New provincial bill removes the option for ranked ballots in upcoming municipal elections

In October 2022, cities across Ontario will hold their next municipal election. However, with this upcoming election, the Ontario government has introduced a new bill that will prevent municipalities from using ranked ballots. 

This bill was introduced along with legislation from the Ontario government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new legislation is meant to help provide liability protection for workers and businesses against COVID-19 exposure-related lawsuits. 

In justification for this mandate, Adam Wilson, spokesman for Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, said that the decision would help eliminate unpredictability and inconsistencies across municipalities during the pandemic.

However, people are questioning whether the provincial government’s concern is necessary and whether the mandate is instead stripping residents of their democratic rights. 

why is the political class engaged in anti-democratic actions. There are over 400 municipalities in #Ontario
Why should a governing party hand down this hard decision?
Did majority of Ontario residents discuss this in their communities?#onpoli https://t.co/r4xr0v65jW

— Kojo Easy Damptey #KojoforWard14 ✊🏿 (@EasyThePianoMan) October 21, 2020

Under a ranked balloting system, voters rank their preferences of candidates. In the first round, votes for first choices are added up and if someone has a majority then they would win the election. However, if no one has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes are transferred to the next choice until someone wins by a majority. 

This system is also what is currently adopted by the McMaster Students Union for all of its elections. 

Although London is currently the only city in Ontario that has implemented a ranked ballot system, this bill would deny all cities from implementing the system in the future. 

In the cities of Kingston and Cambridge, votes from previous referendums showed that a large proportion of people are in favour of switching to a ranked ballot system. 

In an interview with CBC News, Dave Meslin, the creative director of an electoral reform advocacy group known as Unlock Democracy Canada, believes that a ranked ballot system should be implemented in the province of Ontario.

“Ranked ballots have such an impact on everything from civility to diversity to having more choice, to ensuring that you have a council with a real mandate. It's such a step backwards for this option to be stripped away from cities,” Meslin told CBC News.

“Ranked ballots have such an impact on everything from civility to diversity to having more choice, to ensuring that you have a council with a real mandate. It's such a step backwards for this option to be stripped away from cities,” Meslin told CBC News

Meslin also noted that this is the very system of voting that voted Doug Ford as the current leader of the Ontario Conservatives. When Ford ran for leadership, he was not in first place during the first round of ballots but was in second place. 

News regarding this bill and the provincial government’s decision to remove the possibility of ranked ballots has resulted in fury from other provincial party leaders. 

All three party leaders took to Twitter to express their discontent with the situation. NDP leader Andrea Horwarth wrote, “Mr. Ford interferes in democratic elections again and again. I'm committed to bringing back the right of municipalities to decide how to hold their own elections — including ranked ballots.”

Mr. Ford interferes in democratic elections again and again. I'm committed to bringing back the right of municipalities to decide how to hold their own elections —including ranked ballots. Thanks @meslin, and all those fighting this attack on democracy, for speaking out. https://t.co/S0v9cClrBX

— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) October 23, 2020

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said that the Liberal party will be finding a way to restore the option of ranked ballots if elected in 2022. 

“Ranked ballots were originally brought in under an Ontario Liberal government. Not only would I bring back the ability for municipalities to choose to use them, but Ontario Liberals will introduce a Private Members Bill to attempt to restore them in the meantime,” said Del Duca.

“I’m disgusted that the Premier would take a sledgehammer to local democracy yet again. This Doug knows best game has got to end. Ranked ballots improve democracy and the people should have the right [to] determine local elections, not the Premier,” wrote Mike Schreiner, Green party leader, in a tweet on Twitter. 

In Hamilton, Ontario, city councillors voted 8-7 following the 2018 election against the option of using ranked ballots for 2022. While ranked ballots were voted down, this motion demonstrated that there was high consideration amongst the city’s leaders for a ranked ballot system.

During this motion, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger was one of the seven who had voted in favour of using ranked ballots. 

Maureen Wilson, councillor of Ward 1 in Hamilton, was another one of the votes in favour of ranked ballots. Speaking to the Silhouette, Wilson said that she would still recommend ranked ballots today and does not understand the provincial government’s decision.

“I’m perplexed by it. I would think that the provincial government should be focussed on covid and covid recovery and why they would tuck it into an omnibus bill is perplexing. This is a government that used ranked ballots for its own leadership race. I know Mr. Ford was elected leader on a ranked ballot so if they're good enough for his party, surely they're good enough for the residents of Ontario,” said Wilson. 

We have choices that we as different municipalities make across a great number of things, so I’m not sure I understand the inconsistencies argument and I also don’t understand the argument that this will create confusion on behalf of residents. I think that’s really underestimating the intelligence of electorates. It’s not confusing at all,” Wilson added.

Wilson also adds that the provincial government’s justification for this mandate does not make sense to her.

We have choices that we as different municipalities make across a great number of things, so I’m not sure I understand the inconsistencies argument and I also don’t understand the argument that this will create confusion on behalf of residents. I think that’s really underestimating the intelligence of electorates. It’s not confusing at all,” Wilson added.

Photo by Kyle West

By: Tanvi Pathak

In March, McMaster Students Union is slated to release its second annual municipal budget submission to Hamilton city council.

According to Shemar Hackett, the MSU associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), the budget submission will prioritize transit, student housing, student employment, bylaws and enforcement and lighting.

After consulting students and reviewing data from The Your City survey, the MSU decided these key areas were ones that stood out as issues that needed immediate attention.

The committee’s decision to focus on these areas is also linked to the rising demand for off-campus housing.

According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, demand for student housing has soared in recent years.

Parashis notes that with the increase of local and international students attending McMaster, the waiting list for students seeking accommodations through Spotted Properties has tripled in the last year alone.

The municipal budget submission will also focus on accessible employment opportunities.

The union’s education department and municipal affairs committee’s recommendations aim to offer proactive solutions for each issue and improve Hamilton’s attractiveness to students and recent McMaster grads.

One of the committee’s recommendations is for the city of Hamilton to implement a lighting audit across Ward 1.

Hackett emphasized that there are neighborhoods off-campus substantially lacking in visibility. As a result, many students do not feel comfortable walking home late at night after classes.

A lighting audit would reduce these issues in these neighborhoods and identify priority locations for new street lights.

The committee reached out to the Ward 1 councilor Maureen Wilson, who was receptive to the committee’s recommendation and is confident that the proposal will be valuable to McMaster and Ward 1.

Another recommendation calls for city council to move forward with the landlord licensing project discussed in December.

Hackett and Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education), articulated their stance on landlord licensing to Ward 8 city councilor Terry Whitehead, who sits on the Rental Housing sub-committee.

Since then, the motion to implement a pilot project was brought to council and endorsed by many councilors.

Prior to the development of the budget submission, the committee consulted city officials.

The committee plans to continue to meet with the city staff and councillors to push for their recommendations and make them a priority for the council.

Thus far, they have met with Terry Cooke, CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation, to discuss student engagement and retention and the ways in which organizations can support one another in the future.

The municipal affairs committee has also been successful in implementing its Landlord Rating system, a platform developed by the MSU education department.

The landlord licensing project, which the committee has also been lobbying for, got the Hamilton city council rental housing sub committee’s stamp of approval and will be put forth into discussion during the next city council meeting.

“The council has been extremely receptive to all our points about the agreements we put forth,” said Hackett, adding that the MSU budget submission has proven to be a valuable resource for lobbying municipal stakeholders.

Over the next few weeks, the municipal affairs committee will meet with city councilors and community stakeholders to advocate for their budget submission proposals.

 

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Since May, six associate vice presidents have worked alongside the McMaster Students Union board of directors to help them achieve their platforms and bring forth their own ideas, whether that be advocating on Parliament Hill or supporting MSU employees.

Stephanie Bertolo, a fourth-year Arts and Science student, works alongside the MSU vice president (Education) as associate vice president (Municipal Affairs) to help him advocate on behalf of students in local politics.

“[It’s] a lot of meetings,” Bertolo said. “I go to the community association meetings for Ainslie Wood/Westdale. It’s going to city hall and seeing what they’re up to with decisions that affect students.”

This is the first year the MSU has had associate vice presidents. In previous years, they had commissioners who were elected by the Student Representative Assembly. Instead of an internal election, associate vice presidents are hired.

Although commissioners and associate vice presidents fulfill a similar niche within the union, associate vice presidents are expected to take on more responsibility, as demonstrated in their pay. Associate vice presidents are also expected to take on more advocacy than commissioners.

“Local politics [are] a little more down-to-earth. More citizens are invested in it because it’s so ingrained in their daily life that they’re out delegating and they get really emotional about these things”

 

Stephanie Bertolo
Associate vice president
(Municipal Affairs)

Generally speaking, associate vice presidents are expected to work 12 to 14 hours a week, whereas commissioners were paid for six to 10 hours a week.

As associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), Bertolo works with the board of directors and the MSU’s education and advocacy team to improve student life on a local level.

In the past few months, Bertolo focused on advocating for better transit in Hamilton and a landlord licensing program. Alongside the vice president (Education), Bertolo is a part of city hall subcommittees and will give delegations at various municipal meetings on behalf of the MSU.

“[Local politics are] a little more down-to-earth. More citizens are invested in it because it’s so ingrained in their daily life that they’re out delegating and they get really emotional about these things,” said Bertolo. “You don’t really see that in the other forms of politics.”

Bertolo’s job is not without challenges, one of which being the constraints she feels as a student doing advocacy.

“You want to do so much, but you’re a little bit constrained by time. And that also factors into how you feel like you should be doing those things and that you should be representing the MSU, but you just can’t do everything,” said Bertolo.

Bertolo, however, is completely supported by the board of directors, who take on work when she is unavailable.

“I’m always in [MSU vice president (Education) Ryan Deshpande]’s office. He’s always available either in person or via Facebook Messenger, so that’s really great. I can rant to him about meetings that didn’t go my way,” said Bertolo. “[MSU president Chukky Ibe]’s also a really great help, and we really act as a team.”

Bertolo also often faces challenges when trying to dispel stereotypes the community holds about McMaster students.

“One of the main challenges is dealing with the rhetoric around students. A lot of people will start saying ‘I’m not anti-student but...’ and then say things that are anti-student and trying to communicate why these things are wrong and the perceptions people have of students are often not complete,” she said.

Bertolo is excited to see what future associate vice presidents will do with their role and how her role in particular will shape local politics.

“The [municipal] election’s coming up, which is exciting! The community likes to go on and on about how [students] don’t vote and I think this could be the year that we do,” she said.

The next batch of associate vice presidents will be hired sometime in second semester.

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@BrianMcHattie

Brian McHattie is currently the councilor for Ward 1 and is one of 12 candidates running for Mayor of Hamilton. McHattie’s platform focuses on building safer neighbourhoods, stimulating economic growth and jobs, improving transit, creating an open participatory government, and improving environmental regulations.

McHattie believes that students will be impacted the most from his transit plan.

“I’ve got a four part transit plan, and it begins with enhancing local transit,” said McHattie.  “Over years of being the Ward 1 Councillor in the McMaster area working with MSU and others, the frequency of busses has been a problem.”

The plan includes increasing the A-line service that runs to the Hamilton mountain, creating applications with real-time data, and adding a light-rail transit line that runs from the McMaster area to Eastgate Square. He is also interested in working with the Graduate Students Association to get part-time students annual bus passes.

“We’re hoping to get a downtown campus so it’s important to have that linkage.”

McHattie also has plans to improve the downtown core of Hamilton.

“I’d love to see a student residence downtown, I’ve had discussions with Mac about a grad residence,” said McHattie. “One of the challenges, we’ve worked with MSU over the years, is the student bubble that is Westdale and McMaster itself. A lot of students don’t get to other parts of the city.”

Another important issue to McHattie is the environment. Previously he ran a business called the Green Planet Tour Company, and worked for Environment Canada as well as the Hamilton Conservation Authority. If elected, he plans to have a portion of Hamilton’s green space declared the Cootes to Escarpment National Park. Another portion of his platform describes working with the Ministry of Environment to create stricter rules around pollution and air quality in Hamilton.

When asked what makes him unique above the other candidates, McHattie responded, “I think it’s my ability to work well with others. Over the past 11 years on city council I’ve developed a great relationship with my fellow councillors. That is absolutely critical to the success of a mayor; the mayor only has one vote.”

I grew up in a village in New Brunswick, where candidates running for office would campaign by waving from the side of the main road at cars driving by, creating a traffic jam as people slowed down to see if they could get any gossip on who their neighbours supported.

This, among many other reasons, is why I’m excited about Hamilton’s municipal election on Monday, Oct. 27. Hamilton’s population numbers over 500,000, rivalling the entire population of the province where I grew up. In cities like Hamilton, municipal politics matter.

Local politics are often an entry point into careers in politics, so the candidate you elect as your school trustee today may be tomorrow’s premier. Furthermore, many issues at both the Ward and mayoral level affect our daily lives in tangible ways.

If you live on Emerson you might be interested in Ward 1 candidates discussing turning the Emerson corridor into the next Locke street.

Or you might care about the proposal to make Main Street West a two way street and the impact this would have on traffic.

If you bike to campus you might want to read up on the candidates’ stance on bike lanes and how they interpret the results of the Cannon St. bike lanes.

At a mayoral level you might want to look up what candidates think about waste management or violence downtown. You may, like me, be intrigued by Brian McHattie’s proposal to create a nationally significant park in Hamilton.

Even though you may be from another city and see this as a temporary part of your life, while you’re at McMaster, you’re a Hamiltonian, and you get to help decide the path of our community.

@FredEisenberger

Fred Eisenberger served as Hamilton’s mayor from 2006 to 2010 and is currently one of the front-runners for the 2014 election. His platform is centralized on bringing prosperity to Hamilton in the form of economic development, quality of life, and by investing in transit.

For students, Eisenberger believes that economic development in Hamilton is the most important issue.

“Everyone that studies ultimately wants a job, certainly many that are currently in university or college are potentially aspiring to work in Hamilton,” said Eisenberger. “We want to be a city that provides opportunity where people can come live, work, play and raise a family here, so the economic drive needs to be first and foremost when it comes to achieving that.”

Eisenberger was also the first to propose bringing light-rail transit to Hamilton, and wants to invest in improving transit in Hamilton. But before implementing this plan, he wants to spend six or seven months gathering feedback from the Hamilton community.

“The train can’t leave the station until the community is on board,” he said.

Eisenberger places a strong emphasis on building community. This includes a more customer-friendly government as well as ending local poverty.

“One in five in our city is at or below the poverty level, and we need to deal with that, as well as deal with economic development,” said Eisenberger. “It has to be prosperity for everyone.”

His platform also emphasizes building relationships with the provincial and federal government to encourage the government to invest in Hamilton.

“That’s what I did when I was mayor, and that’s what I’ll do when I am mayor again.”

By: Chris Litfin

Who are we voting for?

Perhaps you’ve heard that there are municipal elections in Ontario on Oct. 27. You may have noticed the plethora of lawn signs, the people in suits knocking on your door, or the three-ring circus that is Toronto’s mayoral race. If you haven’t, you aren’t completely to blame.

Not only does the municipal election get very little play on the major media outlets, there are no less than six distinct races in each ward: Mayor, Ward Councillor, and Trustees for the English Public, English Catholic, French Public, and French Catholic School Boards. Even for dedicated watchers of local politics, it’s enough to make your head spin.

Hamilton’s municipal government is made up of one mayor, 15 councillors each representing a ward, and an army of bureaucrats. You get to vote for the mayor (one of twelve candidates) and one of the ward councillors. McMaster is in Ward 1, which includes everything west of Queen street and east of Dundas below the escarpment, so unless you commute, you will be voting for one of the six candidates for Ward 1 councillor.

Why should you care about Hamilton politics if you are from, say, Vancouver? Simply put, after McMaster, the City of Hamilton is the organisation you interact with the most on a daily basis. Want more buses late at night? Want the bike lanes on Sterling plowed during the winter? How about a program to make sure that the student house you rented from that sketchy landlord is actually safe? All of those things are municipal responsibilities.

The school board trustees are where it starts to get complicated. As a legacy of confederation back in 1867, most areas in Ontario are covered by four distinct school boards. Thing is, you only get to vote for one of them; which one you vote for depends on whether you have “education rights” for something other than the English Public School Board. Long story short, unless you went to a Catholic/French/French Catholic high school, probably don’t have “education rights” and so will be defaulted to the English Public School Board.

In any event, in Ward 1 there are five candidates running for the English Public School Board and two for each of the others. If you think that the race for School Board Trustee is unimportant compared to Mayor or Councillor, you are dead wrong. Think about it: roughly 90 percent of you are a product of Ontario’s education system. Didn’t like something about your experience? Now’s your chance to do something about it.

The sad fact is that university students often don’t vote: for proof, just look at the dismal turnout for many of the elections held on campus. But there is a bigger problem here than the fact that university students are apathetic. As far as politicians are concerned, if you don’t vote, you don’t exist. Why should they spend time on some student-friendly initiative when they won’t see any benefit from it on election day?  Aside from all the doing-one’s-civic-duty rhetoric, it’s in your own self-interest to vote. On Oct. 27, let’s all be self-interested and take the ten minutes to put three Xs on a piece of paper.

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