New Municipal Democracy Index Ranks Democratic Health of Ontario's 32 Largest Communities
Peterborough takes home the top score in a newly-released measure of the health of local democracy in Ontario’s largest communities followed by runners-up Whitby and Clarington. They emerged as the best-scoring examples of healthy local democracies based on the index, which measures 32 municipalities against four metrics to determine the strongest local democracy.
Overall, however, the Index reveals a sobering reality: Across Ontario, there is much work to be done. On issues such as voter turnout, gender balance, representation for Black and Indigenous people and people of colour and user experience within the system, our local democracies have lots of room for improvement.
“There are some standout communities in Ontario, and it’s a positive sign to see local democracy flourishing in communities like Peterborough,” says Dave Meslin, author of the study and Senior Associate for Democratic Innovation with Armstrong Strategy Group.
“It has been inspiring to work with such an engaged community and to see the local support for diversity and inclusion in the City of Peterborough,” remarked Mayor Diane Therrien. “Our Council is committed to continuing to work to be as transparent, inclusive and collaborative as possible, and there is always more work to do.”
Peterborough Clerk, John Kennedy added, “I would like to recognize the dedicated team of city staff for their efforts to ensure citizens are engaged in the democratic process.”
Meslin, who is also the author of Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up and a long-time civic activist went on to say, “the results of Ontario’s Municipal Democracy Index may be a disheartening diagnosis, but when you get a bad diagnosis from a doctor, it’s no time to shrug and retreat. It’s time for treatment and to make changes in your life.”
The 2021 Municipal Democracy Index, a collaboration between Armstrong Strategy Group and Unlock Democracy Canada, compared municipalities along four metrics: Disparity of BIPOC representation on city councils compared to their populations, percentage of men on city councils, municipal election turnout, and user experience factors such as lobbyist registries, participatory budgets and voting options.
Among the Index’s findings are that only one of 32 assessed communities – Thunder Bay – experienced voter turnout above 50% in 2018. And it highlighted that in a significant share of Ontario communities, visible minorities and women are critically under-represented in municipal government. In fact, only three communities in 32 were found to have more women on the local council than men, compared to eight communities with councils made up of more than 80% male councillors.
The full version of the Municipal Democracy Index can be found online at https://www.armstrongstrategy.com/post/2021-municipal-democracy-index.
“Our democratic weaknesses persist only when we choose not to innovate,” says Meslin. “Too many of the numbers we’ve seen in the Municipal Democracy Index are clear signals that change needs to happen. We’re hoping that by measuring our municipal democratic health we’ll see more democratic innovation, leadership and transformation.”
CONTACT: Dave Meslin – Senior Associate, Democratic Innovation, Armstrong Strategy Group