Dreschel: Conservatives back local plebiscites on elections

Opinion Apr 13, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

The Ontario Conservatives say it should be up to local voters not politicians to decide whether to change how city councillors are elected.

The Tories are vowing to vote against the new election modernization bill unless the governing Liberals amend it to make municipal referendums mandatory before the current voting system can be switched to ranked balloting.

"When we look at the big picture, the way people get elected should be made by the people who own the election — which is the voters, not the council that's being elected," said Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, PC municipal affairs critic.

In a package of proposed election changes now making its way through Queen's Park, the Liberals are giving Ontario's municipalities the option of using ranked ballots to elect councillors instead of the so-called first-past-the-post system in which the candidates with most votes win.

Under ranked ballots, voters choose three candidates in order of preference. If no one wins 50 per cent or more of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the second and possibly third choices are distributed until someone emerges the winner with a majority of votes.

Hardeman wants local voters to decide by plebiscite — either on or before the 2018 municipal election — whether to adopt the system.

"It may very well be the way that everyone wants to go, but it should be the people's decision, not the local elected officials."

It's no small irony, of course, that the party that now claims to be standing up for local democracy is the same one that in 1999 under the Mike Harris government forcibly amalgamated Hamilton and the five surrounding municipalities — along with some other municipalities — without recourse to a public referendum.

It's doubly ironic that Hardeman himself played an active role in the drawn out political feud leading up to that shotgun marriage. As a provincial envoy to this area, Hardeman produced a report in 1997 calling for a 19-member council equally divided between Hamilton and the suburbs, but with Flamborough partitioned between Burlington, Cambridge and Dundas.

Hardeman's recommendations weren't acted on, but a couple of years later the so-called "supercity" we now love and hate was created by provincial fiat.

Hardeman lightly passes over the contradictions between then and now.

"There's no similarities in the purpose of the law," he said. "The structure of the municipalities is, in fact, a provincial responsibility. The electoral system belongs to the people. I think that the people should have a say in that."

That may not be fancy footwork, but at least he managed to break a move. Still, we probably shouldn't be too hard on Hardeman or the Conservatives. People and political positions change with time and circumstances.

Besides, the Tories aren't the only ones open to mockery on this score. The Liberals have also undergone a miraculous conversion. After 13 years in power, they've suddenly seen the light and developed a fervour for election reform.

The Municipal Election Modernization Act has much to recommend it. But it's hardly been driven by a sense of urgency.

I had to laugh when an assistant of Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin tweeted that "delay is not progress" in response to a recent column I wrote favouring a referendum. So does that make the Liberals' slowpoke approach to reform mealy-mouthed progress or expedient delay?

McMeekin himself noted that under the Municipal Act any municipality can hold a referendum on any issue.

"Some may choose this route," he tweeted. "So be it."

That's true. But the Tories are saying it shouldn't be up to local councillors to choose if there's going to be a referendum on ranked balloting. It should be compulsory across the province. The problem is, given the Liberal majority there's little the Conservatives can do about it, other than stir the pot and hope the voting public feels the same.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

Dreschel: Conservatives back local plebiscites on elections

Opinion Apr 13, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

The Ontario Conservatives say it should be up to local voters not politicians to decide whether to change how city councillors are elected.

The Tories are vowing to vote against the new election modernization bill unless the governing Liberals amend it to make municipal referendums mandatory before the current voting system can be switched to ranked balloting.

"When we look at the big picture, the way people get elected should be made by the people who own the election — which is the voters, not the council that's being elected," said Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, PC municipal affairs critic.

In a package of proposed election changes now making its way through Queen's Park, the Liberals are giving Ontario's municipalities the option of using ranked ballots to elect councillors instead of the so-called first-past-the-post system in which the candidates with most votes win.

Under ranked ballots, voters choose three candidates in order of preference. If no one wins 50 per cent or more of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the second and possibly third choices are distributed until someone emerges the winner with a majority of votes.

Hardeman wants local voters to decide by plebiscite — either on or before the 2018 municipal election — whether to adopt the system.

"It may very well be the way that everyone wants to go, but it should be the people's decision, not the local elected officials."

It's no small irony, of course, that the party that now claims to be standing up for local democracy is the same one that in 1999 under the Mike Harris government forcibly amalgamated Hamilton and the five surrounding municipalities — along with some other municipalities — without recourse to a public referendum.

It's doubly ironic that Hardeman himself played an active role in the drawn out political feud leading up to that shotgun marriage. As a provincial envoy to this area, Hardeman produced a report in 1997 calling for a 19-member council equally divided between Hamilton and the suburbs, but with Flamborough partitioned between Burlington, Cambridge and Dundas.

Hardeman's recommendations weren't acted on, but a couple of years later the so-called "supercity" we now love and hate was created by provincial fiat.

Hardeman lightly passes over the contradictions between then and now.

"There's no similarities in the purpose of the law," he said. "The structure of the municipalities is, in fact, a provincial responsibility. The electoral system belongs to the people. I think that the people should have a say in that."

That may not be fancy footwork, but at least he managed to break a move. Still, we probably shouldn't be too hard on Hardeman or the Conservatives. People and political positions change with time and circumstances.

Besides, the Tories aren't the only ones open to mockery on this score. The Liberals have also undergone a miraculous conversion. After 13 years in power, they've suddenly seen the light and developed a fervour for election reform.

The Municipal Election Modernization Act has much to recommend it. But it's hardly been driven by a sense of urgency.

I had to laugh when an assistant of Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin tweeted that "delay is not progress" in response to a recent column I wrote favouring a referendum. So does that make the Liberals' slowpoke approach to reform mealy-mouthed progress or expedient delay?

McMeekin himself noted that under the Municipal Act any municipality can hold a referendum on any issue.

"Some may choose this route," he tweeted. "So be it."

That's true. But the Tories are saying it shouldn't be up to local councillors to choose if there's going to be a referendum on ranked balloting. It should be compulsory across the province. The problem is, given the Liberal majority there's little the Conservatives can do about it, other than stir the pot and hope the voting public feels the same.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

Dreschel: Conservatives back local plebiscites on elections

Opinion Apr 13, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

The Ontario Conservatives say it should be up to local voters not politicians to decide whether to change how city councillors are elected.

The Tories are vowing to vote against the new election modernization bill unless the governing Liberals amend it to make municipal referendums mandatory before the current voting system can be switched to ranked balloting.

"When we look at the big picture, the way people get elected should be made by the people who own the election — which is the voters, not the council that's being elected," said Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, PC municipal affairs critic.

In a package of proposed election changes now making its way through Queen's Park, the Liberals are giving Ontario's municipalities the option of using ranked ballots to elect councillors instead of the so-called first-past-the-post system in which the candidates with most votes win.

Under ranked ballots, voters choose three candidates in order of preference. If no one wins 50 per cent or more of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the second and possibly third choices are distributed until someone emerges the winner with a majority of votes.

Hardeman wants local voters to decide by plebiscite — either on or before the 2018 municipal election — whether to adopt the system.

"It may very well be the way that everyone wants to go, but it should be the people's decision, not the local elected officials."

It's no small irony, of course, that the party that now claims to be standing up for local democracy is the same one that in 1999 under the Mike Harris government forcibly amalgamated Hamilton and the five surrounding municipalities — along with some other municipalities — without recourse to a public referendum.

It's doubly ironic that Hardeman himself played an active role in the drawn out political feud leading up to that shotgun marriage. As a provincial envoy to this area, Hardeman produced a report in 1997 calling for a 19-member council equally divided between Hamilton and the suburbs, but with Flamborough partitioned between Burlington, Cambridge and Dundas.

Hardeman's recommendations weren't acted on, but a couple of years later the so-called "supercity" we now love and hate was created by provincial fiat.

Hardeman lightly passes over the contradictions between then and now.

"There's no similarities in the purpose of the law," he said. "The structure of the municipalities is, in fact, a provincial responsibility. The electoral system belongs to the people. I think that the people should have a say in that."

That may not be fancy footwork, but at least he managed to break a move. Still, we probably shouldn't be too hard on Hardeman or the Conservatives. People and political positions change with time and circumstances.

Besides, the Tories aren't the only ones open to mockery on this score. The Liberals have also undergone a miraculous conversion. After 13 years in power, they've suddenly seen the light and developed a fervour for election reform.

The Municipal Election Modernization Act has much to recommend it. But it's hardly been driven by a sense of urgency.

I had to laugh when an assistant of Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin tweeted that "delay is not progress" in response to a recent column I wrote favouring a referendum. So does that make the Liberals' slowpoke approach to reform mealy-mouthed progress or expedient delay?

McMeekin himself noted that under the Municipal Act any municipality can hold a referendum on any issue.

"Some may choose this route," he tweeted. "So be it."

That's true. But the Tories are saying it shouldn't be up to local councillors to choose if there's going to be a referendum on ranked balloting. It should be compulsory across the province. The problem is, given the Liberal majority there's little the Conservatives can do about it, other than stir the pot and hope the voting public feels the same.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel