Monday, September 17, 2018

London City Council

Wow it's been a while since my last post. My apologies!

A principal reason for this is that I've moved - I'm no longer an Edmontonian, and am now a Londoner! London Ontario, that is. This almost definitely means I won't stop posts about Edmonton, but does mean that I'll be increasing my Ontario content.

London is currently in the midst of a civic election, so like any good new citizen to a city my first thought was to learn as much about the current council as I can so that I can make as informed a decision as possible. London's open data is pretty good, but their votes and proceedings aren't as organized quite as well as Edmonton's are.

Nonetheless, with the votes and proceedings that are available, I thought to take a look at council relationships in London in a similar way to how I did in Edmonton two years ago.

Unanimous votes aren't interesting, so I've focused this analysis on the 638 non-unanimous roll call votes as recorded in meeting minutes. First of all, let's take a look at how often each councillor agrees with each other:



Matt Brown is the mayor, and currently enjoys at least 70% agreement with 11 out of 15 councillors, which isn't too shabby. In general, there appears to be a mild bloc of six people (Brown through Park) who all agree quite strongly with each other, another similar block (Park through Hubert) who do the same, and then a handful of councillors who seem to go their own way.

Another sign of consensus-building on city council is the frequency that each member of council has the outcomes of votes in line with how they voted. Again, looking only at non-unanimous votes:


The mayor has been on the losing side of 51 votes out of 610 in which he's been present or not recused, which suggests a reasonable level of consensus building (though not quite as high as Iveson in Edmonton).

If we plot a graph of councillors, and connect them only if they agree at least 67% of the time, we get the following:


The cut-off here was chosen in order to include councillor Turner while still highlighting differences in agreement rates. Unsurprisingly, councillors Turner, Helmer, and Squire are relative outsiders, with a strong cluster of the six councillors mentioned before in the center. Also, this type of graph is incredibly satisfying to play with - enjoy at your own risk!

While showing relative outsiders, this plot doesn't really demonstrate any significant voting blocs. Another way to present the same data is to only connect members of council to whoever they agree with the most often. Doing that results in the following:




Here we get a more interesting structure. Nearly as many people agree more often with councillor Zaifman than Mayor Brown, though there are no separated islands of voting blocs. Only two members of council agreed with each other the most mutually, Matt Brown and Maureen Cassidy, an observation that is provided without further commentary.

The last way I'll look at voting patterns is to scale them using a variant of NOMINATE. This method was developed for analyzing US Congress voting patters, and can assign voting members to a political spectrum without needing to know what the bills being voted on were. For more information, this link is a fascinating read.


Obviously a city council is going to be less partisan than a parliamentary system, but the relative placement of councillors on the graph correlates with how often the agree or disagree with each other, as well as an approximate alignment on issues. I'll detail how this was developed in a subsequent post, but the short version is that each vote is also given a numerical position, and councillors who are closer to the "yes" vote than the "no" vote are assigned probabilities to vote either way. This is then trained against the actual vote data, and thousands of iterations of machine learning later we get this distribution.

Hopefully this has been an interesting glimpse into London city council. Have a fun election!

3 comments:

Peter Croppo said...

Michael...
Very interesting nerdities re London Council... what are your thots re voting records on a subject like BRT & particularly any divergent propositions for the overall project &/or specific aspects of the project that don't necessarily pass engineer's muster for successfully improving public transit.

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