Ranked Ballot for a Higher Octane Vote

I recently learned that the Ontario government intends to allow municipalities the option of using ranked ballots starting in 2018. An online survey has been posted to gather public comment until July 27 (scroll down). The idea being examined is to allow ranked ballots for some or all municipal elected office. A voter would rank candidates 1, 2 or 3 etc. according to preference.

“If your first choice candidate is eliminated, ranked ballots take into account the next choices on your ballot. This helps to ensure that the winning candidate(s) receive support from a majority of voters more often.”

I think it’s an idea with merit. Certainly, a lot of people would like to implement this voting option provincially and federally. Maybe, experimenting with it at the municipal level could be the start of something bigger.

Use of a ranked ballot is expected to reduce strategic voting, negative campaigning and vote splitting. In Innisfil, it may be particularly useful for the positions of Mayor and Deputy-Mayor since these individuals automatically sit on County Council and vote for County Warden.

Of course, once we have the option of ranked voting, we’d have to ensure Council actually adopts it. Who will be the first to test the waters?

CBCnews: Ontario allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots in 2018

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Innisfil – Taking Care of Business

Residents who toured the new headquarter building of Innpower on April 11 learned that the west end of the building is unfinished and unoccupied. The intention was to provide now for future utility staff requirements that are 10 to 20 years in the future. As Innpower’s CEO put it in September, 2014, “The building footprint takes into consideration the growth demands for our respective communities.”

The original concept was to lease the vacant space (about 4,000 square feet on 2 floors) to private companies. The leasee would be expected to finish the interior space including drywall and electrical wiring at its own expense. At the time of the building’s public Open House, Innpower staff said that leases would generate revenue until the space was required for Innpower employees.

Meanwhile, back in March, Council was presented with a report describing a County initiative to partner with the Greater Barrie Business Enterprise Centre (GBBEC) “to increase accessibility to services/support to Simcoe County entrepreneurs by adding a mobile Small Business Consultant dedicated to providing in-market services …”. This was to be a two-year pilot project to provide a full-time small business consultant whose mandate would be “to deliver core business advisory services, business plan development, seminar/workshop delivery, [and] youth entrepreneur programs …”. (GBBEC is being renamed the Small Business Enterprise Centre)  Continue reading

A New Mayor and Council for Innisfil

Our heavily contested municipal election has returned veteran politicians, Gord Wauchope and Lynn Dollin, as new mayor and deputy mayor while returning 3 incumbent councillors and electing 4 new ones. Congratulations to the newly elected and, a thanks for service to those leaving.

I’m not sure what this result means for the Town. Our first glimpse of intentions and priorities will be from the next year’s budget.

The surprising outcome is that voter turnout declined to 40% from 46% during the previous election in 2010. Only 10,479 votes were cast out of 26,116 eligible voters. The number of candidates was thought to reflect higher voter interest in this election. Some candidates made a concerted effort to boost online participation and the electronic voting option was expected to increase convenience for residents. In fact, 56% of votes were cast online but the option didn’t motivate more people to participate. Were some non-voters new residents, others unfamiliar with issues or candidates, or have we become so cynical to think it doesn’t matter?

So what happened? Why did you vote – or not vote – in this election? What are you expecting from your new council?

Taking Innisfil into the Future

By the time most people read this, we will have chosen our Mayor and Council. It will be up to them to find a consensus on the perennial challenge of providing efficient services at a reasonable cost. Improved roads, sidewalks, trails and transit are high on people’s lists. Provincial legislation requiring ‘replacement cost’ funding of water infrastructure is also bringing a big hike in water rates. Beyond that, decisions on residential and commercial growth will affect the rural/urban nature of our Town, role of agriculture, potential local employment opportunities, and overall quality of life. And then there are long-term issues of climate change, adaptation, the carbon economy, and economic disparity. It’s disappointing that few citizens want to consider the big issues and few politicians want to address them.

While local electioneering was in full swing, an article, written by Don Tapscott, praising the municipal strategy in Guelph caught my eye. (As Toronto dithers, Guelph sets sights on 21st century, Toronto Star, October 17, 2014) He described seven key actions that have made Guelph stand out as a municipal leader. It’s worth reading the entire article:

Promoting entrepreneurship to achieve prosperity
“close to 80 per cent of new jobs come from companies five years old or less …”

Open government
“The city is releasing data sets as public assets …”

Turning public safety inside out
“Guelph has launched Guelph Enterprise — a model for innovation in human services. The model asserts that cities do not have a policing problem but a marginalized people problem.”

Rethinking transportation
“the city council has made affordable, alternative transportation a priority for Guelph’s growth.”

Creating a sustainable city
“Amazingly, Guelph is building North America’s first city-wide district energy network.”

Transforming social services
“22 community leaders from different sectors, agencies and stakeholders … agreed to work together using shared performance indicators to tackle tough issues…”

Reinventing local democracy
“Events like Hackathons, Health Jams and Change Camps demonstrate a community approach to redefining the relationship between citizens and their local government.”

These are all excellent initiatives that should inspire numerous imitators. The lesson for us is that these transformative ideas are being implemented by combining engaged citizens with imaginative leaders. Dumbed-down slogans may be effective in motivating a harried electorate but won’t likely serve us well as a municipal strategy.

Candidates Debate, Nantyr Shores, October 20

I think municipal elections are exhausting. Thank goodness I’m not a political candidate. Residents are being encouraged to vote early – either by mail or online. Let’s hope people are paying attention to the voting kit and instructions for this year’s election.

  • Voters using the mail-in option have to seal their completed ballot in a separate envelope (provided) and also sign a ‘declaration’, which is mailed with the sealed ballot in a second envelope (provided). Mailed ballots must be delivered at the Town Hall by October 27 to be counted.
  • The voting kit includes an individual access code for those who choose to vote online. Instructions suggest not waiting too close to October 27 to avoid a potential internet ‘traffic jam’ at the last minute.

For those who haven’t yet voted, the Innisfil Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a candidates’ debate at Nantyr Shores Secondary School on October 20, from 6:00 to 9:30 p.m.

This time around, we have a full slate of candidates contesting most positions. The choice depends on how well you feel the current incumbents have represented you; the persuasiveness of their challengers; your view of events in the last four years; and your expectations for the future.

It seems there’s never been a shortage of things for residents to complain about. And that’s true during this campaign too. I’ve been around long enough not to get too worked up about most of them. I would have preferred a more positive campaign approach from challengers. I’m not convinced about the accusation being made of waste, and disappointed with one candidate’s use of the ‘gravy train’ epithet. As a regular and enthusiastic supporter of the library, I also think some people’s characterization of the Lakeshore library branch construction as a waste is totally bogus.

Plan to attend the debate if you’d like to know more before casting your vote.

It’s Up to Us on October 27

Our municipal election for Mayor and Council gives us another opportunity to help shape Innisfil’s future. The fact that most positions are being contested is a good indication of a healthy democratic process. I only hope that all candidates want to campaign “for”, not “against”. That is, I expect them to articulate a vision for improving the quality of life in Innisfil and their plan to achieve it. Their challenge will be to look beyond everyday problems and tackle some larger issues:

Population Growth & Sprawl

By 2031, the population is expected to grow by 70% (56,000 residents)” – Town of Innisfil web site. Innisfil has a provincially-mandated obligation to plan for population growth and at the same time an obligation to work within the Smart Growth limitations of the province’s Places to Grow framework. How committed are candidates to the objectives of the Places to Grow strategy? How well do candidates understand the principles of Smart Growth? How can we best manage growth and urban intensification?

Does Agriculture Have a Future Here?

Large parts of Innisfil were rezoned long ago for future development, so on paper, there appears to be no loss of agricultural land. But in reality, new development will continue to eat up existing open space and remaining agricultural spaces will be increasingly fragmented. Do we want to preserve agricultural uses close to our urbanized areas, and if so, how? Simcoe County is promoting the concept of a Food Charter but what measures are needed to give it real impact? Where will the next generation of food producers come from?

More Greenbelt or Not?

A group of Ontario Mayors is actively promoting the idea of substantially expanding Ontario’s greenbelt to include designated “Food Lands” ahead of a provincial review of the Greenbelt legislation required next year. Where do our candidates stand? Will they commit to preserving more regional green space?

Local Employment

The aim of smart growth is to create ‘complete’ neighbourhoods where we “live, work, and play”. In a national economy focused on resource extraction, most local jobs being created lately are part-time. How can Innisfil cope with chronic youth unemployment and an aging population? What employment opportunities can we create for ourselves, by ourselves?

Income Inequality

Real wages have been stagnant for decades. All across Canada, the divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s is wider than ever. At the municipal level, the province’s ‘Sunshine List’ of those receiving $100,000 or more in compensation rankles many people every year. In Innisfil, there were 14 senior administrative employees receiving a total of $1.6 million in 2010 – excluding taxable benefits. In 2013, this had grown to 22 people receiving just under $2.7 million, or an average of $122,276 each. The Town reports average “total per capita income” here at $36,311 and average household income at $75,799. Half of all Innifil households earn less than $66,132. What’s fair? How do we get off the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ payroll treadmill?

Property Tax Base

Related to the previous issue is the antiquated property tax system. Conservatives like to point out that there is only one taxpayer. Combining all the taxes we pay (income, sales, gasoline, etc.) the federal government scoops up more than half while municipalities are left with just 8% to provide most of the essential services we rely on. Municipal Development Charges are a key revenue source in this environment. How do we build a modern, dynamic, livable community on a shoe-string? What alternative can we find to property-based taxation?

Innovation

According to one writer, the key to municipal success is to think big – innovate, don’t follow. What big ideas can our candidates bring to the table? What original, ground-breaking ideas can improve the quality of life in Innisfil and inspire others to look up and take notice?