The short answer is no.

The Ward 5 by-election to replace Joe Sponga will be held under the familiar first-past-the-post system.

The agenda for Monday’s Special Council meeting (25 July 2016) holds out the possibility that the by-election may be conducted under the new ranked ballot system which allows voters to express their preferences – ranking candidates 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.

If our councillors choose to go down the ranked ballot route, Newmarket will be a trailblazer for the new voting system.

(I had assumed the new ranked ballot system would be introduced in 2018.)

In his report to Monday’s Council meeting, the Town Clerk tells us:

“Council may enact a by-law authorizing the use of ranked ballots for the Ward 5 by-election. A report will be brought forward to the August 29, 2016 Committee of the Whole which will address the vote method and the ranked ballot option should a by-election be called.”

The report goes on to tell us that all councils in Ontario:

“now have the option to enact a by-law to use ranked ballot elections (but) the details setting out how the ranked ballot system will work in practice are to be contained in the regulations which are still being drafted”.

This is the fly in the ointment.

The consultation period on the proposed regulations closes on 28 July 2016 and it is anyone’s guess when they will eventually be promulgated by the Lieutenant Governor. The submissions have to be weighed and analysed by the Office of Legislative Counsel and the draft regulations have to be amended or not. We could be watching paint dry.

The Town Clerk’s proposed timetable for the Ward 5 by-election tells us the regular Council meeting on 12 September 2016 will consider the ranked ballot by-law.

But, if the regulations in any way reflect the draft, they will stipulate that councils must hold an open house before the by-law is enacted to provide the public with information on any alternative voting method being considered for use in the election. And, crucially, the Council has to give at least 30 days notice of the open house in a newspaper circulating in the municipality.

In addition, the municipality must then hold a public meeting (at least 15 days after the open house) to allow the public to speak to council about the proposed by-law.

Just looking at the timetable, it seems to me a ranked ballot for the Ward 5 by election is a complete non-starter.

Apart from anything else, the by-law wouldn’t just apply to Ward 5 but to all subsequent regular elections and by-elections and it would be used to elect all members of the council. It is not something to be rushed or corners cut.

Clearly, we are stuck with first-past-the-post. At least for the time being.

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