Better Ballots Initiative – John’s Positions

The Better Ballots Initiative – John Richardson – Toronto Ward 29 Candidate –  Positions

The 2010 Toronto Elections are poised to be the most exciting ever.  We will have a new mayor. A number of “long time” councillors are leaving (with severance pay). There is lots of anger towards the current Toronto City Council. The reasons range from the garbage strike of 2010 to misuse of taxpayers money. But, what are the issues?

The issues fall into two categories.

The first category contains issues that are what I would call “Life In Toronto” issues.  These are  things that affect peoples day to day lives. These include the problems with the TTC, schools, school closings, parking, building permits, etc. Toronto residents experience these issues all day every day.

The second category contains  issues are those that surround Democratic Reform. That is the way that we  elect our City Councillors. How  long should  they serve? Who should  be allowed to vote? How can we vote? What  hours? How about online voting?  Once elected, how  long can a Toronto City Councillor serve? What  kind of budget should they have? Should political  parties play a role  in Toronto  City Council?

The first category of issues – “Life  In Toronto”  issues are a factor in every election. The second category of issues – “Democratic Reform” are being debated  in the 2010 elections. Dave Meslin and have been very active is promoting awareness of democratic reform. They have been conducting town all meetings and getting feedback on very interesting and important questions. Today I received the following email from them:

“We’ve heard from hundreds of voters, now it’s time to hear from the candidates. Are they committed to making our local elections more inclusive, participatory, diverse and fair? How would they do it? Which reforms are they willing to adopt and incorporate into their platforms?”

As a candidate for City Council  in Ward 29 I would  like  to state my current position on the issues and questions raised by Better Ballots. I will  explain my answers in subsequent posts, but here are their questions and my answers. Let me  also  say, that  I approach this  with an open mind and am willing to  change my mind if presented with cogent arguments.  So, please feel free to comment.

The Better  Ballots questions may be  found here:

Who  Votes?  When and Where?

1. Should  permanent residents (non-citizens) be allowed  to vote in municipal elections?


First, there is no reason to  not  allow permanent residents  to  vote.

Cities are creations of the Ontario Municipal Act. The Constitution of  Canada contemplates Canada as a whole  and the provinces. Cities are not  part of the Constitutional  structure of Canada. Therefore, one should  not argue that because permanent residents cannot  vote  in Federal Elections they should  not vote  in municipal  elections.

Second, there are good reasons to encourage  permanent residents to vote.

We want everybody to have a stake in the community and participate in it. There are many permanent residents  in Toronto. We want  them to have a stake  in the community.

2. What about moving voting day to a weekend day?

I don’t think that voting should  take place  on one day. Voting should place over a one week period. This would  mean that there would be  no obstacle  to anybody voting. Remember, democracy is a participatory sport! We have the City Council that we do because the voter turnout is small. Some of this may be the result of it being too difficult for some people to vote. We must do what we can to create opportunities for people to actually register that vote.

3. Should people be allowed to vote by phone or online?

We can file a tax return online. We can file a GST return by phone. I assume that every vote  would  be assigned a “voting code” that could  be used  just  once. Online and  phone voting would  make  voting more convenient. That said, I could  imagine that those “voting codes” could be transferred to others. This could be a problem when various “special interests” want to  get their candidates in. These special interests might include (but would not be restricted to) various political parties, unions, etc.

Therefore, for the moment, I would not support online voting. The phone voting might be doable. Perhaps this could be accomplished  by using both a voting code and require that the phone vote come from one specific phone number.

4. Should  the voting age be reduced from 18 to 16?

This is a pure judgment call. I think I will say “no”.

Parties and Terms

5. Should political parties operate at the municipal level?

No. There are  many reasons  for this.

First, “party candidates” are  beholden to their parties. City Councillors should be representing the residents of their ward and not  the interests of a party.

Second, City Council  should be a place where City Councillors work together in a “practical”, “respectful” environment to  solve  practical problems and improve the quality of life for Toronto residents. We don’t need  political parties to do this.

Third, a party is nothing more than a “voting coalition”. Historically, all candidates  were “independents”.  Parties  came  into being as “voting coalitions”. We want “sound judgment” and “independent decision making”  in City Council. We do NOT want agreements to vote in certain ways.

Fourth, the historical involvement of political  parties  in Toronto Elections has been very negative. In the 2006 election an NDP backed candidate (with no experience) came close to unseating the current councillor in Ward 29. Political  Parties should not exist in Toronto elections and should not be allowed to campaign for candidates. We have banned unions and corporations from donating to campaigns. The time has come to ban political parties from trying to install their preferred  candidates.

6. Should Councillors be limited to a designated  number of consecutive terms?

Yes. City Councillors should  not have “tenure” and serving on City Council should not provide an “annuity for life”. The reasons include:

First, the financial incentives for being a Councillor are too great. These include: severance pay, pensions, and other benefits.

Second, it is very difficult to campaign against an incumbent Councillor. Incumbent councillors can use their office to campaign all  day every day. This cannot be tolerated.

The fact that “term limits” will force good councillors to leave is irrelevant. The idea would be to replace them with other good councillors.

Ballot  Structures and Districts

7. Should the ward system be replaced with councillors  who run city wide?

The real question is whether Toronto should be viewed as a  “whole”  or  whether  Toronto should  be viewed  as  the “sum of its parts”.  Joe Clark used to call  Canada “a community of  communities”. Torontonians are quick to praise Toronto  for  its  neighbourhoods  and ethnic  diversity.

As long as Toronto is not a separate Canadian province (there has been some  discussion of this), I  think that local interests matter. In fact, I think (just  my opinion) that local  interests are the main reason that we need  City Council.

So, some aspect of the “ward  system” should  be retained. But, I do see that it is hard for City Council  to  function if each Councillor is  representing a ward and no councillor  is representing Toronto as a whole. What about  having both kinds of  Councillors? Rob Ford has  suggested  that we should cut the number  of Councillors in half (I am not taking a position on this). What about retaining the 44 Councillors  but have:

– 22 that  represent local  interests; and
– 22 that  represent  the City of  Toronto

I  think this would  lead  to a more  effective City Council.

8. What about an Instant Runoff? IRV

It is a fact that many councillors  receive a very small  percentage of  the total  vote.  This  is an intolerable  situation. It leads to contempt  for the political process.  At a minimum we need  to ensure that our Councillors  are elected by a majority of those  who vote.  Yes, it  perpetuates the “first past the post”  but an “Instant  Runoff”  would  be a great  improvement over what  we currently have. The question of “proportional  representation”  is a different issue.

9. Ranked Ballots  in Multi-member  wards?

I don’t  want to  comment on this  without knowing more  about it. Check back.

10. Hybrid :  At-Large and Wards

I don’t  want to  comment on this  without knowing more  about it. Check back.

11. Borough Councils

I don’t  want to  comment on this  without knowing more  about it. Check back.

12. Prohibit  a company or union from paying  volunteers

Prohibit! A company or union cannot  be allowed  to do indirectly what  they cannot  do directly. The  fact  that it  is difficult  to enforce  is irrelevant.

13. Pre-election contribution disclosure

Yes, all contributors  and amounts should be disclosed prior  to the election. It would  be  helpful  to see who is supporting who. I  don’t  see a single  disadvantage to  this (in terms of the integrity of the electoral process) and I see some  advantages.

14. Limit what candidates  can contribute  to their  own campaigns

I don’t think this  is the right question.  The question is  whether  there should  be a contribution limit to  the campaign in its totality. If you think that there  should be  a contribution limit, then a candidate would  be  limited  by the contribution maximum for the ward.

John  Richardson – Candidate for  Toronto Ward 29

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