Municipal PR Discussion

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    Keith Poore

    I know there are some groups out there that are working on ProRep on a municipal level. We will be discussing it at our Vancouver meeting tomorrow.

    Who else is working on municipal PR? What strategies are you employing?


    Do municipalities have the power to change the way the elect their own councils? Do they need any permissions form the provincial goverment?

    Keith Poore

    Hey George,

    That’s one of the struggles we have in Vancouver. The BC government has to change the Vancouver Charter to allow for a change in counting the ballot. Ontario updated their Local Government Act to allow ranked ballots (AV or STV) for municipal elections.

    Our approach (123Vancouver, friends of Fair Vote Vancouver) is piggybacking off of a city task force called the Independent Elections Task Force that produced a report asking the municipal government to ask the province to make a charter change. At the same time, the report says, the City of Vancouver should hold a Citizens’ Assembly to help select a voting system to implement. If the province turns the request down, then the city was encouraged to implement a semi-proportional voting system that is within the limit of the charter.


    Is it only Vancouver that has this restriction? Could other Metro Vancouver municipalities decide to switch to a PR system without the Provincial Governments approval?

    Looking at Vancouver Charter it looks like sections 91, 101, 103, 108 and 110-114 would need a few updates, namely, allowing people rank candidates and also new specifications for how the ballots are counted (103.2.b) and the winners selected (108.2). What idea’s for a semi-PR system do you have? It seems like the Charter seems very specific in terms of how it wants the election to be held and I imagine that it must be difficult to find a work around.

    Robert Jarman

    Edmonton has in the last decade changed from having two councillors elected from 6 wards to having one councillor elected from twelve wards, plus a mayor elected at large in both cases. Other municipalities have no wards at all and a number of councillors.

    Political parties basically not existing as a concept in most of Canadian municipal political systems limits the options, but single transferable vote should be something that Albertan municipalities should be able to use. Cumulative voting might also be an option as well if STV does not work out.

    It also states in section 148 of the municipal government act Alberta that the council may by bylaw fix the number of councillors elected to each ward, implying that some wards can have more councillors than others. There is also no actual requirement that mayors be elected popularly, the council could elect their presiding officer from among themselves if they wish and just add an extra councillor.

    After further reading, it does state that the ballots must be marked with Xs. I am thinking that cumulative voting could work, as could single non transferable voting, but they are not as good as STV of course.


    How does Cumulative Voting work? I do like the idea of the Mayor being elected by councillors themselves similar to a chair would in a committee. Or, what if there was a separate list of Mayoral candidates and the councillor nominees would be the ones who vote in the mayoral election but the amount of votes they get is proportional to the number of votes they got as a councillor. In that way the mayor is a reperepresntative position elected by PR.

    Robert Jarman

    A good number of private organizations and corporations use cumulative voting.

    The idea is that you have a group of people who must be elected, which may be for a board of directors or council or whatever, say there are 5. Each voter gets 5 votes. But, they do not have to only use one per candidate. They could put all five votes towards a single candidate, put three votes for one candidate and one vote for two other candidates, use one vote for five candidates, whichever combination you like. The five candidates with the most votes wins. Minority groups can concentrate their votes behind fewer candidates in the hopes that at least some of them will win, while larger groups spread out their votes. It has been used to alleviate racially biased councils in the US where it was previously tough to win in any individual ward or city under first past the post.

    STV is probably technically illegal in Alberta unless the Local Authorities Election Act is amended, but cumulative voting is probably technically legal. It is at least something that helps and has somewhat similar strategies to proportional elections although not exactly. It is also a very simple change to make for many municipalities which do not have divide themselves into wards or which divide themselves into multi member wards, which is most municipalities in Alberta and many other provinces like BC, only the largest, either county governments or those with large populations, use wards.

    I do not particularly like your modified weight system for the mayoral thing, it is probably simpler to just have the councillors do it directly. Important thing is that it is ranked and secret, and the committee memberships are allocated using STV and a secret ballot, and elect their chairs in the same way. It is rare that these votes are very contentious anyway, especially if the mayor position is elected annually and traditionally rotates, and abides by a code of procedure where the chair does not have much power.


    A Mayor is a very important and powerful figure in Vancouver and not simply a figure head for maintaining order like a chair. With the modified weighted vote system it could be a cumulative vote so that councillors put percentages on the mayoral nominees. Which system is typically more proportional for a single position, an IRV or a cumulative vote?

    If I’m understanding you correctly you don’t like the modified weight system because of the complexity?

    Robert Jarman

    There is no such thing as a proportionally elected single position like a mayor. The way I propose for mayor or speaker works because the proportionally elected body could remove them in a confidence vote. Cumulative voting does not have a majoritarian singlular equal like STV and IRV have with each other. It is simply first past the post, although you could potentially try approval voting.

    IRV or approval voting is better for a mayor with the powers you describe, but is it possible to easily reduce those powers?


    That makes sense as to why my modified weight system would not work for holding a no confidence vote for a mayor. That would probably be a necessary thing to have if the councillors themselves are electing the mayor. Right now because the people elect the mayor directly there is no grounds for no confidence votes.

    Robert Jarman

    Having ways of removing them is important, just ask Toronto back in 2014, even if that would override an electoral result. A 2/3 vote in the council supported by cause, specified in a fixed rule such as abuse of powers, crimes, or certain other violations, or a recall proposed by say 15% of the registered electorate should work.

    So do you know if BC law permits Vancouver and other BC mayors to be reduced to presiding officer status and be chosen and removed via confidence votes by the council? It is the case in Alberta, and any municipality can do so at any time by a bylaw.

    Keith Poore

    Is it only Vancouver that has this restriction? Could other Metro Vancouver municipalities decide to switch to a PR system without the Provincial Governments approval?

    It is believed by some that other municipalities in BC are able to switch to a proportional voting system. They think the “spirit” of the legislation indicated FPTP but the law doesn’t specify the counting that way.

    Robert Jarman

    Verbatim, this is what the Vancouver Charter states:

    How to vote by ballot
    91. (1)
    After receiving a ballot, an elector must
    proceed without delay to the voting compartment provided,
    while the ballot is screened from observation, mark it by making a cross in the blank space opposite the name of the candidate or candidates for whom the elector wishes to vote,
    fold the ballot to conceal all marks made on it by the elector,
    leave the voting compartment without delay,
    deposit the ballot in the appropriate sealed ballot box, and
    leave the voting place without delay.
    An election official may and, if requested by the elector, must explain to an elector the proper method for voting by ballot.

    That rules out STV because it requires voters to indicate preferences using an X, although perhaps if we used a table of preferences like the way American optical scan machines using RCV work, this might be technically permitted under a somewhat liberal interpretation of the law. The mayor would also be able to be elected using IRV in this way if the table of preferences method is used. Here is what I meant by that method of voting:

    It would be pretty easy to use cumulative voting and given that Vancouver elects 10 councillors at a time, it should work well for that purpose if STV cannot be used, and cumulative voting with that many members to be elected should be reasonably proportional although not as much as say MMP or STV.

    Here is what the Municipalities Act in BC law states:

    Marking ballot papers
    129. (1) The elector, on receiving his ballot papers, shall promptly proceed to one of the compartments provided and, screened from observation, shall mark his ballot papers by making a cross in the blank space opposite the name of the candidate or candidates for whom he votes or by making a cross in the blank space for the purpose of indicating whether or not he is in favour of a bylaw or submission.
    (2) The elector shall then fold the ballot paper across to conceal the names of the candidates and any mark he may have made on the face of the ballot paper, leave the compartment without delay, and, having exhibited the folded ballot to the presiding officer or poll clerk, shall, without exposing the front of the ballot to anyone, deposit it in the closed ballot box.
    (3) After depositing his ballot, the elector shall promptly leave the polling place.

    That should be conductive to an table of preferences method of indicating preferences like I say, both with the mayor and with the council. I do not think that the mayor can be chosen as a chairman of a council committee would, unlike Alberta. Still, the council being proportional is better than no officers being proportional.

    Steven Hurdle

    Cumulative Voting can be as proportional as STV or MMP. STV can be very proportional if there are a lot of people to be elected in each riding, or not very proportional if there are very few elected in most/all ridings. MMP can be very proportional if there are a lot of top-up seats, and not very if there are very few. Both STV and MMP are less proportional if implemented on a regional basis within the country/province/whatever. The more sub-regions you break the proportionality up within, the less proportional the result. EG., in an MMP provincial election it would be more proportional if the top-up seats were allocated province-wide, but in BC (for example) it would probably be implemented regionally (Regions might include Southern Vancouver Island, the rest of VanIsle, Northern BC, Southwestern BC, multiple sub-regions within the lower mainland, and many more). The regionality would be necessary to ensure the public that a vote cast in Vancouver doesn’t affect who gets elected in Fort St. John. But the more regionality, the lower the total proportionality. So it’s a compromise. In that sense, in how it would be implemented in Canada, any electoral system is going to be implemented in a semi-proportional manner. So Cumulative Voting is likely to produce similarly proportional results to MMP or STV. That’s why I increasingly favour CV for elections of municipal councillors in BC (and elsewhere that elect councillors “at large”). Cumulative Voting (CV) is not only semi-proportional, but it allows a voter to weight the support they want to offer each candidate. Push come to shove STV would be marginally better, but it’s a more complicate and harder sell than CV. CV has the benefit of letting people vote the way they always have, or of optionally voting in a weighted and more proportional way. A win-win for selling it to the public, IMO.

    Mark Henschel

    Proportionality is always directly related to district magnitude whether in a simple way, in the case of STV, or in a more complex way as required by mixed systems where you’re playing catch-up hockey to a greater degree with every additional single-member riding you insist on and limited by your appetite for elastic assemblies — aka whether or not overhang seats are a feature you decide to include.

    Of course in municipalities without formal parties you’re constrained to party-agnostic designs like STV… which works just fine, parties or no.

    And multi-member districts yield better quality local representation — voters can vote as local as they want and obtain representation provided they can find common cause with other voters (which is as it should be in a representative democracy) and have the whole region to source any additional votes they need to obtain that consensus (even as that threshold increases — per Droop).

    Retention of single-member wards/ridings simply interfere with voter expressing that electoral intent robbing voters of the very things that mixed systems promise.

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