Watching Democracy In Action

A little while ago, I participated in my first monthly RaBIT meetup - or "RaBIT Gathering", as I like to call it. The meetup started with each participant speaking briefly about why they were there. There was authenticity and enthusiasm all around, so I suggested we contribute our stories to the RaBIT blog and share our positive energy with the rest of the city.

My reason for attending the meetup goes all the way back to March 6th, 2014. This was the day the Ontario Legislature passed second reading of the motion to change the Municipal Elections Act so that Toronto City Council could change our city's voting system.

That morning I happened to check my email and found the following message with the subject line, "This is historic—The Toronto Ranked Ballot Elections Act":

Hi!

We're sending this message to everyone who signed the Ranked Ballot petition on Change.org.

The provincial government is FINALLY responding to our request. This Thursday, on March 6th, politicians will vote on Bill 166: "The Toronto Ranked Ballot Elections Act"!

We can win this vote—but only with your help.

We encourage you to contact your MPP and ask them to vote in favour of the Bill. And we also invite you to attend the vote, at 3:30pm!

You can learn more about the bill, and find your MPP, here: http://www.123toronto.ca/bill_166.htm

And you can RSVP for the vote here: https://www.facebook.com/events/470034989790644/

(we already have over 200 RSVPs!)

Thank you for your support! With your help, we can bring fair and friendly elections to Toronto.

Sincerely,

The RaBIT volunteer team

 

Look at all those exclamation marks!

To make an exciting story short, I pulled my daughters (ten and eight) out of school and we went to Queen's Park to support the cause and find out about how the government actually passes laws.

We'd never been in the public gallery at Queen's Park before. There was a long line-up for security screening; the process added to the excitement. There was RaBIT's founder, Dave Meslin, sitting at a bench beside the coat check. He was sitting next to a friend and working on his laptop. He explained he wasn't going into the chamber because you aren't allowed to use a cell phone in the gallery and he wanted to be able to let RaBIT's supporters know how the vote went ASAP.

The legislative chamber wasn't like I'd expected: the ceiling was so high and the light so... gymnasium is the comparison that comes to mind. It was a pokey day, it seemed. The members seats were mostly empty. People drifted in and out or chatted while the Speaker moved through the day's business.

We had a great view of Jonah Schein, the NDP member for Davenport (our MPP!), who had sponsored his own, similar, ranked ballot bill. Soon, the reason for why we were there came: the vote for the government’s bill happened… and it passed! It was a little strange though. Yes, the bill passed second reading—meaning it now was referred to committee for further consideration. But once the time for the vote came, this sea-change in the political system seemed so anticlimactic, so matter-of-fact.

When we got back to the desk where Dave was sending out the good news, the excitement returned.

It wasn't too long, though, before the Liberals called an election, and Bill 166, the reason we were there, was ultimately never passed into law. Thankfully, however, the Liberals realized they were on the right side of history on this one, and put ranked ballots into their election platform. After they won the election, they introduced a new set of changes to the Municipal Elections Act that ended up making it possible for all municipalities in Ontario to switch to ranked ballots if they wanted to. This put the ball back in the court of Toronto City Council.

Even though the bill we watched pass second reading wasn’t actually the bill that ended up changing the law, the experience of winning when we had to was highly motivating. My daughters, who forget a lot about "years ago", still remember that day off school. I remember the look on Dave's face and the glee I felt at witnessing something important happen.