April 23, 2017

Ranked ballots and electoral reform.

Full text of remarks delivered by Sameer Vasta at the Corporate Service Committee meeting at the London City Council Chambers on April 23, 2017.

Earlier this week, there was a hashtag being shared on social media that read, #LondonLeads. Reading that hashtag was exciting and sobering at the same time: what would it really mean for London to lead? What does leadership in London look like? Who is represented in that leadership?

Our elected officials are the voices of our residents, and subsequently of our neighbourhoods and communities, in the decision-making process at City Hall—they are our leadership. From the perspective of the Urban League of London, it is critical that those elected to Council, those chosen to lead our city, are representative of the diversity of the people they lead.

First-past-the-post systems of elections have shown to be less-than-adequate to ensure that kind of representation. Electoral reform, though contentious, is a clear path towards better, more diverse representation.

The Urban League has gone through a considerable effort to educate itself and its membership on the issue of ranked ballots. This has included hosting a Pints & Politics session for public discussion, as well as a panel debate during the monthly meeting featuring presentations from experts like Dave Meslin of Unlock Democracy Canada and former London city councillor Sandy Levin.

Having heard from experts, from Urban League members, and from several interested citizens, the Board of the Urban League of London encourages the City Council to pilot the ranked-choice ballot format in the 2018 municipal election.

We make this recommendation on the recognition that electoral reform and democratic renewal has the potential to represent the diversity of voice and perspective in our city, as well as increase citizen engagement.

We understand and appreciate many of the arguments of those opposing a ranked-choice ballot format, and while we believe that many of those arguments can be mitigated, we currently advocate for a one-time pilot of the format at the next election. This trial will allow residents and elected officials to adequately evaluate the effects of this reform and assess its success in adding diversity to the candidate pool and increasing civic engagement.

London has historically been a place of trial and experimentation—we encourage London to capitalize on this culture of experimentation in the area of electoral reform, and show leadership to the rest of Canada in this important endeavour.

I keep thinking back to that hashtag, #LondonLeads. What does it mean for London to lead, really?

It means many things: it means making sure our leadership truly reflects who we are as a city, but most importantly, it means showing the courage to take the steps to get there.

As such, I personally, and we as the Board of the Urban League of London, encourage the City to pilot the ranked-choice ballot format in the 2018 municipal election. Thank you.

(The full statement by the Urban League of London on ranked ballots and electoral reform can be found here.)

I consent to having these remarks and the information provided on any public agenda and shared via any City of London communications vehicles.