BENNETT: Talking about reform of electoral system

Last month, I held a town hall meeting on climate change at Deer Park Library.

It was inspiring, not only because of the panelists — Margit Eichler, from Scientists for the Right to Know, and George Morrison, from the Citizens Climate Lobby — but because of the commitment from all those present — including Green Neighbours21 and For Our Grandchildren — to increase the political will of government to deal with the reality of climate change.

There was a recurring theme that ran through our discussions: the need to change our electoral system in order to ensure that progress can be made, and sustained, on this file. We have done many specific meetings on democratic reform and the need for electoral reform, but this is the first time it has been raised as a significant part of the conversation at a town hall on a separate topic.

It is exciting to see the real support for electoral reform here in St. Paul’s. Last June, Toronto city council voted on the Rabit proposal for a ranked ballot voting system that would replace the first-past-the-post system that currently elects our mayor. All three of our local councillors — Josh Matlow, Joe Mihevc and Josh Colle — voted in favour of the proposal, and the motion passed 26–5. All that remains is for the provincial government to give its stamp of approval.

Our MPP, Dr. Eric Hoskins, has been very supportive and we are hopeful the legislation will pass at Queen’s Park this spring, and take effect by 2018.

Toronto isn’t the only municipality exploring a ranked ballot system. 123Barrie is also pushing for adoption in that city.

Dave Meslin, of RaBit, is also working with the group Campus Democracy Project, which aims to persuade student governments to introduce a ranked ballot system for electing student executives as well, believing that this much-fairer system would strengthen the mandate of student councils.

Canadian political parties already use a ranked or preferential ballot in order to elect their candidates and their leaders. It greatly reduces negativity in campaigns, because candidates need the supporters of other candidates to put them as their second and third preferences, and therefore it is unwise to make negative commentary that would upset those supporters.

Dave is also working to introduce this system to unions and condo boards.

Two years ago, the Liberal party passed a resolution at its policy convention supporting an alternative vote system in federal elections. Although this would not meet the full objectives of those of us who support proportional representation, it would be an important step. Canada is one of the last countries to still be handicapped by a first-past-the-post system in which the views of a majority of voters are not represented by the government of the day.

In the last election, the majority of Canadians voted for a party that supported the Kyoto protocol, yet they got a majority government that cancelled it. The engaged citizens of St. Paul’s want action on climate change and action on electoral reform. There was consensus that they are inextricably linked.

Please join us for our next town hall meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. at Holy Rosary Parish (please note the change in location), for an important conversation on the future of public broadcasting.