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Keith Cole adds colour to electoral reform debate

How we vote at the centre of mayoral panel

Keith Cole debated seven other mayoral candidates June 1 on the subject of electoral reform. Credit: Marcus McCann photo

As the frontrunners turned on each other, Keith Cole threw his hands in the air.

“At six o’clock, it was like a cocktail party,” he said. “Now it’s like a family reunion.”

Toronto’s mayoral candidates discussed municipal electoral reform on June 1 at a packed and sweaty debate at Hart House.

Toronto’s six mayoral frontrunners — George Smitherman, Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone, Rocco Rossi, Sarah Thomson and Giorgio Mammoliti — discussed more than a dozen reform proposals.

They were joined by two of the 22 others running for mayor — Keith Cole and former University of Toronto student leader Rocco Achampong — added based on the results of an online poll. The remaining 20 were each invited to give a one-minute pitch.

It was the first major test for Cole, who entered the mayoral race in February but so far remains an outsider candidate. In keeping with his roots as a performer and his larger-than-life personality, he unleashed some zingers.

In his opening remarks, he said he’d heard discouraging remarks from a woman at a party.

“She told me, ‘People don’t want lunatics or poor people at city hall.’ So that experiment has failed,’” he said, looking at the three former city councillors.

But at centre stage was electoral reform. Early promises from all the panelists — except Rocco Rossi and Rob Ford — signalled that extending the vote to permanent residents might in council’s next mandate.

Smitherman discussed his preferences, but said that if elected, he would strike a council committee to come up with a “package of reforms.”

Ford hammered away on councillor’s expense budgets, saying their $50,000 allotment amounted to “campaigning all year, every year.”

The event hosted by Better Ballots, a coalition of volunteers working to put electoral reform on Toronto’s agenda.

Dave Meslin, who spoke on behalf of the group, said that electoral reform is needed because the results of the current system are low voter turnout, low turnover of sitting councillors and lack of diversity among municipal politicians.

Changing the voting system — to ranked ballots or multi-member wards, for instance — was the most sweeping issue discussed, with Smitherman favouring the borough model and Thomson endorsing a hybrid model with some at-large councillors elected citywide.

In a serious moment, Cole put his head in his hands, fingers pulling at his wild blond hair, and admitted that changing the structure of ballots is confusing. Smitherman nodded along, mouthing to Thomson, “that’s the problem.”

Read up on electoral reform at betterballots.to.