The Region of Waterloo: Retirement of Long-time Regional Chair Brings Changes to Urban and Rural Relationships

Written by: Kate Daley 

For those of us who are keen observers of politics in Waterloo Region, the main and defining story of this year’s elections in Waterloo Region is at the upper-tier level.

Regional Chair Ken Seiling is retiring. He has held the post since the year I was born, when he became the Region’s third chair upon his appointment by regional council in 1985. Since 1997, when the chair position became elected, Seiling has been the only person who has ever won a region-wide office in our municipal elections.

A conscientious and experienced politician, Seiling has rarely had significant competition, which suits his approach to elections. Anecdotally, I have heard people say that they would have to convince Seiling to put up a lawn sign on their lawn. In the 2014 election, he fought off a more determined challenge from a heavily self-funded opponent running against the light rail transit project Seiling has long championed. With a somewhat more active campaign, Seiling secured the support of nearly two-thirds of voters, despite continued controversy over his signature accomplishment.

But with Seiling’s retirement finally upon us, we have to confront the reality of a 21st century Region without Ken Seiling. And the most overlooked aspect of this shift is the change it will mean for the politics of urban and rural relationships in Waterloo Region.

Before his appointment as chair so many decades ago, Seiling was mayor of Woolwich, the region’s most populous rural township.

Waterloo Region’s next chair will not have Seiling’s rural grounding. Karen Redman currently serves as a regional councillor representing Kitchener, after past service representing the area as a federal Liberal MP and party whip under Paul Martin. Jan D’Ailly is a former City of Waterloo councillor and mayoral candidate who lives in Waterloo. Jay Aissa owns a Waterloo-based fencing business, his only political experience running against Seiling in 2014. All three have their perspectives rooted in one of the existing urban municipalities.

Only Rob Deutschmann, recent one-term mayor of the Township of North Dumfries, has significant political or personal roots in any of Waterloo Region’s rural municipalities. But after growing up in the city of Waterloo and running a law firm in Downtown Kitchener for many years, even Deutchmann has much more urban positioning than Seiling.

Any of Seiling’s possible successors will bring a more urban view of Waterloo Region than Seiling did. This is significant for two main reasons.

First, Seiling’s particular brand of urban/rural perspective has significantly informed his most impressive policy accomplishment: the Region’s urban growth policies. Seiling spearheaded the creation of cutting-edge urban growth policies, upon which the provincial Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and Greenbelt were significantly modeled.

The Region has committed to building up rather than out, with intensification focused along the Central Transit Corridor served by the Region’s new Light Rail Transit system. This investment, one third of which is being funded through local sources, was championed largely to focus growth in central areas. This is a key step in preserving a permanent Protected Countryside that protects vibrant farmland and the area’s crucial groundwater resources, and a Countryside Line that provides a medium-term growth boundary between urban development and the rural landscape.

While support for the Countryside Line is high among the Region’s current councillors and many candidates (as shown by responses to a recent candidate questionnaire), Seiling has been the approach’s most determined advocate.

Second, Seiling’s positioning outside of the three cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo has put him in an ideal position to negotiate tensions between different members of “the regional family,” as some regional councillors have called it. There are longstanding tensions going back at least to regional amalgamation in 1973. Forces in Kitchener have long advocated for annexing other parts of the region or amalgamating the surrounding county into one government headquartered in Kitchener. Forces in Waterloo and elsewhere have at times resented Kitchener’s “manifest destiny” (as one 1960s observer scornfully described it). In perhaps the most clear example of this dynamic, in a 2010 plebiscite, Kitchener voters supported amalgamation talks with two-thirds support, while Waterloo voters opposed even talking about amalgamation by the same margin.

Forces in Cambridge, for their part, have often felt left out of a regional system many see as driven by “Kitchener-Waterloo,” as so many observers unhelpfully describe the area. Over the years, leaders in Cambridge have called for the elimination of the Region or succession from the upper-tier system. Along with complaints over the two-tier system, wounds from the forced amalgamation of three municipalities into the City of Cambridge in 1973 are still raw, with community members routinely identifying themselves as from Preston, Hespeler, or Galt.

While Seiling has certainly taken sides and stood for central government against secessionists and service board advocates in Cambridge, he has been able to maintain a certain distance from the sibling rivalries between the cities from his location in Woolwich Township

Significant struggles over regional reform, with possibilities ranging from a mega-city amalgamation to abolishing the Region, have arisen periodically and consistently, most recently in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Always painfully divisive, debates over the right arrangement of government, over who should govern whom and how, and over how the relationship between urban and rural should work have been a persistent and cyclical feature of politics in Waterloo Region, despite the relative success of its regional framework.

Lest one think that these urban rivalries are old news, the amalgamation debates have resurfaced yet again in recent weeks. With Premier Doug Ford’s proclamation this summer that he will “review” the regional governments after reducing the size of Toronto Council, long-time amalgamation advocates are once again using the threat of provincial interference to pursue their long-term goals. The future of Waterloo Region’s two-tier model is once again in question.

Regardless of who wins the chair’s race, the Region of Waterloo will not be the same. Seiling’s most persistent accomplishment has been the role he has played as a uniting voice, representing the upper-tier region with limited urban baggage. He has also been a strong advocate for Waterloo Region as a whole with the provincial government, in particular. With the uncertainty of what a Doug Ford government might do to Waterloo Region under the dubious guise of making it more “efficient,” and without a particular commitment from the premier to local consultation and appropriateness, the Region will be without its strongest voice during this new and frightening era in Ontario municipal politics.

Even without this dramatic change at the province, Ken Seiling’s retirement would be a considerable loss for this area. The Region of Waterloo as we know it in my lifetime is Ken Seiling’s Region of Waterloo. He is leaving a strong legacy, but the future of the Region is uncertain.

Kate Daley is an environmental professional and a graduate of York University’s PhD program in political science, where she studied transit, urban growth management, and regional government in the Waterloo area. She has managed two successful municipal campaigns, and participated in the organization of this year’s Women’s Municipal Campaign School in Waterloo Region. She is currently on parental leave with her family’s new baby. Disclosure: The author’s spouse is a councillor representing the City of Waterloo’s Ward 6, and is currently running for re-election.

City of Vancouver: Civic Elections 2018

Written by: Patrick Smith 

The City of Vancouver has the oldest continuous local political party system in Canada. It has also had one of the most orderly. Following a 1935 referendum to replace ward-based elections with an at-large system, a right of centre political force, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) was formed in 1937 to combat what was seen by local business advocates as a leftist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) threat at city hall. After winning the Mayoral race in 1940, the NPA came to win a majority of council elections and mayor in each civic election between 1941 and 1967.

At the end of the 1960’s, one political interregnum occurred when more Liberal local reformist elements, energized by anti-urban renewal/ anti-urban freeway politics led to a platform of change, briefly superseding the NPA with The Electors Action Movement (TEAM). This centrist vs centre-right tussle resulted in TEAM civic majorities between 1972-80, after which TEAM fell back to contender status, before disbanding in 1984 – a short political interlude but one which had a significant impact on the city’s future development.

COPE (the Committee/Coalition of Progressive Electors) and other left independents also came to challenge NPA predominance in the first half of the 1980’s – with former TEAM councillor Mike Harcourt taking over the mayor’s chair, running as a left Independent (1980-86). Harcourt subsequently served as BC NDP Premier in 1991-1996; he was followed as mayor by Gordon Campbell, for the NPA; (3 terms -1986-93), and succeeded by NPA colleague Phillip Owen, for another 3 terms, 1993-2001). Campbell, too, went on to serve as BC’s Premier (Liberal, 2001-2011).

In total, between 1941 and present, the Non-Partisan Association could be described as the natural ruling party of the City of Vancouver. During this run, the NPA and its allies won mayoralty and council for more than 40 years. Eleven of the sixteen mayors have been NPA. Their closest, most successful rival, Gregor Robertson of Vision Vancouver is just finishing a 3rd term at 10 years.

Around 2001, the local political landscape began to change. Activists and local politicians agitated for a switch to Harm Reduction from the U.S. sponsored War On Drugs. Over the next three civic administrations, Vancouverites elected a leftist COPE mayor and council (Larry Campbell, 2001-2005), a return to rightist NPA (under Sam Sullivan. 2005-2008) and a shift to more centrist Vision (with Mayor Gordon Robertson (2008-2018). Robertson and Vision lead this local splinter, reconfigured from the COPE of Larry Campbell’s 2001-2005 term. What was remarkable is the fact that each of these three ideologically different administrations – between 2001 and the present maintained the central social policy consensus – to maintain Vancouver as North America’s first official Supervised Injection Site (InSite) and work on its harm reduction focus of the Four Pillars approach.

The local landscape of the October 20, 2018 civic elections reflects that consensus on the local opioid crisis, coupled with a new consensus on housing affordability – though not its solution – but the City’s politics are now much more convoluted: local voters have 21 candidates for mayor, including 7 with local party support; there are also 71 candidates for ten council seats with eleven local parties contesting. Voters need to figure out a split right wing which includes Coalition Vancouver, proVancouver, Vancouver 1st, and Yes Vancouver and the traditional pro-business NPA, plus independents such as Rollergirl and Mrs. Doubtfire.

In Vancouver, it has more often been the left/progressives who have split their vote, giving advantage to the NPA. The governing Vision Vancouver, after a decade in control of city council under Mayor Gregor Robertson, nominated as mayoral candidate Squamish Hereditary Chief, Ian Campbell, who then withdrew under a hint of scandal just before the mid-September close of nominations. No new Vision candidate was put forward though the party did manage to nominate seven Vision representatives – though only one incumbent appeared on the ballot for council.

After multiple local elections where the best predictor of re-electability was incumbency, 2018 is anticipated to be the an outlier of note. It is an oddity, where an Independent candidate for mayor, with District Labour Council endorsement, is the front-runner in the last month of the race; Dr. Kennedy Stewart, a 2-term MP/sometime SFU Public Policy/Urban Studies background with a strong ecological and democratic reform history, including contesting the Trans Mountain Pipeline, has led the large mayoral pack from the summer. Not surprisingly, the NPA, under Ken Sim, is his largest opposition; apart from Mayor, the NPA have ten council contestants.

A second oddity is the local Greens; their leader, Adrianne Carr has topped past polls for council but decided to not risk losing a seat in a less certain run for mayor. Instead they have a half dozen candidates seeking city council seats.

The split of the city’s right-wing forces, led by the NPA certainly is a third oddity: at least three of the local party candidates running for mayor sought the NPA’s nomination, After being rebuffed, the unhappy politicos set up new political tents nearby. With more than 70 council candidates and 21 running for mayor, (plus school board and local park board), name and local party recognition should influence outcomes (though perhaps less than a randomized ballot anticipates (see here). 

The fourth oddity is the impact of a new, not entirely fixed, local campaign finance law. Intended to “take big money out of local elections” by banning corporate and union contributions and adding limits for individuals, the switch in how and what can be raised and spent goes some way to explaining why half of Metro Vancouver’s 23 mayors decided to not run in 2018, including BC’s two largest municipalities – Vancouver and Surrey. The relative lack of advertising dollars may mean that voter recognition and turnout are also truncated below the typical mid-thirty-percent rate.

With the civic race now officially underway, Vancouver’s election results will be known on October 20th, just a month hence.

Fact-checking the Financial Impact of Council Downsizing

Written by: Patrick Kilfoil and Jean-Philippe Meloche

The debate over the size of Toronto’s city council is usually depicted as a fight between two seemingly defendable positions. On one hand, proponents of a smaller council tout potential savings, both short-term and long-term, as well as more effective decision-making. On the other, those who favour the status quo describe the move as a blow to local democracy. As far as facts are concerned, there is distinct lack of evidence to defend the former stance.

This is not the first attempt by the provincial government to tinker with local government structures, both in Toronto and elsewhere in the country. Who can forget the political crises over amalgamation that contributed to the downfall of governments in Ontario and Quebec at the turn of the century? In both cases, proponents of the proposed reforms championed fiscal responsibility and efficiency in decision-making as key arguments. While evidence may have lacked at the time to prove or disprove these claims, that is decidedly not the case anymore. Having studied the impact of council size on local governments’ budgets as well as the effect of council downsizing on their fiscal performance, we can predict that the impact of the Ford reform will at best have a marginal effect on Toronto’s overall budget, even in the long run.

Let’s look at the numbers. The City of Toronto’s expenses totalled $11.12 billion in 2018. The government estimates that slashing council from 44 members to 25 will lead to $25 million in savings in the operating budget. This represents a little over 0.2% of the City’s budget, and we would argue that this constitutes an overly optimistic estimate of potential savings that will actually materialize. Sure, reducing the number of elected officials will have an immediate impact on the operating budget of the council as an entity if the reform is implemented in time for the next election. But is it justified to weaken democratic responsiveness and representation for savings of just 0.2% of the total budget?

However, posed in this fashion, the question fails to account for the complexity of estimating the cost impact of such decisions. The work that elected officials actually accomplish on a daily basis, ranging from appearing to council meetings to fielding calls from their constituents and championing their causes in the municipal bureaucracy, does not disappear in thin air overnight once the bill currently debated at Queen’s Park receives royal assent. Recent research we published in Canadian Public Administration shows that the reduction of council size in Toronto in 2000, Quebec City in 2009, and Halifax Regional Municipality in 2012 is not correlated with a reduction in these cities’ operating budgets. In other words, downsizing council did not lead to savings on the overall budget. Whatever savings were accrued from council’s operating budget were simply transferred as increased expenses to other budget items to pay political staff and civil servants who are essentially doing the work that elected officials previously accomplished. In each of these cases, council downsizing failed to achieve what it was meant to do – namely to reduce costs. What is more alarming is that it also negatively impacted local democracy by imposing a time crunch on the remaining elected officials who now have less time to dedicate to their constituents because each councillor is representing more voters.

The question, therefore, is not whether achieving marginal savings is worth reducing the
effectiveness of local elected officials in representing their constituents, but rather how to defend an attack on local democracy in the absence of any discernable impact on the City’s financial performance. 

Patrick Kilfoil is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. Jean-Phillippe Meloche is Professeur agrégé in École d’urbanisme et d’architecture de paysage, Université de Montréal. 

The 2018 Municipal Election in Niagara: The Fun Never Stops

Written by: David Siegel 

“All of Niagara has been played.” Rob Houle’s short and simple tweet is probably one of the most frequently retweeted laments about Niagara these days. 

Compared to some of the other municipalities covered in this blog, Niagara isn’t very large, but there is always something interesting happening here so I’m pleased to offer my contribution. 

After the October 22 election, the Niagara Regional Council will be composed of the mayors of the 12 area municipalities, 19 other representatives elected directly within the municipalities, and the regional chair. This election would have seen Niagara elect its regional chair for the first time, but the Ford government changed the rules in the middle of the game, so councillors will continue to select the regional chair.  

This will be a very interesting election in Niagara. In the previous four years, the Niagara Regional Council has been dominated by a group that has been christened the Conservative cabal. However, the group has now overstepped even the broad boundaries normally set by Niagara voters. Judging from the insurgent candidates’ literature with phrases like ‘Reset the Region’ and ‘Bring honesty, integrity and common sense back’ this could be a difficult year for incumbents.  

So, what’s happening?  

Many outside of Niagara will be disappointed to learn that Andy Petrowski, who has entertained so many of you with his bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-media posturing has decided not to run for office again. That’s one major embarrassment to Niagara out of the way. However, don’t be disappointed because the fun will continue in other ways. 

There could have been a number of issues in this campaign, but the major driver will certainly be the chief administrative officer. (I wrote a book recently about CAOs entitled Leaders in the Shadows. It’s an axiom among CAOs that the only time their name appears in print or in social media is when they’re in trouble. That’s certainly the case here.)  

The region appointed a new CAO in 2016. He had been CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority which was having its own problems at the time. It was an interesting appointment in that he had limited municipal experience and the region is a much larger and more complex operation than the conservation authority. (The regional budget is about 100 times larger than the CA’s – $1.1 billion to $12 million.) However, people grow and develop their skills over the years, so good for him. 

Fast forward to 2018 and Grant LaFleche of the St Catharines Standard has been running a series of stories alleging that, at the time of the competition, the successful candidate was provided with information about the identity of the other candidates, and the questions that would be asked at the interview. It seems a staff member in the Regional Chair’s office also provided him with assistance about how to respond to the questions.  

By the way, rumours about this were on the street at roughly the same time that the competition was taking place. Some people aren’t even competent enough to run a small conspiracy. 

The Regional Chair’s “defense” is that this is politically motivated and he doesn’t read the Standard, anyway. For some reason, no one associated with the region has come forward and simply said that the allegations are false.  

But wait, the story gets better. When councillors started discussing this matter, they discovered that the chair had extended the CAO’s contract by several years without consulting council.  

Wait, there’s still more. While unilaterally extending the contract, the chair also added a provision that the CAO would get a severance package equal to one year’s pay even if he were fired for cause. Staff reportedly told council that it would cost about $1 million to get rid of the CAO.  

There seems to be a possibility that the contract extension might be void, but that is a thicket that the newly-elected council will have to deal with. The current council is now a ‘lame duck’ so under Ontario law, it cannot fire anyone. 

The Ombudsman is investigating the entire situation, but it is almost certain that the investigation will not be complete until well after next month’s election.  

Not surprisingly, this is the major issue in the campaign, which is unfortunate because there are issues related to regional transit, economic development, and some contentious land use decisions that should be discussed. 

It seems fairly certain that there will be some new faces around the regional council table after the election. The only question is how thoroughly the new broom will sweep. As we know, the public is not particularly attentive to municipal elections generally, and this is especially the case for elections at the regional level which is seen as a government at some remove from ‘real’ local issues. However, these extraordinary events might have increased the interest in regional affairs. 

It would also be unfortunate if voters’ outrage about these events caused them to turf out some of the good councillors who have been trying to handle this properly. There are certainly an inordinate number of candidates for regional office. St Catharines has 23 candidates for six seats including a former MPP and several people who have experience serving on local councils, but want the opportunity to ‘reset the region,’ as one of the candidates promises on her lawn signs.  

By the way, the major continuing issue on council’s agenda in recent years has been economic development because no one can figure out why businesses are not clamouring for the opportunity to locate in Niagara. Who would pass up an opportunity to get a front-row seat for this?

David Siegel is Professor of Political Science at Brock University. 

The 2018 Municipal Election in Ottawa

Written by Anne Mévellec and Luc Turgeon

While 102 candidates are vying for the 23 councillor positions in Ottawa’s upcoming municipal election, the makeup of city council is unlikely to change significantly. In 19 of the city’s 23 wards, the incumbent is running again. As for the four seats that are being vacated, they account for a disproportionate number of candidates, including 17 candidates running in Orléans alone. Only 20 per cent of the 102 candidates running for city council are women. As such, the astonishing under-representation of women on council – only 4 of the city’s 23 councillors are women – is likely to continue. 

The current mayor, Jim Watson, is facing 11 candidates, all of whom are men. Few of them benefit from significant name recognition. One possible exception is Clive Doucet, a former municipal councillor who ran for mayor in 2010 again Watson and then Mayor Larry O’Brien. Doucet threw his hat in the ring at the last minute, after rumoured high-profile candidates decided not to challenge Watson.

While Watson has been facing more criticisms during his last mandate (more on that below), he remains one of Canada’s most popular mayors. His popularity and, barring a major surprise, likely re-election, can be attributed to four key factors.

The first is Watson’s relentless and continuous campaigning, especially between elections. On a given day, besides attending to city hall business, Watson might be present for the opening of a grocery store, visit an elementary school and make a cameo in a play. No event is too small for Watson to attend.

The second factor is Watson’s ability to avoid blame for potentially controversial decisions, often by passing the buck to other political actors. While he has opposed in the past proposals such as making the city officially bilingual or allowing the opening of safe-injection sites, he ultimately let other actors (the province or other public agencies) take the heat and make final decisions on those files.

The third is Watson’s control over council. With the potential exception, especially over the past year, of a few, mostly progressive councillors from the downtown core, Watson has largely benefited from the support of a majority of councillors. He is rarely on the losing side of a vote and council members seldom challenge his leadership.  

Finally, Watson has been relatively agile when it comes to navigating the city’s complex territorial and political makeover since his return to municipal politics in 2010. During his last mandate, he has capped property tax increases to two percent annually, as he had promised, which appeals to more conservative (and often rural and suburban) voters. At the same time, he has made symbolic gestures that have drawn praise from more liberal or progressive citizens, such as his widely publicized decision this summer to boycott the American Embassy annual Fourth of July Party.

As mentioned previously, over the past year, Watson’s management style and the city’s overall direction have been the object of criticism. Some of those issues are likely to resurface again during this campaign.

The first issue is development. The mayor is starting the campaign in the wake of a significant economic announcement: the decision of Amazon to build a new distribution centre in the east end of the city. However, Mr. Watson and the current council have also increasingly been criticized for what is perceived as a pro-developer agenda that too often brushes aside community design plans and secondary plans. Clive Doucet has made the respect of community development plans a central pillar of his campaign.

The second issue is the city’s fiscal policy and its impact, especially on infrastructures and services. The decision to cap property-tax hikes to two per cent has lead to a constantly growing infrastructure deficit and a reduction in services. Last December, eight councillors broke with the mayor and the rest of council by proposing an additional 0.5 per cent tax increase to finance infrastructures. The proposal was ultimately withdrawn after the mayor announced that additional spending on infrastructures would be paid by a higher surplus than expected. Nevertheless, it brought to the forefront the issues of infrastructure and taxation. 

The third issue is the broad question of social development, where the mayor and council have been at times accused of lacking leadership, especially in light of the opioid crisis and the limited progress made on the city’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. In the specific case of homelessness, the announcement that the Salvation Army was planning to close its shelter in the ByWard Market and open a new 350-bed multipurpose facility in Vanier has been one of the most contentious issues at city hall over the past four years. The Mayor, as well as a large contingent of suburban and rural councillors, supported the project. Besides Vanier residents who created an organization, SOS Vanier, to oppose the Salvation Army project, it was also opposed by a number of experts and activists, as well as progressive councillors from the downtown core, who argued that the proposed model was outdated. While the project is currently on hold pending an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, the issue is likely to be raised again during the coming election, as one of the mayor’s opponents is a Vanier entrepreneur who played a leading role in SOS Vanier.

Whether the question of Watson’s control over council will be debated remains to be seen. Nevertheless, one can expect the mayor to be facing tough questions about his leadership in the coming weeks as he seeks re-election.

Anne Mévellec and Luc Turgeon are Associate Professors in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. 


What if the 2014 Toronto mayoral election had employed a ranked ballot electoral system?

Written by Michael McGregor. Originally posted on CMES

Summary: Municipalities in Ontario have recently been granted the authority to abandon the existing first-past-the-post electoral system in favour of ranked balloting. In this post we speculate as to the outcome of the 2014 mayoral election had a ranked ballot electoral system been in place. In such a system, voters are able to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first place votes, then the second preferences of those voters who supported minor candidates are counted. This process continues until a candidate breaches the 50% threshold and is declared the winner.

Toronto Election Study (TES) data reveal that John Tory would have won the election under a ranked ballot electoral system, defeating Doug Ford in the last round of counting by a large margin.


In June 2016, the Government of Ontario granted municipalities the authority to use ranked ballots in future elections, permitting voters to select as many as their top three options on a single ballot. The Province was responding to a grass-roots movement to reform voting at the local level (which was accompanied by a high-profile national debate on the issue of electoral reform). Ranked ballots are used in municipal elections in several American cities, including San Francisco (and a number other cities in California), Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine. The decision to adopt the system at the municipal level in Ontario is thus not without precedent. This is the same system widely believed to be supported by the Federal Liberal Party prior to the abandonment of their promise to reform the electoral system in 2017. This is also the electoral system used by all of Canada’s major federal parties for selecting leaders.

Organizations such as Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) have argued that ranked ballots would prevent mayoral and council candidates from winning elections with less than a majority of the vote, eliminate vote splitting, and reduce strategic voting at the municipal level ( Proponents of the change hoped to address such issues as low voter turnout and a sense among voters that their vote would not count if they did support the winning candidate. The putative motivation for this movement is the sense that current electoral system is unable to translate residents’ sentiment and preferences into an elected body that accurately represents their interests.

Despite the fact that all municipalities in Ontario were given the option to adopt ranked ballots for the 2018 election cycle, only one, London, did so in advance of the provincial deadline of May 1, 2017. For its part, the City of Toronto did originally support the adoption of ranked ballots; in 2013, city council was at the forefront of the battle for ranked balloting, having petitioned the province to allow for ranked ballots at the local level (provincial permission is required for such a change). However, council reversed its decision in 2016, in a 25-18 vote led by rookie city councillor Justin Di Ciano, who argued that a ranked ballot voting system is too costly, overly complex, and that there is limited public support for the system. Ranked ballots are not, therefore, being employed in 2018 in Toronto.

A debate over the merits of various electoral systems aside, it is interesting to consider if and how election outcomes might have changed under different electoral systems. To that end, we consider here how the 2014 Toronto Mayoral election would have unfolded under a ranked ballot electoral system.


The 2014 Toronto Election Study includes a question that allows us to speculate as to the outcome of the election had ranked balloting been in place. In the campaign period questionnaire, respondents were informed that the province had passed legislation that would allow the city to used ranked ballots in future elections, and ranked balloting was described to them. They were then asked to rank the mayoral candidates as they would if ranked balloting were currently in place. Table 1 shows the results of this question, showing how many first, second and third place votes each mayoral candidate would have received. We consider the three major candidates for mayor, as well as an ‘other’ category to capture all minor candidates simultaneously.

Table 1: Ranking of Mayoral Candidates

Ranking Candidate
Ford Chow Tory Others
First 31.4% 20.6% 45.1% 2.9%
Second 14.5% 35.9% 34.0% 15.6%
Third 17.1% 23.8% 14.8% 44.3%
Fourth 37.0% 19.7% 6.1% 37.3%

N = 1,385

Not surprisingly, the first place rankings in Table 1 fairly closely mirror the actual election outcome. Tory, who received 40.3% of the vote on election-day, was ranked highest among 45.1% of survey respondents. Ford was ranked first by a further 31.4% of respondents, which closely matches the 33.7% of votes he actually received. For her part, Chow was the most preferred candidate of 20.6% of Torontonians, and received 23.2% of the actual vote.

Another striking observation from Table 1 is that, among those who did not rank him first, Doug Ford performed extremely poorly. In fact, the brother of the outgoing mayor was ranked last (fourth) by many more respondents than were Chow and Tory combined. He was also the recipient of relatively few ‘second place’ rankings. Fewer than one in six voters who preferred a candidate other than Ford listed him as their second choice. In contrast, both Chow and Tory were the recipients of greater than one-third of second place votes. These patterns suggest strongly that Ford would not have fared well had the 2014 election been fought under a ranked ballot system.

So how would the result of the election have unfolded under ranked balloting?  Based upon the information from the same survey question used to create Table 1, we can speculate as to what the election result would have been.

Under ranked balloting, several rounds of counting may be necessary, depending on the system of ranked balloting employed for the election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round, the candidate who receives the fewest first place votes is removed from the candidate pool, and the second choice votes of those who ranked them first are counted. This process continues until a candidate reaches 50% + 1 vote. Table 2 shows the result of this process in the case of the 2014 mayoral election.

Table 2: Ranked Balloting Results by Round

Ford Chow Tory Others
Voting Round Round 1 31.4% 20.6% 45.1% 2.9%
Round 2 31.6% 22.3% 46.1%
Round 3 34.7% 65.3%

N = 1,385

In this instance, multiple rounds of counting would be required, as no single candidate received greater than 50% support in the first round. After round 1 of counting, the ‘other’ category would be dropped, and the second place preferences of those voters would be reallocated to the other candidates. Note that we pool all ‘other’ candidates here, thus only require one round of counting to ‘drop’ them all. In reality, many more rounds of counting would be necessary to drop these candidates, as the 2014 contest included 65 contenders.

Based upon TES data, we can conclude with a high degree of certainty that John Tory would have won the 2014 Toronto mayoral election had the contest been fought under a ranked ballot electoral system. In the second round of counting all three minor candidates would receive a modest boost in support, as the second place votes of those who supported ‘other’ candidates are counted. No candidate would reach the 50% threshold, however. When Chow is eliminated in round three, however, Tory leaps past the 50% mark, receiving the support of 65.3% of electors, as compared to 34.7% for Ford.[1]

Though one can certainly imagine instances where election outcomes might hinge on the type of electoral system in place, the 2014 Toronto election is not such a case. It is hard to imagine an electoral system under which John Tory would not have won the 2014 Toronto election. His margin of victory, however, is even greater under ranked balloting than it was first-past-the-post system. Such a finding may help to explain the mayor’s apparent dissatisfaction with council’s decision to abandon ranked balloting in advance of the 2018 election.

[1] Counting in the second round is straightforward, as we simply need to consider the second place votes among ‘other’ supporters. Round three calculations are somewhat more complex, however. In this round, the third place preferences of those who ranked ‘other’ first and Chow second would need to be counted (among this group, 13.6% ranked Ford third, while the remaining 86.4% assigned Tory a third place ranking).  The third place preferences of those who ranked Chow first and an ‘other’ candidate second must also be counted (in this instance 82.0% and 18.0% ranked Tory and Ford third, respectively.

Does Anyone Even Care About Municipal Politics?

Written by Erin Tolley

Municipal politics are often touted as the level of government “closest to the people,” the arena where the rubber hits the proverbial (potholed) road. So why then don’t more people get involved in municipal politics? In a recent Nanos survey, one-third of Ontario voters said they weren’t even aware that the province is in the midst of a municipal election campaign.

In 2014, voter turnout in municipal elections across Ontario averaged 43%, a figure that falls short of turnout in recent provincial or federal elections. Turnout can vary widely, however. The highest municipal voter turnout in Ontario in 2014 was reported by the town of Latchford, where 87% of eligible voters cast ballots; that compares to just 16% of Petawawa’s voters. The city of Toronto, meanwhile, saw voter turnout rise significantly in 2014, an increase that some suggested was spurred by the tumultuous tenure of mayor Rob Ford.

Next door, in Mississauga, the 2014 retirement of long-time mayor Hazel McCallion meant that the race for the city’s top job was wide open. Even so, just 37% of the city’s eligible voters turned out to vote, with the winning candidate, Bonnie Crombie, garnering 63% of ballots cast. This time around, the incumbent faces seven challengers. It’s a broad field, but thus far, the only facet of the city’s election that has garnered any sustained attention is an ongoing court case involving a mayoral candidate charged with the willful promotion of hate.

Across the province, when respondents to the Nanos survey were asked why they likely won’t vote in the coming municipal election, the most common reason they gave is that they don’t follow politics or don’t know enough (30%). A further 19% said they aren’t interested or never vote, while a further 12% said they don’t like political parties or politicians. Reasons related to voting ineligibility (11%) and inaccessibility (10%) were lower on the list, as was the notion that voting wouldn’t make a difference (9%). Many of these findings mirror the explanations unearthed in academic research on low voter turnout. Political scientists also point to socio-economic factors that are correlated with voting, such as age, educational attainment, and income, as well as institutional features, including the electoral system and ballot structure that are associated with higher voter turnout.

Voter turnout is but one metric that scholars use to track democratic health, but low voter turnout is a sign that voters feel disconnected from their governments or disinterested in civic life. Low voter turnout is a threat to political legitimacy and may ultimately undermine the mandate given to elected officials.

In the Nanos survey, of those who said that they are likely to vote in the 2018 municipal election, fully two-thirds were motivated by their sense of civic responsibility. These citizens vote because they feel that they should. Only 35% said they vote because they want a say on a particular policy issue. Maybe this is good news in a city like Mississauga, where the election campaign has thus far been relatively lackluster. With an incumbent mayor who is favoured to win and no clear galvanizing issue, voter turnout may be driven by those who aren’t necessarily excited about their duty but simply feel an obligation exercise it.

Erin Tolley is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a co-investigator on the Canadian Municipal Election Study.