By: Lauren Simmons
As summer wanes and we get closer to October 27th, Torontonians will likely start to engage more with the electoral process by following the polls, watching debates, and seeing where candidates stand on the issues that matter to them – hopefully using our Position Primer! But when we aren’t caught up in the spin of an election cycle, what can council do to increase civic engagement from and with Toronto’s residents? Where do the candidates in your ward stand on important issues like voting rights? The following questions can help you determine just how constituent-friendly your potential councillors might be.
Where do your ward’s candidates stand on permanent resident voting?
In 2013, Toronto City Council voted to explore “the opportunity to have permanent residents in Toronto be given the right to vote in municipal elections”. The issue is in the hands of the provincial government here in Ontario, but the CityVote Campaign to extend voting rights to permanent residents, led in Toronto by activist Desmond Cole, has been gaining momentum across Canada, with municipalities as far-reaching as Kitchener and Halifax adopting or approving the idea of permanent resident voting.
Permanent resident voting is important for a diverse city like Toronto. Residents pay taxes – either in the form of property taxes, rent or mortgages, or in user fees for city services, and they deserve to have a say in electing the officials who decide how these tax dollars are spent. Ask your candidates where they stand on permanent resident voting. Will they continue to push for increasing voting rights to all Toronto’s residents?
Where do the candidates in your ward stand on ranked ballot voting?
The Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) has been advocating for run-off voting in Toronto for a number of years, largely under the stewardship of Dave Meslin. In June 2013, Council voted 25-16 in favour of asking the province for the power to have ranked ballots. In Spring of 2014, Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough–Guildwood) brought forth a private member’s bill that would allow the municipality to adopt a ranked ballot voting system. In March of this year, before the legislature dissolved for the June election, Queen’s Park voted to send the private member bill to the legislature’s social policy committee for further study. This is all very promising for ranked ballots, but in order to see them come to fruition in Toronto, we’ll need a council that is onside and ready to act if the province gives us the go-ahead. Ask your candidates if they’re in favour of ranked ballots, and what they’ll do to make it a reality in Toronto.
What ideas do your ward’s candidates have for increasing civic engagement?
In the last municipal election, voter turnout jumped from 39.3% in 2006 to 50.5% in 2010. While this increase is not insignificant, it’s still disheartening that almost half of all the people who were eligible to vote did not. No matter what the political fabric of Toronto looks like after October 27th, councillors will have to keep their constituents informed and engaged with the work of City Hall, which is no easy feat. Ask the candidates in your ward what they see as the barriers to civic engagement, and how they plan to overcome them.