, the idea will eventually spread. 

London has a history as a test market city

New Brunswickers are heading to the polls September 24th for the provincial election. (CBC)

"A lot of pioneering happens at the local level. Cities are kind of the laboratories that are more willing to experiment and once they've tried something then a province or a country might look at it as well."

"Instead of focusing on how we can make change happen in Ottawa or Queen's Park, let's get more cities to adopt this and then hope it trickles upward."

London's history as a test market city for commercial products helps too, Meslin said. The city has proved essential for testing a number of things many Canadians take for granted, such as Tim Horton's dark roast coffee, debit cards – even Chicken McNuggets. 

"I'm hoping ranked ballots spread as quickly as Chicken McNuggets did," he said. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca