Single Transferable Vote Discussion

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    Let’s talk about STV and ranked ballots and all that good stuff. I think it would be a great stepping stone for provincial and federal politics if municipal elections started using STV. Who controls what system municipal elections are run under? Do the municipalities get to decide themselves? Could we lobby our local Councillors to run their next election with STV?

    Robert Jarman

    I do not think they can in Alberta, because the Local Authorities Election Act states that only Xs can be used to mark a candidate. Cumulative voting or single non transferable voting should work though and would not be too bad.

    But STV could be used to put councillors on committees and ranked ballots used to elect their chairs. It could also be used to elect a chief executive officer, usually called city manager, in the event that getting a majority does not work out, and same with other officials like the heads of departments or the directors on corporations which the city council has ownership rights and ergo the right to elect a number of directors with their shares. I would also suggest avoiding the centralization of power and personality that comes with mayors by having there be an additional councillor and the council just elects with a ranked ballot a mayor, read presiding officer, from among themselves. In Alberta, the vote on a mayor elected in this way is a secret ballot from among the councillors. There is also interestingly no legal requirement as to them being called mayors, and the councils can designate just about any title they want for this officer.


    In Alberta can you only mark an X? In the Vancouver Charter you can put any mark so long as it is the only mark on the ballot.

    I think overall this rule is not a big barrier to STV as if a council wanted to bring in ranked ballots the laws could easily be rewritten. It think our trouble is more on convincing politicians that the results of an STV election are more fair, desirable, simple for voters, and will not jeopardize their ability to get reelected.

    jim in oakville

    Single Transferable Vote favours the central party, the Liberals. That is what Trudeau wanted but the committee did not, goodbye committee!
    Few Cons would vote NDP and vice versa as their second choice.


    I think Justin Trudeau was advocating for Instant-Runoff Voting rather than Single-Transferable Vote. See this article: The Tyee: Does-Trudeau-Want-Fair-Elections.

    They are different because STV you elect multiple people per riding wheras in IRV you only elect one person.

    Mark Henschel

    With respect to municipal elections…

    Municipalities are “creatures” of the provinces and their operation is determined by provinical legislation.

    In Ontario the use of ordinal ballots was not permitted until Dave Meslin and his band of merry reformers agitated for change. I weighed in too.

    We managed to get the act changed to allow ranked ballots to be used but naturally left the form of the implementation up to the individual municipalities. That means that ranked ballots could be used in multi-member wards (Toronto used to have these) or even in at-large elections… nice if you can do ’em.

    The resultant is that London held its first AV election last year and Kingston and Cambridge held referenda to see if ranked ballots might fly there (Kingston said yes and, I believe, Cambridge gave a qualified yes).

    In the wake of the ugly election last year, Toronto looks to be considering upgrading. I’ll be in there advocating for multi-member wards… aka STV.

    Mark Henschel

    Follow up:

    Toronto was soliciting advice about governance. I heard about this from RABit not FV. Here’s what I wrote:


    I understand that The City is soliciting ideas from Torontonians with respect to governance.

    It seems to me that the one thing that absolutely must be done is to materially improve the inclusion and equality of voices that contribute to that governance in our council chamber. This would require a significant change in how we elect our representatives.

    In a representative democracy the ideal is to have absolute inclusion and equality: every voter gets a rep of their choosing and every rep represents the same number of voters.

    Under the current single member plurality electoral system — aka First Past The Post (FPTP) — typically only around half of voters get a rep they voted for and the mandates for each Councillor can vary widely from under 20% on up to over 80%. These results are well short of the ideal on both counts and short of what’s easily possible under a real-world electoral system that is purposefully designed to approach that ideal: the Single Transferable Vote.

    The Single Transferable Vote (STV) uses multi-member wards and preferential ballots to deliver a set of Councillors into Council who have equal (or at least much more equal) and high-order mandates. The degree of inclusivity increases with increasing district magnitudes — the number of Councillors representing a ward or region.

    It’s a matter of productivity. Toronto currently has 25 wards and Councillors. If these were combined into groups of 5 we would have 5 regions. With such groupings under STV the mandates of every elected Councillor would be about 83% and the rate of voter representation would also be on the order of 83% rather than 50%. That is a lot closer to the ideal.

    Alternatively we could use the City’s Community Council divisons (see the attached map) to arrive at a result with somewhat less strictly equal results (though still very much better than under FPTP) but generally better inclusivity. Per the attached plan Toronto would be divided into 4 regions rather than 5 and the number of Councillors in each would range from 5 to 8 with mandates from 83% on up to almost 90% respectively.

    With the Province opening up the possibility of using ordinally-marked ballots (preferential or ranked ballots) in municipal elections it should be a straightforward change for Toronto to move to STV.

    And ultimately it’s a Charter matter that we do so. Please see my input to the ERRE (attached). The arguments apply as much to Toronto as they do to Canada.

    Hope this helps.

    — — —

    This is what I said to the ERRE:

    Hi, I’m Mark.

    Thanks for inviting us all to speak to you today.

    In a 1991 opinion firmly rooted in Sections 3 and 15 of our Charter then Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote:
    “Ours is a representative democracy.
    Each citizen is entitled to be represented in government.
    Representation comprehends the idea of having a voice in the deliberations of government,” and
    “The first [condition of effective representation] is relative parity of voting power.”

    Democracy in Canada is predicated on equality. That’s a human right, right? And equality requires inclusivity: you cannot get the one without the other. Everyone should get a rep they voted for. Every MP should represent the same number of voters. Every voter deserves a stakeholder’s voice in the debates and decisions that matter… those in our parliaments.

    True accountability, too, depends upon inclusivity. It is only voters who have voted for an MP who can hold that MP to account. No other voters hold that “stick”. And no other voters are truly represented.

    Our Charter may not tell us which system to use but it is crystal clear on the results an effective electoral system must deliver: it must produce Equal Legislative Power for voters. That narrows the field dramatically. Indeed, it constrains us to a system very much like STV with its equal, high-percentage mandates for every MP. On the other hand two-tiered, party-functioned systems continue to divide “us” from “them” and thumb their noses at our Charter. Our MPs must be Charter equals so that we can be equal.

    Chief Justice McLachlin also observed, “the Canadian tradition [is] one of evolutionary democracy moving in uneven steps toward the goal of universal suffrage and more effective representation.”

    Please take the giant step forward to equal, effective representation with STV for Canada.

    Thanks for listening. And thanks for asking!

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