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First Reading Debates on December 8, 2009 in the Ontario Legislature on Bill 231 the proposed Elections Reform Legislation

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO

ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Mardi 8 décembre 2009

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
ELECTION STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2009 / LOI DE 2009 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS

Mr. Bentley moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act / Projet de loi 231, Loi modifiant la Loi électorale et la Loi sur le financement des élections.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?

All those in favour will say "aye."

All those opposed will say "nay."

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

Call in the members. This will be a five-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 1546 to 1551.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): All in flavour will please rise one at a time and be recorded by the Clerk.

Ayes

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Those opposed?

Nays

The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The ayes are 48; the nays are 23.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I declare the motion carried.

First reading agreed to.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): The minister for a short statement.

Hon. Christopher Bentley: During ministerial statements, please...

(Later that day)

ELECTORAL REFORM / RÉFORME ÉLECTORALE

Hon. Christopher Bentley: I'm pleased to rise in the House today on behalf of the McGuinty government to introduce legislation that would, if passed, improve the provincial election process to make it fairer, more flexible and more accessible to Ontario voters.

Our goal is to move forward with modernizing Ontario's existing legislation. The proposed amendments to both the Election Act and Election Finances Act would strengthen Ontario's democratic institutions. The amendments would improve the way elections work, while maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.

There are few things that we, either individually or collectively, value and cherish more than our democratic rights. And it is understood and accepted by all that the egalitarian traditions of our society, and certainly of our government, have been built upon and continue to depend upon fair, accessible and well-run elections. They are the foundation of our democracy.

Avant de vous décrire les modifications proposées, permettez-moi de vous donner quelques renseignements généraux et de vous décrire brièvement ce que nous avons accompli récemment. Dans le cadre de son ordre du jour de renouveau démocratique, le gouvernement McGuinty a présenté une loi en 2007 pour moderniser les élections provinciales, qui a été adoptée par l'Assemblée législative. À cette époque, le gouvernement suivait une stratégie mesurée qui renforçait aussi bien l'accès aux élections que l'intégrité des élections.

Before turning to the proposed amendments, let me provide some context and recount some recent accomplishments.

As part of our democratic renewal agenda, the McGuinty government introduced, and the House passed, legislation in 2007 to modernize provincial elections. At that time, the government took a measured approach that enhanced both access to elections as well as the integrity of elections. Amendments included increasing the number of advance poll days, and allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to test new voting methods in by-elections.

At the same time the government brought in these improvements, it contemplated further reform at some future time. That time is now.

In June 2008, the government moved in the House that a Select Committee on Elections be appointed to consider the effectiveness of Ontario's existing electoral legislation. Mr. Greg Sorbara, MPP for Vaughan, chaired the four-member committee. The other members were Norm Sterling, MPP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills; Howard Hampton, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River; and David Zimmer, MPP for Willowdale. I would like to thank, on behalf of all members, those members for their very important work.

The committee heard representations from key stakeholders. These included the Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario, Mr. Greg Essensa, who is charged with the responsibility for administering provincial elections. It also included a delegation representing Ontarians with disabilities. Written briefs were submitted by several interested parties. In addition, the committee invited returning officers to share observations about their experiences administering Ontario's election legislation. It was encouraging to receive a strong response from election officials in all parts of the province.

The committee's final report was delivered to the House in June 2009. The report presented the government with a timely and important opportunity to modernize and improve legislation concerning the preparation, administration and delivery of elections in Ontario.

Let me turn to the proposed amendments. Our plan is to introduce them in two stages.

Stage one would implement the bulk of the select committee's recommendations, and they are contained in the legislation we introduced today. These initiatives would significantly improve access to voting, particularly for persons with disabilities, while protecting the integrity of elections. It would professionalize service delivery by giving the Chief Electoral Officer more authority over appointments of election officials such as returning officers and election clerks. It would give the Chief Electoral Officer the flexibility to ensure that election processes keep pace with and are responsive to the needs of Ontarians. It would update election finance rules to reflect modern banking practices. These would all be in place for the 2011 provincial election.

Stage two would take effect following the 2011 provincial election. We would modernize election legislation by consolidating the Election Act and the Election Finances Act into a single piece of legislation that we intend to bring forward next year. Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer and the select committee recommend this kind of consolidation, advising that it will reduce inefficiencies as well as inconsistencies and confusion.

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Many of the proposed amendments align Ontario with the best practices in other Canadian jurisdictions. They'll enhance public confidence and enhance the voting experience for the people of Ontario. While some of them are quite technical, the importance of our legislation cannot be overstated.

I offer this quote, taken from the final report of the Legislature's Select Committee on Elections: "In a representative democracy, the significance of the legislation that establishes and maintains the electoral system cannot be overstated. All parties-political or otherwise-and all citizens have a fundamental interest in the quality and continuing relevance of the provisions in these statutes." I think all members of the House will agree.

In closing, let me once again say that the democratic traditions of our government have been built upon, and continue to depend upon, fair, accessible and well-run elections. They're the foundation of our democracy.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Responses?

ELECTORAL REFORM

Mr. Ted Chudleigh: This piece of legislation is interesting in that it could probably be made a very acceptable piece of legislation with a few technical amendments.

The thing that concerns me most about this bill is not what's in the bill but what is not in the bill. There is nothing in this bill about third party advertising. That's something that has gone on in this province for the last two for three elections and which operates outside of the Election Act. That makes elections very questionable in this province. It's obvious that third party advertising is-it's very obvious, it's very blatant and it's very purposeful in what it does to the elections and the election results in this province.

For the government to bring in a piece of legislation that ignores the largest change in the election process that we've had in this province over the last decade or so is very disappointing. Third party advertising distorts and flaunts the Election Act, something that has grave concerns to the democratic process in Ontario. That is the largest concern about this piece of legislation, in that nothing in this legislation is said about third party advertising.

One of the other things that is very concerning is that-I think it was point 14 in the explanatory notes, where the Chief Electoral Officer can authorize or commission reports and research. Given the history of this government on their contracting for reports and research, there is no direction given in the act as to how these commissioned reports or research should be conducted. It doesn't say anything about using best practices. It doesn't say anything about using the lowest bidder. It doesn't say anything about going to public tender. It doesn't say anything about cost controls. It doesn't say anything about any application of how these contracts for commissions and reports will be done. Given the recent history of this government, I would suggest that this should be of great concern to the citizens of Ontario.

I think that will do it for today. I look forward to the legislation. I look forward to a couple of amendments that would make this legislation much more acceptable.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

Mr. John Yakabuski: I want to respond to the bill being presented by the Minister of Energy today. You know, when you listen to his first couple of paragraphs, who's going argue with that, about the need and the importance of empowering and protecting consumers? We're all in 100% agreement with that.

What I am concerned about, or one of the things that I'm concerned about, is that the former Minister of Energy promised a piece of legislation back in the summertime that would be brought in this fall, and here we are near the end of the session, when this will certainly not be debated in this House before Christmas, and the minister is introducing a bill to protect consumers.

He talked about David Ramsay, the member for Timiskaming-Cochrane, who introduced, earlier this year, Bill 131. If they would have piggybacked or worked with that, I think we could have already had some results with respect to consumer protection with regard to how they are treated by energy retailers.

We know there needs to be some protection and some changes. The exposé that we saw on CBC's Marketplace earlier this year was a wake-up call to anybody who does not think that there were shenanigans and things going on in that business that need to be addressed, and Mr. Ramsay's bill partially would have done that.

The other thing they are doing in this bill is bringing in other issues like the sub-metering issue and the security deposit issue. Ironically, we just had a bill that we're supposed to be debating this week, possibly, from the member from Essex, dealing with that security deposit issue. So you have to wonder where the ministry is on all of these kinds of balls they've got juggling in the air here at the same time, whether it's private members' or government legislation.

There's no question at all that we want to see significant changes and improvements. The situation we have today is not acceptable. I look forward to a briefing from the minister's staff, possibly tomorrow or Thursday. Hopefully, when we get this bill in the Legislature, as soon as possible, we can all work together to ensure that at the end of the day, what we present to the consumers of this province and what we enact as legislation is going to truly protect them from nefarious practices and ensure that what is happening is transparent, is fair, and that it protects consumers.

(Later that day)

ELECTORAL REFORM

Mr. Gilles Bisson: Well, such an opportunity lost, quite frankly. We had an opportunity here in this Legislature to make some meaningful changes when it comes to how elections are run in this province, and I'm going to break it down to about three or four issues.

First of all is the question of enumeration. We know, as elected officials, that every time you go knocking at doors during provincial elections, the provincial electoral list is a mess. Why is that? It's because we gather the information of who's on the list from electronic records, and often those electronic records are wrong. How many times have all of us and our opponents who ran us against us run across the same problem where you go knocking on the door and the people who are enumerated on the list are not anywhere near the names of the people who are living in the house, and then, when you try to get them enumerated, it becomes a whole episode to be able to make that happen in a quick way, in a streamlined way? That really demoralizes the people from being able to go out there and to enumerate themselves, once they've been improperly enumerated.

The issue of where people vote: We had in our riding, and I'm sure Mr. Ramsay had the same problem, people who live in one town who had to go vote in a town 30, 40 or 50 miles away-when they lived in Smooth Rock Falls, go vote in Kap; if you lived in Kap, go vote in Smooth Rock Falls etc. We could have fixed some really basic problems with our electoral system, and we didn't get to it.

Election finance reform: The federal government saw the light, along with other provinces in this country, and they've understood that it's the right thing to remove both business and labour from the ability to make contributions to political parties and individual candidates. They did that for a reason, because there's far too much influence that is seen to be had by those who give the money to various parties. We had suggested, and we had pushed for, changes that would put us more in line with what we see federally and what we see in other provinces in this country that would depoliticize to a certain extent the ability that business and others have to contribute to campaigns, and then to say that the candidate might be beholden to them afterwards.

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I think it would have been a really good thing in this province to come to some sort of formula that would have made sense for the political parties and the candidates to make sure that we have a real electoral system that doesn't allow the type of influence to be exercised on political parties and individual candidates in results of how much money a particular person gives that candidate. And in a citizens' assembly: My God, the last time we went through this, here were the rules: You had to have 60% of the people voting in favour, and 50% of the voters who actually voted had to be in at least 60 ridings where 50% of people who had voted got 60%. Does that sound confusing? It is. This is not a citizens' assembly. If we really meant it, we would have made it 50%, and maybe we could have gotten somewhere.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Thank you.