2020 has been a rough year, both in general and for our campaign to bring better elections to Toronto. The pandemic resulted in significant delays in the city’s plans to consult the public on adopting ranked ballots and on the purchase of the new voting machines needed to run a ranked ballot election. And it also saw the Government of Ontario revoke the ability of municipalities to use ranked ballots for their own elections.
Summarized this way, things may look a little bleak for our campaign. But achieving voting reform was never going to be easy or achievable without encountering resistance along the way from those who unfairly benefit from the current system.
The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for ranked ballots in many different ways. It has shown that our society can face massive challenges that require courageous and competent leadership at any time and without warning, thus underlining the need for the better candidates, campaigns, and government that ranked ballots promise.
And the reckoning around racial injustice sparked by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racialized and Indigenous people around the globe - a disproportionate impact created by our inequitable social and governmental systems - has underlined the importance of fighting for voting systems that produce governments that do a better job of representing everyone.
Thankfully, 2020 did not just highlight why we so urgently need ranked ballots. While the events of the past year may seem like a step back for our campaign, the truth is they have actually helped us solidify our support and set us up for significant steps forward in 2021.
One step back… sets us up for two steps forward
While the pandemic-induced delays at city council were annoying, they served an important purpose in that they solidified the majority support on council for moving forward with ranked ballots.
While 2026 is now the target year for the first ranked ballot election in Toronto instead of 2022, those who oppose ranked ballots on city council have now used up all the excuses for delay they had remaining to them. By 2026, Toronto will have new voting machines that will be able to count ranked ballots easily and without added cost. This delay also provides the city - and our campaign - with 4 additional years to continue educating the public and ensuring that when the first ranked ballot election inevitably happens, it will be a smashing success. As we have always said, ensuring that the first election that uses ranked ballots in Toronto goes off without a hitch is critical to winning and keeping voting reform indefinitely.
On the surface, the ranked ballot ban brought in by the current provincial government may look more worrying. But importantly, just like the delays that we experienced at City Hall, the democratic backsliding at Queen’s Park has actually helped to solidify support for ranked ballots across the province.
Indeed, by banning the use of ranked ballots by municipalities - despite the fact that London was already using them and despite referenda that had solidly supported adopting ranked ballots in Kingston and Cambridge - the government has clearly associated opposition to ranked ballots with a cynical disregard for democracy and local choice. In so doing, they have motivated all three opposition parties to commit to reverse this ban and enable municipalities to use ranked ballots for their elections - something that was not the case previously. In other words, we have never before had such strong support from across the political spectrum at the provincial level.
So while voting reform in Toronto took a step back in 2020, the setbacks we have experienced have set us up for multiple steps forward in the years to come. Put another way, our movement is stronger today than it was a year ago.
Ward 22 (Scarborough-Agincourt) By-election
Speaking of progress, we want to remind all our supporters in Ward 22 (Scarborough-Agincourt) to remember to vote in the by-election happening on 15 January.
As you may recall, this is the seat that was previously occupied by Councillor Karygiannis. Mr Karygiannis opposed ranked ballots and we would really like to “flip” this seat such that the councillor elected on 15 January is someone who supports ranked ballots. That’s why we are running a candidate pledge campaign for this by-election.
As you can see, a number of candidates have already pledged to support ranked ballots if elected. We are hoping to get more pledges in the next few days, so please amplify our messages on social media. And if you are a resident of Ward 22, please ask the candidates where they stand on ranked ballots and if they will take our candidate pledge.
New Initiatives for 2021
Finally, attentive newsletter readers will remember that just before the provincial government announced its plan to ban ranked ballots, we had promised to reveal some new opportunities for supporters to get involved in our campaign. While the fight against Bill 218 delayed these plans somewhat, we are still moving ahead with them and will be announcing a number of new opportunities to get involved shortly. So please, watch this space for more information.
Thank you for helping us to grow and get stronger, even in this difficult year. We are really looking forward to the year of progress that we see stretching out in front of us.