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.

Background

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 (rabit.ca). 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.

Results

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

Candidate
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.

Accountability and the Mayor’s Office: Explaining John Tory’s Popularity

Written by Michael McGregor

In comparison to the raucous affairs that were the 2010 and 2014 mayoral campaigns, Toronto’s 2018 election is shaping up to be relatively tame. By all accounts, John Tory has only one serious challenger, former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat. Until recently, it was widely anticipated that Doug Ford would vie for the mayoralty, though Ford’s sudden ascension to the leadership of the Ontario PC Party, and ultimately the province, ensured that a rematch of the 2014 election was not in the cards. Former mayor Mel Lastman’s son, Blayne, apparently had brief plans to run, but announced he would not run soon after rumours of his potential participation emerged. Keesmaat herself did not file to run until the nomination deadline (July 27th), supposedly being prompted to do so by her dissatisfaction with the provincial government’s Better Local Government Act, which saw the province cut the number of city councillors in Toronto from 44 to 25.

Though there are nearly three dozen candidates in the mayoral race, only two, Tory and Keesmaat, are generally seen as serious contenders for the office.  Even then, Keesmaat would seem to have her work cut out for her: incumbents have a famous advantage in municipal politics. John Tory is no exception. 

In this short piece I make the case that, at this point in time, it appears that Tory will be extremely difficult to unseat in the 2018 mayoral election. To make this argument, I draw upon publicly available polling data, as well as data from a 2016 survey I conducted along with some colleagues (Aaron Moore and Laura Stephenson) as part of the Toronto Election Study.

Polling data from Forum Research serve as the first source of evidence that Keesmaat faces an uphill battle. The data show a longstanding, positive assessment of John Tory’s performance among the general population. In a Forum survey conducted shortly after Keesmaat’s entry into the race, Tory was found to have an approval rating of 56% (25% disapproved while the remaining respondents “don’t know” if they approved of his performance). Tory had 50% support or greater among both men and women, all age groups except for 18-34, and in all parts of the city. To provide some points of reference, Forum’s most recent survey on Federal politics found a 41% approval rating for Justin Trudeau, and Kathleen Wynne had an approval rating of merely 20% in the weeks leading up to the recent Ontario election. Tory’s popularity is also nothing new –  he has had a 50% approval rating or higher since early 2017. It is extremely difficult to challenge an incumbent under such circumstances, which helps to explain why so few legitimate contenders have put them names forward to run for the city’s highest office.

Survey data from the Toronto Election Study reinforce these findings. Our midterm survey, fielded in late-2016, provide additional evidence that Keesmaat has a challenge ahead of her. As part of this survey [1], we we asked Torontonians if they thought the city had improved, worsened, or stayed about the same in five policy areas since the 2014 election. Figure 1 shows the result of this analysis.

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 3.01.23 PM

Figure 1: Evaluations of Policy Performance (2014-2016)

Overall, respondents painted a bleak picture of Toronto’s performance during Tory’s first two years as mayor. In three policy areas, property taxes, traffic and congestion and housing affordability, a majority of respondents were of the opinion that things had deteriorated. In another two, public transit and the city’s finances, responses were slightly more positive, but negative assessments still heavily outweighed positive ones by a ratio of more than 2.5:1. As of 2016, Torontonians were clearly of the opinion that the city was headed in the wrong direction.

Under such circumstances, voters might reasonably be expected to punish the mayor for the city’s poor performance, perhaps making his defeat in an election more likely. Indeed, the ideal of democratic accountability depends upon the ability and willingness of voters to reward or punish good or bad behaviour.

The link between perceptions of policy outcomes and evaluations of Tory, however, seems absent in Toronto. As part of the same Toronto Election Study survey, we asked respondents how satisfied they were with the mayor’s performance over the last two years. Their answers are shown in Figure 2.

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 3.01.49 PM

Figure 2: Satisfaction with the Performance of Mayor John Tory

The results in Figure 2 point to a startling disconnect between assessments of policy performance and levels of satisfaction with the mayor [2]. Despite the fact that Torontonians had overwhelmingly negative assessments of the city’s performance in all of the areas we asked them about, nearly 60% were either somewhat or very satisfied with the mayor’s performance.  Only about 16% were dissatisfied.

In short, John Tory is popular and, even though voters don’t seem to believe that Toronto has improved a great deal (or at all) since he began his term, they remain largely supportive of him. The big takeaway from the figures above is that, at the aggregate, the electorate does not appear to be holding the mayor accountable for policy outcomes in areas where he reasonably can be expected to exert influence. Combined with the evidence from Forum Research that show that Tory has deep, broad and long-standing support from his constituents, these data suggest that Tory’s chances at re-election are better than slim.

Michael McGregor is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. He is Principal Investigator for the Canadian Municipal Election Study

[1] N=1,477. Data were collected online by Research Now, using an existing panel of respondents. Data are weighted for age, gender and education.

[2] Multivariate analysis shows that, for some policy areas, there is a modest relationship between evaluations of policy performance and levels of satisfaction with the mayor, at the individual level. The model has limited explanatory power, however, with an R-squared value of 0.13.

Global Suburbanisms: Concepts, Cases and Connections in Extended Urbanization

Compiled by Cara Chellew

From wealthy gated communities and high-rise dominated suburbs to exploding peripheries and informal settlements, suburbanization now dominates 21st century urban development.

Over the past 8 years, the SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) “Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century” at York University, Canada has brought together over 50 researchers from around the world to study emerging forms of (sub)urbanisms and suburbanization. Focusing on the themes of governance, land and infrastructure, this MCRI has produced a significant volume of work both conceptual and empirical.

Among its most impressive results have been comprehensive reviews of theoretical and methodological approaches in regions and countries across the globe as well as detailed case studies of suburbanization and suburban ways of life in the growing peripheries of the urban world. Volumes on governance (ed. by Hamel and Keil) land (ed. by Harris and Lehrer) and infrastructure (ed. by Filion and Pulver) provide international overviews that rely on situated analyses of suburban governance, land and infrastructure in particular regions.

Regional overviews (a European overview has been published and volumes on North American and South American suburbanization are forthcoming), innovative new methodological approaches to suburban growth and changes to suburban life (such as Still Detached and Subdivided? by Moos and Walter-Joseph), and synthetic treatises of the subject of extended urbanization such as Keil’s Suburban Planet round out the work done by the MCRI.

Much of the research conducted by MCRI associates has been published in the Global Suburbanisms book series. Edited by Roger Keil and published by the University of Toronto Press, it is the first major scholarly series to systematically examine worldwide developments in suburbanization and suburbanisms today. Titles to date include:

  • Massive Suburbanization: (Re)Building the Global Periphery (Forthcoming) edited by K. Murat Güney, Roger Keil, and Murat Üçoğlu

Providing a systematic overview of large-scale housing projects, Massive Suburbanization investigates the building and rebuilding of urban peripheries on a global scale. The book furthers the discussion pertaining to the problems of the urban periphery, urbanization and the neoliberal production of space. 

  • Critical Perspectives on Suburban Infrastructures: Contemporary International Cases (Forthcoming) edited by Pierre Filion and Nina Pulver

As most new development takes place in suburban areas, tensions emerge stemming from rapid growth. Critical Perspectives on Suburban Infrastructures investigates these tensions, looking at infrastructure issues within different suburban and societal contexts.  From low-density infrastructure-rich global north suburban areas, rapidly developing Chinese suburbs and the deeply socially stratified suburbs of global south countries, the book highlights infrastructure challenges and features common to all suburban areas .

  • The Suburban Land Question: A Global Survey (2018) edited by Richard Harris and Ute Lehrer

Focusing on issues associated with the scale and pace of rapid urbanization, The Suburban Land Question identifies common elements of suburban development. Drawing from a variety of sources from around the world, the book discusses the unique transitional character of suburban land and the many elements that distinguish land development in the urban fringe.

  • Old Europe, New Suburbanization?: Governance, Land, and Infrastructure in European Suburbanization (2017) edited by Nicholas A. Phelps

Exploring Europe’s oldest metropolises, Old Europe, New Suburbanization? highlights how both historical and geographical factors have shaped urban areas in Europe. The book provides evidence for new processes of suburbanization, challenging the dominant perspective in (sub)urban theory that establishes the United States as the norm against which all other contexts are measured.

  • What’s in a Name?: Talking about Urban Peripheries (2017) edited by Richard Harris and Charlotte Vorms

What’s in a Name? is the first book in English to pay serious and sustained attention to the naming of the urban periphery worldwide. By exploring the ways in which local individuals speak about the urban periphery, the book works to bridge the assumed divide between the global North and the global South. 

  • Suburban Governance: A Global View (2015) edited by Pierre Hamel and Roger Keil

As suburban growth becomes the dominant urban process of the twenty-first century, its governance poses an increasingly pressing set of global challenges. Suburban Governance provides a global overview of how governance regulates the creation of the world’s suburban spaces and everyday life within them.

In addition to the UTP book series, the following books have come out of the MCRI:

  • Suburban Planet: Making the World Urban from the Outside In (2018) by Roger Keil (Cambridge: Polity)

Life in the urban century is suburban. While the massive wave of present urbanization is often referred to as an ‘urban revolution’, most of this startling urban growth worldwide is happening at the margins of cities. Suburban Planet examines the processes that create the global urban periphery and the ways of life we encounter there.

  • Still Detached and Subdivided? Suburban Ways of Living in 21st-Century North America (2017) edited by Markus Moos and Robert Walter-Joseph (Berlin: Jovis)

Still Detached and Subdivided? offers an accessible yet rigorous account of ‘suburbanisms’ as particular ways of living. Moving away from treating suburbs as homogenous, the book uses visually stunning maps and data visualizations to demonstrate that aspects of this lifestyle occur simultaneously in urban and suburban places.

  • Suburban Constellations: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century (2013) edited by Roger Keil (Berlin: Jovis)

In a world of cities, suburbanization is the most visible and pervasive phenomenon. Departing from the single-family home subdivisions of North America, Suburban Constellations provides a first account of this global development with overviews of trends in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia.

Tinpot Dictator Stuff: Creatures of the Province or Order of Government?

Written by Almos Tassonyi

As noted in earlier work, Canadian cities and metropolitan areas are coping with myriad challenges including infrastructure pressure, changing demographics and threats to a property-based fiscal structure from the “sharing economy” and global forces.  The newly elected Progressive Conservative government in Ontario led by Premier Doug Ford has just added significantly to these challenges.

The risk posed by the mercantilist leanings of the Trump administration to the fiscal health of municipalities should not be discounted. A simple calculation shows that in Ontario alone, taxable industrial assessment has shrunk in real terms between 2009 and 2016. As a recent analysis  has shown, the largest concentration of manufacturing jobs that use steel are in the southern tip of Ontario, in a corridor stretching from Windsor to Guelph. In the census division of Oxford, which includes Woodstock and Ingersoll, 23.5 per cent of jobs are in metal manufacturing. Of greater concern is the threat of a 25 per cent tariff on cars and auto parts. It has been predicted that one in five manufacturing jobs in Ontario could be at risk. The consequences for the fiscal stability of the municipalities are potentially dire.

As if the uncertainty created by the Trump tariffs for the short and long term industrial base in southern Ontario were not enough, the interference by the new Progressive Conservative government in the municipal electoral process has heightened the uncertainties facing urban policy makers throughout Ontario. Not only are they likely to face real threats to municipal fiscal stability but also to the stability of governance arrangements not only in Toronto but also in other major urban centres.

The shoe dropped as Toronto news first emerged on Thursday evening, with a press release on Friday, then a first reading of the bill on Monday. The process borrowed from the Mike Harris playbook – governing first by a press release, then a thin legislative proposal (albeit with significant consequences), and finally overwhelming regulatory power to take care of finicky details as they arise. So much for the orders of government campaign of the last decade.

By contrast to theories of multi-level governance, the real world of Canadian municipalities, Section 92(8) of the British North America Act (1867) gave the provinces responsibility for “municipal institutions.”  As “creatures” created by provincial legislation, there is no constitutional recognition of the notion of “an order of government.”

However, as the City of Toronto Act (2006) notes, “the city council is a democratically elected government which is responsible and accountable; the Province of Ontario endorses the principle that it is in the best interests of the Province and the City to work together in a relationship based on mutual respect, consultation and co-operation; and, for the purposes of maintaining such a relationship, it is in the best interests of the Province and the City to engage in ongoing consultations with each other about matters of mutual interest …”

Among the things the City must have the ability to do to provide good government is: “determine what is in the public interest for the City; respond to the needs of the City; determine the appropriate structure for governing the City; ensure that the City is accountable to the public and that its process for making decisions is transparent.”

The provincial initiative has been taken without consultation and in the midst of the ongoing election and is not consistent with the intent of the existing statute.

The proposed ‘Better Local Government Act, 2018” is in direct contradiction to the thinking embodied in the City of Toronto Act. By eliminating Council’s power to determine its own structure and the boundaries of wards, it represents a direct attack on municipal competence to determine “effective representation” at the local level. After a thorough and tribunal tested ward boundary adjustment took place, this new proposal nearly doubles number of constituents that each councillor will represent.

It is also specious to suggest that any major savings will accrue to the City as  $25 million over 4 years represents approximately 1/20th of 1 percent of the operating budget (i.e., a rounding error).

Similarly, the reversal of the mandatory election of Regional Chairs in Muskoka, Niagara, Peel and York and returning the selection of Chair to the Regional Councils is also a backward step, although being characterized “as a pause”. It is completely specious for the current Minister to characterize these regions as less “mature” than Durham, Halton and Waterloo when all of these governments were established within a six year period from 1968 to 1974.

Further, during this “pause”, an intention has been declared that “a long look will be taken at regional government across the province”. While it may be premature to judge, given the biases of this government and the publicity given to chafing within regional governments, amalgamations may not be far off.  Given the unacknowledged merits of two tier local governments in terms of representation, infrastructure finance (enhanced borrowing capacity), limiting destructive tax competition, and solving cross-border service delivery issues, this announcement augurs ill for policy based on anything other than the shibboleths of “fewer politicians” being equal to effective and accountable governments.

From my previous experience as part of the elephant in the room, stakeholders, experts and municipal officials may propose but the Province disposes. Municipal governance and finances (including property tax policy) are  whereas  the Ford government has an untrammeled authority in contrast to other areas of tax policy including income, corporate, sales (GST) and carbon taxes.

While in many instances, governance and fiscal reviews may well be long overdue, those seeking more such initiatives should be careful as to what they wish for.

Almos T. Tassonyi is Executive Fellow at the School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, with over thirty years experience in developing municipal fiscal policy at the provincial and municipal level in Ontario, with the World Bank and the Canadian Urban Institute in China and Hungary, as well as teaching at the University of Toronto, Ryerson and Laurentian Universities.

The 2018 Municipal Election in London, Ontario

Written by Andrew Sancton

London’s last municipal election in 2014 was notable in that a new mayor was elected (who was an incumbent councillor) along with eleven new councillors (out of fourteen in total).  Four incumbent councillors were defeated; three did not run for re-election; and a fourth ran for mayor but garnered only 4.2 percent of the total vote.  I outline the reasons for this massive political turnover (by municipal standards) in a recently published book chapter.

There is a possibility that the 2018 election will be similar.  For one thing, the incumbent one-term mayor is not running for re-election.  His reputation suffered a serious blow when he admitted in 2016 to an extra-marital affair with another member of city council (see this article for details). This year there are fourteen mayoral candidates, four of them considered serious.  One is an incumbent councillor (Tanya Park) and one is a former Conservative federal cabinet minister (Ed Holder).  The second-place finisher in the mayoral election in 2014 (Paul Cheng) and a former chair of the local police services board (Paul Paolatto) are the other serious contenders. 

As the result of changes to the Ontario Municipal Elections Act in 2016, city council decided in 2017 that London would be the first Ontario municipality to use a ranked ballot for its municipal elections. Because of the four apparently strong candidates in the mayoral race, this new system could be of great significance, especially because there is one polarizing issue that could play a key role in determining voters’ choices and rankings.

The issue is Buss Rapid Transit (BRT). The current London city council has committed $130 million to the project and the province has approved $170 million.  A federal commitment of $200 million is not expected until after the municipal election. Three of the serious mayoral candidates are to varying degrees opposed to the BRT plan.  Among the serious mayoral candidates, only Councillor Tanya Park is fully committed supporter.  If the BRT becomes the dominant issue in the mayoral race, then presumably her opponents will benefit from receiving more second- and-third-place votes than she will.

In almost all ward races there is at least one candidate who is opposed to the current BRT plans.  It is conceivable therefore that an anti-BRT mayor could be elected, along with a majority of councillors who oppose the BRT, either because of a pre-election commitment or because of persuasion from an anti-BRT mayor. (In 2010, Mayor Rob Ford in Toronto convinced a majority of re-elected incumbents to abandon their prior commitment to Mayor David Miller’s LRT Transit City plan.)

There appears to be much passion on both sides of the BRT issue.  For proponents, implementing BRT would prove that London is a major Canadian city capable of attracting innovative millenials who choose not to rely on automobiles in their day-to-day life.  Opponents see the BRT as removing automobile lanes from already congested arteries and as a costly commitment to a soon-to-be obsolete form of transit infrastructure.

I previously expected that at this stage in the election there would already be clear pro- and anti-BRT factions.  So far they have not emerged in any overt or public way.  If they never appear, London’s 2018 election will be less than exciting, even though people like readers of this blog will no doubt want to analyze all the apparent effects of ranked ballots.  But, if clear factions do emerge, and if the anti-BRT faction prevails, then the 2018 election could see as much council turnover as the city experienced in 2014. 

Andrew Sancton is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Western University.  

Five Things to Know about BC’s 2018 Local Elections

Written by Patrick Smith

    1. All BC municipal elections are held every four years on the third Saturday in October – thus on October 20, 2018
    2. Local elections in BC are “at large” contests, unlike the rest of Canada, meaning that municipal councillors in BC are not elected in wards. Every municipal councillor in BC is elected by voters across the entire municipality.
    3. The City of Vancouver has the most developed local political party system in Canada; one of Vancouver’s political parties, the Non-Partisan Association, dates back to the 1930s. For the 2018 City elections, there will be at least nine – and possibly up to a dozen – local parties vying for mayor and council seats (COPE, Coalition Vancouver, Green, One City, NPA, Pro Vancouver, Yes Vancouver, Vision with several others still pending just three months from the vote). There are also multiple Independent contestants such as NDP MP and anti-pipeline activist Kennedy Stewart and ex-Tory MP Wai Young.
    4. The 2018 municipal elections will be the first local elections fought under BC’s new local election finance rules, which limit contributions and spending and ban corporate and union donations. The new local election finance rules were designed to confront BC’s “Wild West” democratic image and are administrated by BC’s Chief Electoral Officer and Elections BC. Aside from the campaign finance administration, the elections themselves are locally administered.
    5. Unlike “megacities” like Toronto or Calgary, which incorporate diverse urban and suburban communities within a single municipality, municipalities in BC’s metropolitan areas are largely unamalgamated. In Metro Vancouver, this means that there are 21 individual elections this fall, ranging from municipalities of about 700 population (the Village of Belcarra) up to about 650,000 population (the City of Vancouver).

 
All of these features of BC’s municipal elections – at-large elections, local political parties, fragmented metropolitan areas – make cross-Canadian local election comparisons more complicated when BC municipalities are in the mix. A great deal of work remains to be done to understand how these features of municipal elections in BC affect municipal accountability, responsiveness, and policymaking in Canada’s third-largest province.

Patrick Smith is a Professor and Director of the Institute of Governance Studies at Simon Fraser University.