Municipal Voting Reform: Making every vote count

Electoral reform is often brought up as a federal issue. But it is just as important at the provincial and municipal levels. Whether MPs, MLAs, mayors or councillors, many have been elected on tiny majorities as a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system or have simply returned unopposed (i.e. acclaimed).

It’s time for a proportional system for municipalities, where no one has to ‘hold their nose’ at the ballot box, and where there is healthy competition – rather than a politics of ‘winner takes all’ and uncontested fiefdoms.

‛Better ballots for a better city council’

Dave Meslin, who labels himself an independent non-partisan community organizer, has been championing a proportional voting system at the municipal level since at least 2010!

In fact, he wrote a blog post in 2009 in which he declared: “By any measure, our city elections are failing us. Voter turnout is astonishingly low, turnover of Councillors is extremely rare, and our Council is surprisingly white and male for a city that allegedly prides itself on its ‘diversity’.” That was Toronto then. It could describe Charlottetown today.

Meslin is the creative director of Unlock Democracy Canada (modelled after the UKʼs Unlock Democracy organization), a non-profit organization that is part of Canada’s growing movement for democratic renewal. Here is what he writes about municipal reform:

Municipal democracy could use some innovation in Canada.  […] with First-Past-the-Post, thousands of Council Members across Canada are serving without a definitive mandate. It’s normal for a Mayor to “win” a race in Canada, with less than 50% of the vote – or even less than 30%.

In 2018:
Philip Brown received 42.13% of the vote.
Voter turnout in Charlottetown was 58% (relatively unchanged since 2000).

But there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to local democracy. From Victoria to Iqaluit to St John’s, each municipality has their own unique needs, demographics and history.  That’s why our local councils need flexibility and tools to maximize participation and diversity.  If cities have Local Choice, then they can begin to experiment with democratic reform. Change always starts local!


Meslin holds a monthly workshop Better Ballots 101 the first of every month at 8 PM Atlantic time.
Click here to register for the November 1, 2021, workshop.

Learn more:


Report a typo, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject [at] eastlink.ca

Municipal elections: November 7, 2022

Mark the date: The next PEI municipal elections are on Monday, November 7, 2022.

Itʼs not too early to consider the issues affecting citizens, nor is it too early to encourage and support candidates who believe they can make a difference on City Council.

In this era of climate crisis and the profound repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on our society, it is crucial that progressive, positive, skilled and enlightened individuals — who see themselves as champions of change — seriously contemplate running for councillor in their ward.

The importance of local government

A healthy municipal democracy begins with the participation of its citizens. It is their chance to influence the future of their community.

Local government is the government closest to the people and has a direct influence on citizensʼ daily lives.

Local government serves a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is the
administrative purpose of supplying goods and services; the other purpose is to represent and involve citizens in determining specific local public needs and how these local needs can be met.

Local government plans and pays for local services such as public transit, recreation and activities, provides water, organizes police and fire services, establishes zoning regulations, and so much more. These are functions that directly affect citizens every day and in every part of their lives.

Our Mayor and City Council are failing both in their collective ability to fulfill their functions effectively and in meeting the expectations of the citizens.

As citizens of the City of Charlottetown, we must demand stronger municipal governance that will deliver better outcomes for public expenditures and improved efficiency in service delivery.

Do we want a more transparent, inclusive, responsive and responsible City Council?

Then let us raise our voices, connect with each other, and be instrumental in inspiring and encouraging progressive and civil society leaders from all walks of life to consider running for mayor or councillor.


More on this topic:

Elections PEI refers readers to Section 33 of the the Municipal Government Act (MGA): Division 3 – Qualification of Candidates.

33. Qualifications of candidates
(1) A person may be nominated as a candidate and elected to a council of a municipality only if
(a) the person is qualified in accordance with clauses 31(2)(a) and (b) to vote in the municipal election;
(b) the person has been ordinarily resident in the municipality for a period of at least six months before election day; and
(c) the person is not disqualified by reason of
(i) being a judge of the provincial court, the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal,
(i.1) being a member of a council of another municipality,
(ii) being a Member of Parliament or a member of the Legislative Assembly,
(iii) being a current employee who has not obtained a leave of absence in accordance with section 34 in order to be nominated as a candidate, or
(iv) another provision of this Act.

Residency limitation
(2) A person who meets the requirements of subsection (1) shall be nominated only in the municipality in which the person resides.

Kent Street lighting scheme

Citizens generally want their municipal government to realize better outcomes for public expenditures, given that resources in
the public sector are mostly generated through taxes (municipal, provincial, and federal).

At the same time, a municipal government must have the ability to fulfill its functions in an effective way that meets the expectations of its citizens.

An active and productive cooperation between government and citizens is one of the results of good governance.

What is governance?

Practised on a daily basis, governance is typically about
the way public servants make decisions and implement
policies.

What is good governance?

Good governance is essential for ensuring that government is allocating resources wisely and fairly, and that it is serving the public interest in an open and transparent manner — which in turn is essential for building and maintaining citizens’ confidence in the public sector.

“Good governance makes it really difficult to do the wrong thing and really easy to do the right thing.”

Andrew Corbett-Nolan, Chief Executive of Good Governance Institute, UK

Principles of Good Governance in the Public Sector

Source: Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia

Kent Street and the stewardship principle

Stewardship is the act of looking after resources on behalf
of the public and is demonstrated by maintaining or improving capacity to serve the public interest over time.

Charlottetown’s City Council fell short of the stewardship principle when it voted in favour of a proposal by Discover Charlottetown, which had been lobbying for an all-year lighting scheme on Kent Street.

The Guardian first reported on this in March, following an initial presentation by Discover Charlottetown to the Public Works & Urban Beautification Committee meeting on March 26, 2021 (sound muted until 7 minutes in). It should be noted that presenter Shallyn Murray, who works at Nine Yards Studio, which will manage the project, is a resident member of the City’s Planning Board.

The final version of the project—along with requests for financial support—was presented to the Committee on August 25, 2021.

CBC posted an article on September 17, explaining that “The marketing firm [Discover Charlottetown] is planning to install overhead cables which will run along the section of the street thatʼs between Great George and Prince streets in the cityʼs downtown.”

Here’s the kicker: “The City of Charlottetown has agreed to cover the cost of changing the decorations, which is estimated to cost between $10,000 and $40,000 per year.”

Seasonal change-out schedule for the Kent Street overhead lighting project
Source: City of Charlottetown – Monthly Council Meeting Package, Sept. 13, 2021 (p. 440)

Readers will note that the images above do not portray Kent Street.

Add to that: “The city will also pick up costs of the yearly inspection of the cable connections, which are estimated to be about $2,500.

Screen shot of Discover Charlottetown's request to City Council to consider public funding request for the Kent Street overhead lighting project
Source: City of Charlottetown – Monthly Council Meeting Package, Sept. 13, 2021 (p. 429)

City of Charlottetown Resolution to approve the Kent Street overhead lighting project

Food-for-thought questions

In terms of urban beautification, would you qualify the Kent Street overhead lighting project as effective and efficient public spending?

Do you agree with executive director of Discover Charlottetown Heidi Zinnʼs question “… what better way to market a city than create a space for people to take pictures of, that they’ll take pictures of again and again and again … ?”

If you could allocate $40,000 annually toward urban beautification, what do you believe would be worth improving or investing in, and that residents across Charlottetown could make use of all year long?

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