ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
First Day of Second Reading debates on Bill 231, the proposed Elections Reform Legislation, held on February 16, 2010
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
Tuesday 16 February 2010 Mardi 16 février 2010
ELECTION STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2010 / LOI DE 2010 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS
Mr. Bentley moved second 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): Debate?
Hon. Christopher Bentley: I'll ask that I share my time with my parliamentary assistant, the member from Willowdale.
I'm very pleased to be able to speak to Bill 231, which at its heart is a further improvement and enhancement to the heart of our democratic process, the heart of a process whereby we elect the members of this House, the heart of a process whereby we enable people in the province of Ontario to express their will on who should govern them-and these Election Act amendments are designed to ensure that more people in more circumstances can do so more conveniently. They are a continuation of the efforts that we have made over the past six and a half-almost seven-years to strengthen the democratic process in this province.
I want to say at the very beginning that the specific amendments that are before the House now are in large measure a result of an all-party legislative committee. Let us be clear that an all-party legislative committee, with my colleague and parliamentary assistant David Zimmer, along with Greg Sorbara, Howard Hampton and Norm Sterling, worked very hard to come up with improvements and amendments to the legislation. I'm pleased to say that the recommendations of that committee have been substantially and significantly adopted and are reflected in this legislation. I would like to thank, regardless of party affiliation or other and additional views, all those members representing all parties for their work on this particular piece of legislation.
These amendments related to the Election Act and the Election Finances Act are about providing Ontarians with more opportunities to vote and increasing accessibility for all voters. It's about ensuring that everybody has a voice and the opportunity to express that voice, and that there's an opportunity for Ontarians to exercise their right to vote.
Il s'agit de veiller à ce que tout le monde ait voix au chapitre et puisse s'exprimer, de veiller à ce que toutes les Ontariennes et tous les Ontariens aient toutes les occasions possibles d'exercer leur droit de voter.
The bill would deliver three key changes to improve the election system for voting. My colleague the MPP for Willowdale, my parliamentary assistant, will speak in more detail about a number of the changes, but I just wanted to highlight three key changes.
It will increase the opportunities for Ontarians to cast a ballot. For example, voters will be able to vote by special ballot, including voting by mail or taking a ballot to the returning office, giving people more opportunities to cast that ballot.
Secondly-and I know, on this issue, that before he took his seat in the House, I had conversations with the MPP for Toronto Centre-Rosedale on this very issue. Secondly, it will increase opportunities for persons with disabilities to vote. This is going to be done by allowing Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer to introduce, where they believe appropriate, new technologies such as voting machines to assist persons with disabilities to cast their ballot privately and independently at returning office advance polls.
Thirdly, these amendments would give the Chief Electoral Officer more flexibility to design a voting process that enhances service delivery and ensures that elections keep pace with and are responsive to the needs of Ontarians. Ontarians change with the times. Ontarians are often ahead of the times. We need to make sure that the process by which Ontarians express their democratic voice changes as well. What better approach than to give flexibility to the Chief Electoral Officer to meet the requirements, the exigencies of the time?
All of this would be done while maintaining the integrity of our voting system. Each of these proposed changes is significant in its own right. They reflect, as I say, the all-party committee, but they are part of a process that we have undertaken, from the time we became government in 2003, to strengthen our democratic electoral system.
You'll recall that in our first mandate we introduced-and have adhered to-fixed-term election dates. So we not only introduced them; we actually followed through on them, which is always a good thing. That eliminates political considerations in the calling of a vote. I know my colleagues opposite like to know when the elections will be called. All the people of Ontario would like to know when they're going to vote so that it doesn't become a political football that can be exercised, thrown or kicked according to the whim of the government of the day.
In that same bill, we sent a very strong message and took a very important step: We said that we would strengthen our system by preserving the 11 northern ridings in the Legislature for the province of Ontario. That contrasts with the changes that were made federally.
I know, in speaking to my colleagues and having travelled throughout the north-in fact, just last week I was in Thunder Bay and Dryden in my role as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. I was visiting the First Nations communities in Wabigoon Lake, Eagle Lake and North Spirit Lake. I'm aware of the challenges of geography, the challenges of climate that are most significantly expressed in the north, whether you're flying in, such as to North Spirit Lake, or whether you're driving enormous distances. Speak to my colleague from Manitoulin, Mike Brown, about the enormous distances from one end of his riding to the other.
It is important that we ensure a very strong, democratic voice throughout the province of Ontario, with particular emphasis on those areas where diminishing it could take place by reducing the number of ridings. I'm pleased that we took those steps to maintain 11 ridings in the north.
We also established a citizens' assembly. The people of Ontario had the benefit during the last election of passing judgment on the recommendations of that citizens' assembly, a citizens' assembly drawn from all over the province of Ontario to get their advice on how we might change our electoral system. They provided that advice and we put the advice to the people of Ontario. We put it there as a separate ballot item to the people of Ontario for the people to pass judgment on. The people had that opportunity and they passed judgment. They said no, but they passed judgment. At the end of the day, we had a process that was open, that was free, that was fair, that was democratic and gave the people of Ontario an opportunity to express their views on how they would elect people in the future.
Hon. Rick Bartolucci: That's open government.
Hon. Christopher Bentley: That is open government, as my colleague from Sudbury rightly says, and that is a democratic government.
I want to talk about some of the other changes that we had made over the course of our mandate. These are, as I say, the second package of reforms.
I spoke about fixed-term elections. Of course, during the last mandate we also passed changes to our election legislation which increased substantially the number of advance poll days. It's hard to find a day now without an advance poll on it, so there are opportunities for Ontarians to cast their ballot.
We expanded the number of voting hours. Often in years past, you'd get into that situation where people would have difficulty juggling the daily and family and other responsibilities of work etc. with their wish to cast their ballot. Well, no longer. We're open many, many hours.
The Chief Electoral Officer was given authority to test new voting methods in by-elections. Those additional voting methods, I understand, have been tested, and it is the fact that they have been tested and tested successfully which has given us the ability to make some of these proposed changes to this election legislation.
The changes that we are proposing to enable persons with disabilities to have greater access to the foundation of our society, the democratic process, continue a voice that we, as a government, have raised since 2003 in support of those with disabilities, with the passing of the Ontarians with disabilities act in 2005 and with the very hard work of my colleague Minister Meilleur in ensuring that Ontarians with disabilities have the type of access to all institutions in society that many of us take for granted.
Hon. Rick Bartolucci: She's a real champion.
Hon. Christopher Bentley: She has been an enormous champion to improve access for persons with disabilities. These proposed changes to our election legislation continue the very strong steps that we have taken as a government to say that all should have access; all should have the right that many of us, as I say, take for granted.
We are building a more accessible Ontario. A more accessible Ontario is a stronger Ontario. A more accessible Ontario is not just a better Ontario for those with disabilities, who will have the opportunity to more fully participate in all of society's institutions, who will have the opportunity to more completely achieve their potential as a society, but it makes us a stronger society, because a society in which every Ontarian can reach their potential is the only society in which this province can reach its potential.
I am very pleased with these proposed changes and I would commend these proposed changes to my colleagues in all parts of the House. They do, after all, reflect the work of an all-party committee. I commend these changes and the ones that my colleague the MPP for Willowdale will speak to in just a moment as an important step and another step in this government's determination to strengthen the democratic foundation of our society by strengthening the important, essential election legislation that guides and shapes the exercise of our democratic voice.
With that, I'll turn the floor over to my colleague, my parliamentary assistant, who has worked so hard on these changes as well as the other Ministry of the Attorney General initiatives that we have: the MPP for Willowdale, David Zimmer.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member for Willowdale.
Mr. David Zimmer: It was an honour for me to serve on the Select Committee on Elections alongside members of all three political parties, and it's truly gratifying to see our recommendations come to light in this bill.
The work of our committee was motivated by a simple but crucial principle: Ontarians want a government that works for them. One of the most important things we can do to make sure that successive governments-not just this government; successive governments-remain rooted in this basic principle is to ensure that the legislation, the rules and the processes we have in place to govern our elections are modern, are effective and are efficient. That's why it's so very important for us to take a look at our election laws every so often with fresh eyes, with the experience of the last few elections under our belt.
The fact is that this is a system that we've inherited, a system with a long history rooted in a past that does not always match the reality of the society we live in today, no matter how well it served our society in the past. The work of the committee and the content of this bill are focused on ensuring that our election legislation is fully in line with the contemporary needs and expectations of all Ontarians-and I stress the "contemporary" needs and expectations.
There can be no question that each and every citizen of this province has the opportunity to exercise his or her democratic right to vote, because the truth is that all political parties and all citizens have a profound and fundamental interest in seeing that elections keep up with the times while ensuring that the integrity of our election process is never in doubt.
This legislation would help voters in three key areas. First, it would increase opportunities for Ontarians to cast a ballot; second, it would increase access to voting for persons with disabilities; and third, it would enhance service delivery in the voting process across the board.
I would like to start by spending a bit of time on discussing how the voting experience would be diversified and improved in these areas by Bill 231.
As the Attorney General has explained, one of the key accomplishments of this bill would be to increase voting opportunities for Ontarians with disabilities. Our government is especially proud of this aspect of the bill, which builds on the legacy we are creating through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Bill 231 would give the Chief Electoral Officer the ability to direct the use of accessible voting equipment. Ontario would be the first among the provinces and the federal government to permit the use of voting machines that allow persons with disabilities to vote privately and independently. This would be a significant improvement.
The bill would also provide persons with disabilities the option of requesting that the election officers make a home visit to assist with the special ballot application and with voting. Indeed, the bill would improve the voting experience for a broad range of Ontarians who are unable to vote on election day or in person during the election period: people such as snowbirds, seniors and military persons who are out of the jurisdiction at the time of the election-as well, of course, as persons with disabilities.
This would be accomplished through the introduction of special ballots which include both voting by mail and taking a ballot to the returning office in person. Special ballots would allow Ontario to eliminate the current system of proxy voting, which does not allow electors to vote independently and, therefore, undermines the secrecy of the ballot.
Another key reform is that this bill would significantly increase the flexibility afforded to Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer, which should make election service delivery better. I would particularly like to cite two examples in this regard. First, the Chief Electoral Officer would be provided with the authority to modify the voting process in order to improve the voting process and the voting experience. In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer would be given the flexibility to determine the hours and dates for advance polls.
This bill would also provide more flexibility for post-secondary students by allowing them to choose whether they want to vote in the electoral district where they reside temporarily while attending an educational institution or where they reside permanently-for example, with their family.
All of these initiatives are supported by measures that ensure that the integrity of the election system remains strong, such as the requirement that voters show identification. These reforms to increase opportunities to cast a ballot to enhance access and to improve service delivery would be an important and significant step forward for Ontario voters and Ontario elections.
This bill matches the increase in flexibility for improved service delivery with an equal focus on increasing the professionalization of service delivery, because, just as it is imperative that we do what it takes to provide ample opportunities for Ontarians to cast a ballot, so too is it incumbent upon us to do what it takes to better ensure that election officials are sufficiently experienced and appropriately qualified.
That's why this bill would depoliticize the appointments of returning officers and poll workers. This includes eliminating the existing requirement that poll workers be appointed from lists provided by candidates. This bill would also establish new authority for the Chief Electoral Officer over appointments and remuneration of election officials so that these officials are more directly accountable to the Chief Electoral Officer.
For example, terms for returning officers would be introduced so that current appointments would expire in 2013. New returning officer appointments would be made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer. Subsequent appointments would last for 10 years. The Chief Electoral Officer would be permitted flexibility to establish fees, including wage levels for election workers. This would better ensure that the election officials are sufficiently experienced and appropriately qualified. It would also reduce delays in staffing and training poll workers.
With responsibility comes accountability, so the legislation would also modernize the Chief Electoral Officer's financial accountability for election funding. The Chief Electoral Officer would make an annual submission to the Board of Internal Economy in which he would establish fees for election officials. The board would have the authority to accept, reject or modify the proposed fees.
Another area of this bill that I want to touch on today is the proposals to modernize election finance rules by providing more convenient contribution options that reflect modern banking practices and emerging financial transaction technologies. Under the current system, contributions exceeding $25 are only permitted by cheque, money order or an individual's credit card. This bill would bring us into the 21st century by allowing the use of corporate credit cards, debit cards, online contributions and electronic transfers. This would be accompanied by a new centralized electronic management of receipting, whereby central political parties would issue receipts for all contributions to the party, constituency associations and candidates. The chief financial officers would continue to be responsible for verifying the eligibility of the contributors.
These changes to the finance rules are all about modernizing a system that currently inconveniences some Ontarians who may want to get involved in the election process by contributing to a political party or a candidate. The initiatives that I've outlined in this bill today are design to make elections more accessible and to ensure more integrity and greater transparency in the voting process.
Ensuring that our elections are governed by modern, effective and relevant legislation is not a task motivated by the political priorities of the day. It is motivated by the core democratic principles that will endure far longer than any succession of governments or political parties. It is motivated by the simple principle that I mentioned at the beginning of these remarks: the belief that Ontarians want a government that works for them.
I believe that this bill would help bring our election laws up to date so that more Ontarians can participate in the voting process and so that more Ontarians will see that the voting process is infused by the highest standards of integrity. I urge all my colleagues of all political parties in this chamber to support this legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Comments and questions?
Mr. Peter Shurman: It gives me pleasure to rise in the Legislature and tell my colleagues from the other side that we in the Conservative Party will be supporting this bill because we, too, believe that it's high time that we took a look at some of the things that we in Ontario can do for voters to see to it that all of us, regardless of political stripe, get the support of the people who really want to support us and that we make it possible for those people to come out and express their support by casting a ballot one way or the other. Bill 231 does that.
Very particularly in my thoughts are people who are categorized as snowbirds and people who do serve in the military and people who are disabled. Those are people who deserve the vote as well.
As I recall, voter turnout in general elections here in the province of Ontario runs anywhere between 50% and 60%, depending. It would be nice to see it be, to look at one example, something like the Australian turnout, which tends to be upwards of 90%. In Australia, as most members, I think, know-and some may not-there's a fine levied against you if you fail to cast your ballot. I'm not advocating that, but I can tell you that in discussions I've had with friends, colleagues and acquaintances from time to time, the idea is not something that escapes their thoughts.
One of the things that I'd like to put on record, however, is that despite the fact that the Conservative caucus does support this bill and will be voting for this bill, it would be nice to have seen the bill cover some aspects that are not mentioned: to wit, the financing of elections by third parties. I think we can all agree in this chamber that that happens. It may not be financing of elections per se, but it is advertising directed in support of one party or another by third parties who have a vested interest. So it would be nice to see, when this bill goes to committee, some reference made to that.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mr. Michael Prue: It's a pleasure to stand up, having listened to my colleagues and their waxing eloquent on the merits of Bill 231. They spoke quite long, but really what they're saying is that this bill, although it does contain some enviable and admirable provisions, doesn't really say a whole lot. It doesn't go to the heart of the matter of what is wrong with elections in Ontario. It goes in part to allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to make decisions; it goes in part to the accommodation of students who are living outside of their home polls; it goes in part to depoliticizing the process of hiring poll workers; but it doesn't do very much.
There was some comment about disability issues and how they were proud that they were going to address the disabled community. I will have a great deal to say about that when it is my opportunity, but I want to say to them bluntly and forthrightly: I don't think you listened to the disabled community at all. Had you listened to the disabled community, the fiasco of one of the polls in the recent by-election in Toronto Centre would not have happened, where a person showed up in a wheelchair and was not able to vote. They had to be carried down the stairs. That is something that was supposed to have been dealt with, that was asked to be dealt with and that was not dealt with, and simply putting aside an opportunity for people to go to an advance poll to vote with some kind of new electronic device is not going to cut it. The majority of people want and need to vote on election day, and that includes the disabled community as well as the non-disabled community. It includes people who consider it a right to weigh all of the factors right up until election day so that they can have their minds made up on that day, not some days, weeks or months in advance, and to go to a place that is secluded and is not necessarily the same for all electors.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mr. Lou Rinaldi: It's my pleasure to add a couple of minutes of comments on Bill 231.
You know, we could argue here that this is not enough, that it doesn't go far enough and that we forgot this. The fact of the matter is that we're making some progress. When it comes to election day, we're always criticized. The comments are that the poll is in the wrong place or that it's hard to get to. Frankly, as legislators, we never really put a process in place to give those directions to the people who are doing this kind of work. So I think this is an excellent start, and when I say "excellent," it's because we've had a multi-party committee look at issues, speak to folks across the province and collectively come out with recommendations which the ministry has then put into legislation.
I remember in my last two elections, 2003 and 2007, it wasn't uncommon when I was out knocking on doors, as all of us have been, to have people say, "Well, that election date"-whatever date it is-"is challenging for me." We used to use proxy voting, so you had to explain the proxy and all that kind of stuff. It was very cumbersome. In some cases, it was in schools which were frankly not accessible. Now it's giving the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to assess those challenges and make sure that that accessibility piece is addressed.
In my riding, I have one of the largest armed forces bases in Canada, and that's always an issue for those personnel because they're all over the place. This obviously addresses that concern and I look forward to this piece of legislation moving forward.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: When the minister was speaking, he talked about how sometimes Ontarians get ahead of the game. I would suggest Ontarians are right on the game and that it's the government that is behind the game.
The minister said that he substantially followed the recommendations that were put forward by the committee to look into election reform. I would point out that they avoided the recommendation that was made by the committee about third party advertising, which is the largest intrusion into provincial politics in the last 15 years, and it's the elephant in the room that the government failed to address.
They also failed to address a recommendation made about a boundary commission. I'll be speaking to the bill in a few minutes and I'll have more to say about that. A boundary commissioner is responsible for the realignment of ridings so that there's an equality to the number of votes and the number of constituents in each riding.
Ontario, of course, is the only province in Canada that does not have a boundary commission. When we followed the federal boundaries, coterminous riding boundaries with the feds, we didn't need one, but since the 11 seats in the north have been maintained by this government in gerrymandering activities to maintain their seats up there, then the boundary commission would be required in order to have equity and fairness in the system.
He talked about essentially following the recommendations. However, there was a recommendation which I thought was a very strong one, that if they wanted a higher turnout, they should move the elections to the spring, when there are more daylight hours for people to vote in. I'll have more to say about this later.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): We have time for one last question or comment. I recognize the member for Willowdale.
Mr. David Zimmer: Folks have had a chance to sort of reflect on this legislation. I often get asked questions about the legislation, so I just wanted to walk through a couple of the questions I've been asked from time to time and give you the answers to some of these questions.
One question that I do get a lot of is-
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): To the member for Willowdale, I apologize. We had time for one last question and comment. I recognized you in error, actually, so now we go to-wrong speech.
There's still time for one more question and comment. I'll turn to the member for Brant, and I apologize for the confusion.
Mr. Dave Levac: I appreciate the opportunity to enter into a small piece of the debate, which I'd like to continue to do, and that is about the people. I think everyone has acknowledged that. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure if the NDP is suggesting that this is a nothing bill or whether it is acknowledging that it is an attempt to bring us into the 21st century, which the member from Willowdale is so rightfully pointing out.
There are some advantages to what the proposal in this legislation is offering us. The advantage is to make sure that the people who have been disenfranchised are now re-enfranchised. The disenfranchised are people who could not get to the polling booth because of a wheelchair and because of the situation that was there. They had a right to vote, and some of the people who were at the polling station made those adjustments quite well, but it was not easy enough in all cases and I think that's what we're talking about in this particular piece of legislation.
Those who are serving our country in faraway places: Let's make it easier for them to vote. For the people that have disabilities that make it difficult: translators for those who don't have talking ability, those who need some assistance.
I think those are the ideas that we're trying to present today in this piece of legislation, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act of 2009, Bill 231.
As I have said in the past and I'll continue to say, this bill will find itself in committee and offer an opportunity for those who believe that it's not good enough to be able to step forward and offer their support and ideas. For those who are in the opposition who believe that, yes, this is the right direction we're going in but there are still some things that need to be looked at, we will be reviewing the debate. Staff will pore over the comments that are made from everybody, from all the sectors that are going to be commenting on this particular piece of legislation, and make it the best possible piece of legislation it can be to improve the capacity for the people of Ontario to exercise their franchise-to vote. That's what we're going to be encouraging: making it easier for people to vote. It's that simple. When we put that along with the people who are getting the training for this new piece of legislation, if passed and when passed, I would suggest that we will be able to see a rise in voting statistics because we are making it easier for them to vote and we are encouraging them to vote. We will be using our education system, which we've been doing, to encourage people to participate in the democratic process.
I thank the minister for putting the bill forward and I thank his parliamentary assistant for eloquently outlining what the bill says.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Once again, the Chair apologizes for any inconvenience to this House that my mistake may have caused.
I'll return now to the member for Willowdale, who has two minutes to reply.
Mr. David Zimmer: Thank you, Speaker, and you're forgiven.
Anyway, we've brought this election reform legislation forward, as I said in my remarks, because it is incumbent on governments of whatever political stripe of the day to keep an eye on the integrity and the effectiveness of the electoral process.
There is such a change in attitudes out there among members of society, there's such a change in the development of new technologies, there's such a change in the public's expectations of how they should be able to participate effectively in the electoral process that it is incumbent upon all governments, from time to time, to update those rules which ensure that the people of Ontario can effectively participate in the electoral process. That's why the select committee was established. That's why the select committee was peopled with members of all political stripes from this Legislature.
I can tell you, from sitting on that select committee with my colleagues from the NDP and my colleagues from the Conservatives, who are obviously supportive of this legislation, that there was a non-partisan recognition that when it came forward, the core of the bill was to recognize that the process had to be modernized so that the voters of Ontario, the voters who place us here, the voters who listen to our arguments during political campaigns and, based on those political arguments and political representations, make choices of who they want to vote for and who they want to return to be the governing party of Ontario-that process has to have integrity and effectiveness. This legislation serves that end, integrity and effectiveness.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further debate?
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: I'm pleased to have some thoughts on this piece of legislation. It's an interesting bill in that it's not so much about what's in the bill. There's much in the bill that could be supported. However, the things that were left out of the bill were a shame. It was too bad to miss the opportunity. It was mentioned by the member from Brantford that this bill would bring the election process in Ontario into the 21st century. I think it would certainly advance the election process; I'm not sure it makes the 21st century or not. It may get us into the 1990s. It's too bad that we missed this opportunity, because the committee made some excellent recommendations that were either ignored or passed over.
The minister mentioned again that, substantially, the recommendations of the committee were followed. That is true in that many of the clauses in the bill did come out of that committee. However, the exception to that is that third party advertising during elections, to the degree that it takes place in Ontario, was recommended for some action, and there has been action taken by the federal government, by the Quebec government and by the BC government. There's a bill currently working its way through the Legislature in Alberta. Other provinces have seen fit to do that, and that is one reason why I would say that this legislation does not bring us into the 21st century; it leaves us in the 1990s, and that's too bad.
The one recommendation that was made was that fixed election dates-in political parties, there's a debate as to whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. Possibly in weighing those, those in opposition would say that it's a good thing; those in government might not agree with it. However, fixed election dates have seen the turnout in Ontario elections-which has continually declined. From 62% or 63% in my first election in 1995, I believe in the last election in 2007, the turnout was something like 56% across the province. It was 58%, I think, in 2003. The committee made a number of recommendations as to how that might be corrected. One was to move the fixed date to the spring. Traditionally-I suppose not traditionally, but in many, many cases in Ontario, provincial elections were held in the spring. In the spring, there is more daylight. People spend more time out of doors and they're more likely to leave home again after they've come home from work. If the polls were open until 9 o'clock, I think that you would see more people participating in the election in the spring as opposed to the fall.
Also, there was a recommendation made that election day either be declared a holiday, so people would have time to vote, or that it be held on Saturdays or on some day on the weekend-it could be held on Sundays or Saturdays. There were some religious connotations to that. However, Saturdays are a time that could very well increase voter participation if it was indeed the desire of the government to increase the opportunity for people to vote.
The minister also spoke about the size of the ridings that they have in Ontario. He made comment that the 11 ridings in northern Ontario-he was very pleased that they were able to maintain those 11 ridings. I have difficulty with those 11 ridings, especially from the point of view of the size of my particular riding, the riding of Halton. The riding of Halton probably has 230,000 people in it currently, when the average Ontario riding has 107,000 in it. That's well more than double the size of the average riding. If you do the math on that, the people who are the electorate in Halton-and they have one vote in this House through me-my constituents are getting half a vote per constituent as opposed to someone who is in an average riding of 107,000 people in Ontario.
When we go into northern Ontario, the gerrymandering of those ridings in maintaining the 11 seats up there left some ridings where there are fewer than 65,000 people in them. Those numbers give the electorate in those ridings a disproportionate value to their vote in comparison to the people who cast a ballot in the riding of Halton. That is unfair and that should be corrected by a committee such as this. That is another opportunity that was missed and another instance as to why this bill is not necessarily one of the 21st century; it is one perhaps of the late 20th century.
This legislation, as I started out to say, is a very acceptable piece of legislation for what it says; it is not necessarily a successful piece of legislation because of what it has left out. The things that concern me are not what's in the bill but what is not in the bill.
There's nothing in this bill about third party advertising. That's something that has gone on in this province for the last two or three elections and which operates outside the Election Act, and that is very, very dangerous from the point of view of democracy. What makes elections very questionable in this province is obviously third party advertising, and it's very obvious, very blatant and very purposeful in what it does to elections and 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 for 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-and I think it was point 14 in the explanatory notes-is 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's no direction given in the act as to how these commissioned reports or this research should be conducted. I could go on by mentioning the Samsung contract just recently, which was a sole-sourced contract: about $437 million that's going to a sole-sourced, untendered contract. It's unbelievable that that much of Ontario taxpayers' money can be spent over the next number of years without having a tendering process and perhaps even attracting a company in Ontario that can do some or all of what Samsung has been contracted to do.
We also saw the Windsor energy plant, which was in conjunction with the casino in Windsor, contracted for, I think, $40 million or so, and the contract rose to $81 million. It was an untendered contract, sole sourced, and, of course, the energy plant fails to turn on when you throw the switch. It's what happens when governments don't take the proper precautions in doing contracts with taxpayers' money.
That's one of the things that concerns me in that this Chief Electoral Officer is going to be authorized to commission reports and research, and yet it doesn't give any guidelines whatsoever about whether best practices should be used. It doesn't say what those best practices should be. 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 which I've enumerated only a few-I could go on with a number of other ones, like Sarah Kramer being bought off with $25,000 for a single speech; the eHealth board and $1.5 million in severance payments; Glen Murray-15 million health care dollars spent to buy the Toronto Centre by-election. That was during the by-election when the Grace Hospital was bought out. Steve Mahoney received $140,000 per year for a part-time job. You know, it just goes on and on about the waste that this government has entered into when it comes to spending taxpayers' dollars, and spending taxpayers' dollars to solve their political problems, and that's a shame.
Here we have a piece of legislation before the House that gives authority to the Chief Electoral Officer to commission reports, to commission studies and research, and it doesn't give any direction to him whatsoever as to how those reports should be commissioned or how those reports should be tendered.
A permanent boundary commission was also debated during the committee, but it is not included in this bill. Again, that's a shame, because the boundary commission is something that nine of the other provinces in Canada have and that Ottawa, our federal government, has. A boundary commission is something that determines how big a riding should be, what the boundaries of that riding should be, so that it equalizes the number of voters and the number of constituents in each of those ridings and makes sure that "one member, one vote" is equally distributed across Ontario. So if you're a member from Thunder Bay and in the last redistribution you represented 107,000 people, and if you're a member from downtown Toronto, essentially you would also represent 107,000 people at the time of the redistribution. The boundary commission would make those decisions.
In Ontario, a boundary commission would be commissioned or would be proposed in a piece of legislation such as this, and here we are with this piece of legislation-that has come through committee, has been studied-and still we don't have a boundary commission, and a boundary commissioner is not proposed in this piece of legislation. It's amazing to me that the government can be proud of this piece of legislation when they have omitted two of the most essential things that are needed in Ontario at this point in time.
When the Select Committee on Elections put out their report, there was a dissenting opinion put out by the member for Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Norm Sterling. He was a member of that committee and was very upset about the fact that those things were missing. It's a one-page report, and I'd like to read it into the record.
"The PC caucus endorses recommendation 26 of the committee to limit third party spending in Ontario, but wants to make certain that this recommendation is implemented. Third party advertising has been recognized as a serious problem in Canada by our federal Parliament and by five provinces: British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta.
"Ontario has a law, but it is very weak in that it only requires registration and reporting of contributions for six months of the election year. As the Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario, Mr. Essensa told the committee, 'This allows third parties to build advertising war chests but not to report on the source of those contributions at an earlier time.'
"Some Canadian jurisdictions have enacted limits on third party spending. They range from a low of $300 in" the province of "Quebec to a high of $183,300 federally.
"In Ontario there is no limit. In the last provincial election, the third party advertiser 'Working Families' spent more than $1 million on advertising during the writ period. They raised $1.4 million solely from trade unions.
"Because of the way Ontario's election finance laws are written, it is impossible to know how much was raised and spent prior to the issuance of the election writ.
"Election laws have been enacted to ensure a level playing field between politicians and their respective parties; to ensure that elections are held in a free and fair manner and that they are open and transparent. As third party advertisers become more involved in electoral events, it is necessary to ensure that they are governed by those same laws and that the laws are designed in such a manner as to recognize that elections are contested by individuals who put their names forward as candidates for public office and, in most cases, the political parties to which they belong.
"Third party advertisers have a legitimate role to play in the democratic process but they need to be open and transparent and should not have a freer hand to influence the political process than the individuals and parties who take part in the election. Further, it is also important to ensure that such third parties are truly independent, and are not subject to undue influence from any registered candidate or political party in the conduct of the advertising campaigns.
"Therefore, the PC caucus recommends, in concert with recommendation 26, that the Legislative Assembly enact a law that:
"-restricts third party spending;
"-restricts third party contribution;
"-requires timely reporting of third party contributions, whenever donations are made"-i.e., not limited to the six months prior to the writ; and
"-provides for better enforcement of existing law to ensure that third party spending is not used to circumvent election finance laws, including stronger anti-collusion provisions.
"Further, we recommend that the Legislative Assembly of Ontario establish an all-party committee, with equal representation from all three parties, to propose draft legislation to address these issues."
That concludes the dissenting opinion in the report of the Select Committee on Elections, and it was purposefully done. It was a level, even-handed recommendation and it is one that I think the government should have taken much more seriously than it obviously did, because it has been totally ignored when it came to the drafting of the bill.
I might also comment as to who these Working Families are. I can tell you that they're a group of trade unions that include the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association; the Canadian Auto Workers union; the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Local 128; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the millwrights; the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793; the painters district council 46 and the Ontario Pipe Trades Council. They contributed, in total, $1.4 million, with the largest contribution falling to, let me see, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation with $170,000-oh, the English Catholic teachers' association outdid them with $175,000. The Canadian Auto Workers were somewhat pikers in this deal; they gave $200. Individual millwrights gave $1,254.24. The International Union of Operating Engineers gave $66,389 and the building and construction trades gave $26,657-all to be spent on advertising.
It's interesting that there appeared-
Interjection: That's what we know of.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Those are the ones we know of. Those are the funds that were raised six months prior to the election date. There could have been a lot more money raised prior to that date and I would suggest that there probably was.
There's also a very close relationship between the boards of directors that run Working Families and the board of directors that runs the Ontario Liberal Party, with the relationship being so close that it would be difficult to pass the sniff test if you were suggesting that the two might be in collusion with each other. That is, they used the same advertising and communications group, Arrow Communications, which was paid almost $200,000 by the Ontario Liberal Party. They were also used by Working Families. Pollara is a polling company used by the Ontario Liberal Party, and they were also used by Working Families in Ontario. The list goes on and on as to how those two organizations are so tightly held together.
We talked about what's not in the bill, about the Working Families Coalition scandal and the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, who recognized this problem in his recommendations. He recommended to the government that something should be done about this. There should be some restrictions placed on how much third party advertisers can raise, as there are in five other provinces and in the federal government as well, and nothing was done. That was something that the government, in drafting the bill, totally ignored.
As I pointed out earlier, the bill also should have created a boundaries commission to ensure that fair, transparent and democratic boundaries are created and people are equally represented. Usually during a boundaries commission, the commissioners are charged with putting together ridings that have like interests amongst them. That would mean that in the town of Milton, which has currently about 90,000 people in it-by election day in 2011, that will probably be pretty close to 107,000-the people of Milton would be like-minded. Currently the people of Milton are lumped in with the people of upper Oakville and upper Burlington, and I would suggest that there's a significant difference between those groups of people and the issues that they're interested in.
On the other hand, if I look north, I see the towns of Halton Hills, Georgetown and Acton. I look at those people in association with the town of Milton and I see that the interests of those three groups of people-Georgetown, Acton and Milton-are very similar. The same issues that bother one would bother the other, where that is not necessarily true for the people of Oakville and the people of Burlington, who are much more urbanized than those in the northern part of the region of Halton.
A boundaries commission is something that this committee overlooked, and I think it was a serious omission.
The Select Committee on Elections considered the government's proposals and complementary proposals made by the present and past Chief Electoral Officers. Despite the desire of the committee, this bill does not harmonize Ontario's electoral legislation with the federal legislation, which was a goal of this committee, and it doesn't do that. Neither does it address the issue of third party advertising, which I have already spoken about.
As a result of this bill, voting by proxy will be replaced by voting by special ballot. Ontario is one of the only provinces that permit proxy voting and do not permit mail-in or special ballots. That's one of the pieces of this legislation that I kind of like. I think that's a good thing.
I see also that they're going to make all kinds of other special provisions for people to vote, including home visits for voting, visits to hospital rooms and daycare centres and places of care for our elderly citizens and those types of places.
I'm not sure that all those other things are necessary if you have a mail-in ballot. Somebody can take a mail-in ballot, fill out a name and an address and perhaps a social insurance number or some form of identification, a PIN number, from the voting rules. This person can vote in that method. I think that would make access to the ballot box much better than it is today.
In today's world, people travel consistently and are away from home for lengthy periods of time. Quite often they'll take a contract in another country that may last three, four or five months or even longer than that. I quite often get requests through the constituency office because someone has been on a contract and out of the province for 10 months. Of course, when you're out more than six months you need to have a three-month residency period to get back into our health care system. If someone is working overseas on an overseas contract, that isn't necessarily fair. You have to go through some hoops in order to get that looked after. However, that's the world we live in. Voting by mail-in ballot, providing that ballot can be adequately identified, is one of the good things that are in this bill.
This bill also provides the Chief Electoral Officer with the power to set the time and date of advance polls in designated areas. This power does not extend the length of advance polls, which remains unchanged. Ontario currently has more advance polling opportunities than any other jurisdiction in Canada, and I think that's also a good thing in conducting an election. Making polls available to people who want to cast their ballot, I think, is a good thing and a positive thing and one of the good things about this bill.
The bill also expands the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer in a number of other areas, and I'll get to those in a minute.
As a result of the Representation Act of 2005, Ontario's electoral districts are no longer tied to changes in federal electoral districts. That was the bill that was passed in 2005 that maintained the 11 seats in northern Ontario, even though those seats made it inequitable as far as the number of voters who cast ballots in those seats. As few as 65,000 voters are in some ridings in northern Ontario, whereas, I mentioned earlier, the population of my riding in Halton is 230,000, with perhaps 180,000 voters. That makes the voters in these small ridings have a disproportionate impact on bills that are voted on in this House.
Mike Brown over there doesn't have the same number of voters that he votes for that I would vote for, and that's inequitable in Ontario. I think you would agree with me.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Obviously, your voice wasn't listened to during the period that this was discussed in your caucus.
The fact that we no longer follow the federal electoral districts, of course, is a huge problem, in that we don't have a boundaries commission. For that to be omitted from this piece of legislation, I find, is a significant problem.
The special ballots that would include home visits by returning officers in specific circumstances-that sounds rather expensive to me-replace the use of proxy voting. The powers of the Chief Electoral Officer, which I referred to earlier, are expanded, and they include modifying voting processes established by the act in consultation with registered parties; providing direction for the use of mobile polls at hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes and other institutions on polling day; providing the dates and times for advance polls in designated areas-advance polls are still required at the returning officer's office for the same number of days; directing that accessible voting equipment and related vote-counting equipment be used during advance polls in every electoral district; establishing a fee payable to officers and other persons for their services under the act; and undertaking studies to improve the voting process and voting for persons with disabilities.
I pointed out earlier that the act, although it gives the power to the Chief Electoral Officer to undertake studies and conduct research into how to do those kinds of things, doesn't give any direction as to how those studies and research should be conducted, as to whether it's done in the most fiscally responsible manner or not. Again, given the history of this government, one would be suspicious about how that may work out in the future.
Another positive aspect of this bill is that students, particularly university or college students who are away from home, often could not cast their ballots because, election day being Thursday, they couldn't get home from class, or they were out of province at school, and so therefore they were disenfranchised, as it were. This bill will change that. It will allow students to vote in the electoral district where they are attending their post-secondary education facility. If that facility is in Ontario, they will be able to cast their ballot. If it is outside Ontario, I would suspect that they could use a mail-in ballot and, therefore, cast their ballot in that form. Again, they would be participating in the election process in Ontario, instead of being disenfranchised.
Also, there are a number of other parts of this act which I find are fairly good. They help the democratic process, I think. One of them is to expand how contributions over $25 can be made to account for technological advancements in individuals and third parties. Quite often, keeping track of finances during an election process is a challenge. Money comes in to the party, and hopefully is accounted for, and that money then becomes part and parcel of the expenditures. I can tell you that the expenditures had better equal the income or the Chief Electoral Officer and his auditor are going to give you a very, very difficult time. The Election Act in Ontario is very good in that way, in that all money has to be accounted for. That's a very good thing. This strengthens that and allows for electronic contributions and the tracking of those contributions.
Also, there was a bit of a loophole in that an estate of a deceased person could make a contribution to a party and constituency association. The person and their estate are deemed to be one person, and contribution limits for individual persons apply. I don't think that would have amounted to a great deal of money, certainly not the $1.4 million that the Working Families Coalition would account for, but it does introduce a factor of fairness into the election, and that's a good thing.
The Chief Electoral Officer will make an electronic database which records all contributions received and allows for the issuing of receipts for registered political parties, constituency associations and candidates. A party may opt into the use of the database, but upon doing so, must use it. The publication, broadcast or transmission of any election survey results not previously made available in an electoral district on polling day before the close of all polling stations is prohibited. That was another loophole that from time to time was used during political elections. Sometimes the accuracy of those polls would be strongly questioned. Sometimes they were old polls. Sometimes they were not conducted in the same manner that a good polling company would have used.
Official websites to a registered party: A candidate or constituency association are exempt from the blackout period for campaign advertising. You have a lot of advertising that goes on to your website, and of course taking down your website the day before or the day of the election was a very difficult thing to do. Also, the use of the website to direct voters to their polling stations becomes an intricate part of the campaign and getting people out to vote, the culmination of really everything that you did throughout the campaign period. Making that exemption official-it was kind of there in the past, but it was kind of overlooked. You were told that it was okay, that you didn't have to adhere to it, but strictly speaking it was a problem. It's very nice to have that cleared up so that people know exactly where they stand during the election.
Campaign expense limits will be determined by using the greater number of electors shown in the list of electors after the writ is issued or the number of electors entitled to vote, as determined by the Chief Electoral Officer after the election. This was a clause that would greatly affect perhaps three ridings in Ontario: the King-Vaughan-Aurora riding, which is a very rapidly growing riding; also the riding of Markham, which is very fast-growing and has huge numbers of people; and, of course, my riding of Halton, which is the fastest-growing riding in Canada. Throughout the campaign, you're never sure how much money you can spend, because there are limits as to what you can spend during the writ, and the election rolls keep changing during the election. When you do mailings to individual houses, which are very expensive, you end up not knowing if you're going to go over the amount designated for the individual election expenses or whether you're going to be too far under. You don't want to be too far under, but you don't want to be over. You don't want to be over by a nickel, because there are dire consequences to that.
Having this flexibility as to what the numbers are, all of those people who are not on the permanent list of electors and who get themselves on during an election-in the last election I think there were over 5,000 voters in my riding of Halton who got on to lists during the campaign and, of course, that made quite a difference to the amount of money that we could spend during the campaign writ period.
I would talk again about some of the consequences and some of the effects of Working Families, who raised $1.4 million in the six months prior to the election. Perhaps they raised more than that before that point in time, and because of the way that Ontario's election finance laws are written, it's impossible to know how much was raised and spent prior to the issuance of the election writ.
"Election laws"-and I think this bill is aimed in this direction--"have been enacted to ensure a level playing field between politicians and their respective parties, to ensure that elections are held in a free and fair manner and that they are open and transparent. As third party advertisers become more involved in electoral events, it is necessary to ensure that they are governed by those same laws"-the individuals who put their names forward, who put their names on the ballot as candidates for public office and, in most cases, the political parties to which they belong.
Third party advertisers have a legitimate role. I'd point out to you-and I make that point strongly-that "Third party advertisers have a legitimate role to play in the democratic process, but they need to be open and transparent and should not have a freer hand to influence the political process than the individuals and parties who take part in the election. Further, it is also important to ensure that such third parties are truly independent and are not subject to undue influence from any registered candidate or political party...."
I pointed out before there's a strong relationship between Working Families and the Liberal Party and that strong relationship, I suggest, would not pass the sniff test but, so far, the Chief Electoral Officer has not taken action in that direction.
The Chief Electoral Officer reported on May 7, 2009, to the Select Committee on Elections. He made a good report, some five or six pages long. He thanked the Chair. He pointed out that he would like to focus on three areas of his interest and suggested the committee should do something about these three areas. The first one he mentioned was third party advertising and the third party advertising requirements in the Election Finances Act, which he suggests are very weak; secondly, "questions the select committee may wish to consider with respect to the regulation of third party advertising; and third, the role of the Chief Electoral Officer in administering the election finances process." He felt that his hands are tied in dealing with those third party participants, and he felt that was not necessarily a thing that enhanced the democratic process in Ontario.
He asked, "First, should Ontario adopt third party spending limits? Currently, Ontario has no spending limits. In comparison, there are third party election advertising limits in other jurisdictions. Federally, a third party is limited to spending $183,300 in total and no more than $3,666 in any one electoral district. In British Columbia, a third party is limited to spending $150,000 in total and no more than $3,000 in any one electoral district. In New Brunswick, a third party is limited to spending no more than 1.3% of the maximum amount a political party can spend if it runs a candidate in every electoral district. And in Quebec, a third party is limited to spending $300 on issue advertising, and third parties may not advertise to directly promote a party or candidate.
"The second area of consideration is, should Ontario adopt third party contribution limits? Currently, no jurisdiction has contribution limits, but Alberta has just introduced a bill, Bill 205, that would limit a contributor to giving a third party for its advertising no more than $30,000 in an election year and $15,000 in a non-election year." That would still mount up to a fairly significant war chest for a third party advertiser to take part in.
Should Ontario try to limit third party advertising? He suggests in a rather long paragraph that he thinks there should be some limits, as other provinces have done. Then he gives a dissertation on the constitutionality of third party advertising. It's important that if there are limits placed on third party advertising, it be done in a manner that is fair and equitable and does not limit how and what they say. That's a very important part in the democratic process. As I pointed out earlier, there is a place in the democratic process for third party advertising. It has to be fair, equitable and transparent.
He suggests again that it is not his place to answer these questions-it was the committee's responsibility to do so-but he does point out that these are very important questions that other jurisdictions have turned their minds to, and he recommends that Ontario do the same. Again, it's a shame that this piece of legislation has come before the House and has not taken any stance whatsoever on this very important change in the electoral process that's taking place in Ontario.
Riding boundaries and fixed election dates: Fixed election dates are something that really needed some attention to be paid to it. A fall election doesn't make a lot of sense in Ontario, in my mind. First of all, you run a risk of interfering with the municipal elections, which happen each October now. They used to happen in November, but they now happen in the last week in October, I believe-and that's a good thing. But running a provincial election in the fall is, again, of questionable value. I think that people are far more likely to turn out if the election is held in the spring. If the government wants people to turn out for elections, which they say they do, then I think changing the election date from fall to spring would have helped to accomplish that to some degree. It's disappointing that that opportunity was missed, because these bills don't come along every year or two. The last one came along in 2005. It's now 2010. Updating election acts maybe happens every five years. Maybe it will be 10 or 15 years before we see another one. Missing this opportunity is too bad. It's an opportunity missed, and that's always a shame.
There are also a number of other parts of this bill. I won't go into all of them. The 2005 bill was hotly contested and didn't go as far as it should have gone in being fair and equitable for the people of Ontario. That, again, was a missed opportunity and it's something that's probably not going to come back for some time, and that's too bad.
Perhaps if this bill went to committee, we could look at amendments to it, which might indeed add some weight to it-to put in a boundary commissioner, for instance, or put in a part of the bill that would talk about third party advertising-and make it truly an equitable bill that would help the democratic process in Ontario, that would make it equal, that would bring it right up to date so that it was as good a process in Ontario as it is in five other provinces and the federal government, which have those regulations in place as we speak. It's always a shame, politically, when you miss those opportunities.
If I could summarize: The Election Finances Act, which is affected by this bill, has some good pieces in it. Again, it misses that third party advertising, but the estates, the electoral officer and the electronic database that it talked about, the broadcasting or transmission of election survey results that cannot be made available, official websites, registered parties-those are all positive things.
Also, the Election Act, which is also impacted by this bill with the elimination of enumeration and the maintaining of a permanent voters list: I think those are positive things.
There was a point in the last election when some of the polling stations that we had in the riding of Halton were so new that collecting those names for the permanent polling list was not possible, and they did send out enumerating teams to those polls. I think eliminating enumeration works well for 90%, 95% of Ontario, but for those ridings that have extremely rapid growth, such as the riding of Halton, I think that perhaps enumeration still has a value. It's too bad it was eliminated and not just mothballed so that it could be used in very special circumstances. That's perhaps another opportunity that was missed.
Also, the elimination of proxy voting, I think, is a positive thing, and the use of mail-in ballots can be a positive change to the election process in Ontario.
I think that concludes my comments on this bill, Madam Speaker. I thank you for your help and for listening to my dissertation.
I would like to encourage the government to take this bill to committee, to look at the opportunities to make it an even stronger bill, a better bill, by adding particularly those two parts to the bill, one of which deals with the boundaries commission. I don't know why Ontario should be the only province in Canada without a boundaries commission, particularly when we're setting boundaries.
Mr. Michael A. Brown: It's because you guys passed the law.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: I see the member opposite wants to add a boundary commission and I would encourage him to do so. At least read the piece of legislation and maybe you'll find out that it's not in there.
The second piece that I'd like to see in the legislation is of course some control on third party advertising that would make it transparent. I'm not trying to do away with it; I'm trying to make it part of the process so that it's fair, transparent and equitable to everybody involved in the election process.
With that, Madam Speaker, thank you very much.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Questions and comments?
Mr. Michael Prue: I listened intently to the member from Halton as he spoke for some 50 minutes and what he had to say. He said at the beginning, he said in the middle and he said at the end that his three primary concerns were the boundaries commission, third party advertising and election financing.
To deal with each of the points that he tried to make-and I do agree with the member from Algoma-Manitoulin: The reason that we don't have a boundaries commissioner is that the Harris government did away with the boundaries commissioner under the Fewer Politicians Act. Ontario became the only province and the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn't set its own boundaries. We even give the city of Toronto the authority to set up its own boundaries, but we don't do it ourselves.
I don't entirely blame the Harris government because this government has been here now for six plus years and could have done something and should have done something to make the law better. We cannot pretend in Ontario that we have fair boundaries when we have such disparities. We should not have adopted the federal in the first place because of the plus and minus 25% rule they have, trying to accommodate a land that is as broad as Canada with jurisdictions like Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon with huge, vast swaths of land. They have to do it. We don't have to have a plus or minus 25% rule in Ontario, yet we follow them.
He also talked about the third party advertising. I am in agreement with what he had to say, but his whole talk around election financing did not hit the issue, and that is that the election financing laws in Ontario are very unjust and have not been dealt with in this bill. I intend to speak to that when it comes to my turn.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further comments and questions?
Mr. Ted McMeekin: This is Kindness Week, at least until sundown, so I want to be gentle as I respond.
I want to say at the outset there is a rather well-known American political commentator who once observed that those who hold their elected officials in contempt will not long respect themselves. I think that's true and I think this act is about setting out, not in any complete way but certainly in a rather pronounced way, to focus on the issues of trust and integrity with respect to municipal elections. Quite frankly, while I found much of what the member from Halton said to be intriguing, and some of it I even agreed with, I think it's important that we do move forward inasmuch as we have set out through a select committee of the Legislature, which came to a broad-based agreement on most of the principles in this way. I'm certainly proud that our government has moved forward.
I found it interesting. The conversation around the Working Families Coalition being in apparent collusion with one political party seemed a little difficult to gulp. Third parties support any party. There weren't too many that supported your party in the last election, I noticed, but that would be to go down another road.
I think the whole issue of modernizing the election process with mail-in ballots, special ballots, particularly post-secondary students having an opportunity to get engaged at the universities they're at, is very progressive. I note that the member noted some of those things.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member for Simcoe-Grey.
Mr. Jim Wilson: Certainly the Working Families Coalition is a front for the Liberals. You'd have to be from Mars to have missed their message. In 2003 the message was, "Not this time, Ernie," in a million dollars' worth of TV, radio and print ads-or a little more than a million the last time in 2007. In 2007, I recall in their TV ads they had about four different versions, and they were actors, saying, "Oh, I'm a school teacher and I remember how horrible it was during the Mike Harris era."
Who benefits from that solely? It's the Liberal Party of Ontario and it's the usual culprits who have never supported my party anyway, that I can recall in my 20 years, because they like to run the school system, they like to run the trades system; they like ratios the way they are in our trades. They include the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association; the Canadian Auto Workers, who obviously don't speak for their members because we win in Oshawa; Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Local 128; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; millwrights; International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793; painters district council 46; Ontario Pipe Trades Council-and those are the ones they know of. They raised $1.4 million prior to the last election during the writ period because we have no control or caps on spending by third party coalitions like this. They spent a million dollars, all in your favour. That's a million dollars that you didn't have to account for under the campaign spending limits.
So it is a front for the Liberal Party of Ontario. For some reason, we can't get the commission to deal with it. We can't get the Chief Electoral Officer to deal with it. He's got no spine in this area. Almost every other province limits third party advertising to make it fair, and that's all we're asking for in this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Thank you. Comments and questions?
Mr. Bob Delaney: These proposals are based on the recommendations of the Select Committee on Elections, which, of course, included members of all three parties. What they intend to do to make a difference for those who live in communities like mine in Mississauga and communities like Lisgar, Meadowvale and Streetsville is to enable more people to be able to exercise that franchise.
These are proposals that I think really do need some exposure in committee, but there are some in there that I think are really worth a serious look. For example, for many of those who choose to spend the winters in Florida, the proposals here allow you to exercise your ballot franchise should you be vacationing in Florida or anywhere else at the time an election is called. I think that's a good way to enable people, to empower people to be able to exercise their vote.
At present, about the only way for people to exercise that vote is by proxy. The difficulty in that is that it doesn't maintain ballot secrecy or confidentiality. Really, by giving someone the ability to vote by proxy, they may or may not vote the way you've asked. All you've done is given them the ability to vote on your behalf. So Ontario is alone among the federal government and other provinces in that at the moment it does not permit this type of special ballot for any part of the electorate.
The other part about it that I really like is with regard to municipal elections, moving them from November into October so that candidates don't have to worry about vandalism of signs and whatnot that happens so often around Halloween. With a municipal election coming up this year in October, I think we're going to see the benefits of that type of good-sense move.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member from Halton has two minutes to respond.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
The member, Michael Prue, for Beaches-East York-Beaches-East York?
Mr. Michael Prue: Beaches-East York.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: The member for downtown Toronto there someplace: Yes, he's quite right. We did cancel a boundaries commission. But in context, we cancelled the boundaries commission because we made all of our ridings coterminous with the federal ridings in Ontario. To eliminate confusion from people as to which riding they lived in, we made those ridings the same.
Then the provincial Liberal government came along in 2005 and gerrymandered the north so that the northern limits no longer matched the federal ridings. They wanted to maintain 11 seats in the north, of which they took a disproportionate part. So it was a gerrymandering of those seats, and once that happened, it required a boundaries commissioner to be put back in place, because otherwise it's just acts of this House or orders in council that change those boundaries, and that's eminently unfair to the people of Ontario. It's eminently unfair. It's unfair on the surface. Anybody understands that it's unfair; anybody who looks at it knows it's unfair.
It's the same with third party advertising. When it's not controlled, when it operates outside the election process, when it's not transparent, it's eminently unfair.
Those two things should have been addressed in this piece of legislation, and they weren't. That's a sad day for Ontario. There is much good in this bill, but there are two things in this bill that are sadly lacking, and that is a great shame. We missed this opportunity. Another opportunity won't come along for a long time. I would suggest that perhaps both of those issues were missed because of political opportunism, and that's a sad day in Ontario.
(Later that day)
ELECTION STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2010 / LOI DE 2010 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further debate?
Mr. Michael Prue: I am here to debate Bill 231. At the outset, as I am wont to do, I always talk about what's good in bill and then I go on to say what could have been better, but there are some things in this bill which I think deserve some special mention.
The first is the special ballots. It is a good provision. The government, in its wisdom, brought forward this special ballot provision which will allow people to vote in a much more easy way.
The second one is the provision for students to vote either in their home riding or in the riding in which they are attending school in the province. That, too, is a good provision. It takes me back to my student days. I remember back in 1971 being a student at Carleton University and having just arrived there. There was a September election in 1971 and there wasn't time to get on the voters list in Ottawa. I had to hop on the train after I had been there only about a week, come all the way to Toronto, vote, get on the train and come all the way back. Some of my colleagues thought I was crazy, but I insisted. That was going to be my first election. You had to be 21. That was going to be my first election, and I was not going to miss it. So whatever that cost me on the train, all the way to Toronto and all the way back, I did that.
It would have been good, had someone in those days thought about this provision allowing students to vote in either place, or having a provision that I could have voted by mail or something else. But there was no time to do it between the time that I arrived in Ottawa and the time that I had to come back. There was literally only a week. I wasn't a resident there for long enough in the period to be able to cast a ballot.
So I think it's a good provision. I wanted to stay and give you that little history about why I think it's a good thing for other students in a similar situation to the one I found myself in, nearly 40 years ago now.
The third item is the depoliticizing of poll workers. We all know that one of the things is that the government, or the government party, gets to appoint poll workers in every single riding across the province. That would be hundreds of people who would get work for one or two or three days and then would be in some ways beholden to the government or thankful to the government or party members of the government or whatever, for whatever reason they got appointed.
The opposition parties would luck out if they had won that particular poll or if they had run second to a government member, and they would get an opportunity to appoint some people as well. If you had the misfortune of being, say, a Conservative in Beaches-East York who runs third, then you wouldn't be able to have that largesse passed on to the people who supported you.
Mr. Michael Prue: No, that was the case in the past. I'm not saying that will be the case forever. I'm being brutally honest. This is what sort of happens. Although I won the poll, won the riding, the Liberals would appoint them and the NDP would be given a few people. But this is going to be depoliticized.
I think this is an important event and it's not just to have people from your party sent over and put on the list to get some work for a day or two days. It is important that the public sees this as a non-political and almost a civil servant job.
I am thankful that this has been included in here, and it needs to have happened. It has taken so many years for this very minor, I would think, amendment to take place so that people will be picked by the Chief Electoral Officer or the Chief Electoral Officer's assistants, and they will be picked on the basis of merit, of their being able to handle the job properly and to do it right. That's really all that the voters are looking for. So I am thankful that that is included in here.
When I spoke earlier, I also said that this bill is a fairly minor bill because it doesn't attempt to accomplish much. Yes, those three things are important, but there are so many things wrong with the electoral process in Ontario, which could have been mitigated, could have been dealt with by legislation, that have been left out.
I listened to my colleague from Halton. We don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, but he talked about the things that he thought were left out that were important, and they were important. Why is it that Ontario continues to not have legislation on third party advertising? He's absolutely right. This was talked about in the committee, but nothing is in the government bill. Why was there nothing on the changes to electoral financing? This could have been in the bill as well.
Before we recessed back in November, I remember standing in the House and asking the then Minister of Municipal Affairs why he wasn't taking appropriate actions, or what I thought were appropriate actions, in what is euphemistically called the city above the law, also known as the city above Toronto, also known as Vaughan, with all the things that were happening there. He responded in the House and he went outside later and responded, "How are we going to change the election finances for municipalities if we're not going to change it for ourselves?"
He acknowledged that the election finances for municipalities are not what they're supposed to be. It has caused innumerable problems across Ontario, and I think, unfortunately, Vaughan is the poster child of all of those problems. Just this week, I saw in the paper two more things that have happened to that poor unfortunate city, that poor unfortunate council. The mayor has been again cited in the courts, her appeals have been overturned, and she's facing all of those charges, notwithstanding.
There was also the unfortunate incident of a developer taking some of the key planning and bylaw enforcement officials from the city of Vaughan to a very lavish lunch. Unfortunately for the developer and for the officials, a person in the community got a copy of the bill for the lunch. Notice the bottles of riposso-nice vintage, by the way-notice the liqueurs, the dinners and the $1,000 bill that came feting these civil servants. The city of Vaughan has had to take the appropriate action.
The reason I'm bringing all this up is not so much to talk again about the city of Vaughan, but about the then minister saying that he could not change or would not change the laws for municipalities because the province had not seen fit to make the changes for itself. That's what I want to talk about in part today, why this should have been included within the four walls of this particular legislation.
The bill could have adopted reforms. It could have adopted the reforms that have taken place in most of the other provinces of Canada, certainly our neighbours to the east and west, Quebec and Manitoba. It could have adopted the reforms that have taken place by the government of Canada, it could have adopted some of the reforms that have taken place in Saskatchewan, but this government chose not to make reforms.
This would have been the most meaningful, most important, most cogent thing that the government could have done. Today in the province of Ontario, in provincial elections, corporations donate more than 40% of all of the monies raised and spent during elections. Now, you have to question yourself: Is this a good thing? Certainly the government of Canada no longer allows it. In the province of Quebec, they no longer allow it. In the province of Manitoba, they no longer allow it. But here in Ontario, we don't talk about it. It doesn't come into the bill because that's not important enough, I guess, to be talked about.
We know in the last election that both the Conservatives and the Liberals got more than 50% of their money from corporate donations related to the election; we know that. It's a matter of public record. That's where the money comes from. For people who look at democracy-people from Democracy Watch, they're worried about that, I'm worried about that, but obviously the government is not.
We know in terms of the NDP, and I'll be very blunt, we get money from unions, probably a disproportionate share-not all of it, but that amounts to some 5% of everything that is raised, about 10 times less than the money that is raised corporately. We don't get it all. Contrary to popular view, the Liberals gets a fair share, a fair hunk of it. The Conservatives I don't think get very much at all, but that's the reality. That's just really what is happening around this.
We know that corporate donors are quite explicit about why they give the money that they do. They want to shape government policy, and access to politicians to press their views. One of my favourite quotes comes from a Liberal donor by the name of Silvio DeGasperis. He was asked why he attended a $10,000-a-plate Liberal fundraiser put on by his colleague and friend Mr. Sorbara. He said bluntly, and I quote him, "I wanted to speak to Dalton about my development issue in Pickering. I knew the reason I was there." We know that.
Is there anything in this legislation dealing with that? Does anybody over there not think that this is somehow wrong? Does anybody think that the legislation shouldn't try to mirror what is happening federally and provincially in Quebec and Manitoba? Because it's not here in the bill.
We also know that political parties have grown overtly dependent on corporate donations and, in chasing big corporate donations, have ignored average citizens, a fact that has been noted by even corporate titans like former Royal Bank CEO Robert Taylor. I quote corporate titans: "Financially effective as it may be, the current system of corporate fundraising doesn't help with (the) broader purpose (of) continuing the democratization of our politics"-CEO Robert Taylor, the Royal Bank.
Corporate donations allow CEOs and majority shareholders to donate money two ways, through both corporate and individual donations, while average citizens can only donate as individuals. This makes donation limits unenforceable and, ultimately, farcical.
When I have questioned this in estimates, when I have questioned this in the House over many years, I never get a response. I never get anyone wanting to look at it to change it. The committee led by the member from Vaughan, Mr. Sorbara, looked at this. It was an all-party committee. Although it was an all-party committee, there were two dissenting reports. You've heard about the Conservative dissenting report. The NDP dissented primarily on this issue because we believe, in the province of Ontario, the time has come to give democracy back to the citizens, to make the citizens the people who actually count during an election-not who can raise the most corporate funds, not who can raise the most union funds, but citizens donating and participating in the electoral process. That is the only way we are going to increase participation, when citizens believe that they are part and parcel of the democratic process and that it is not being manipulated by other interests.
My colleague from Halton talked about third party interests and the expenditure of $1.2 million on third party advertising. That's true, and it's unfortunate. But nothing is being done about that, and nothing is being done about the even wider, broader and more horrible issue, that big money is controlling the elections and what people are able to see. It controls the airwaves. It controls the amount of money that can be spent on television and radio and newsprint advertising. It controls who can and who cannot run for election with reasonable expectation of being elected.
We know that public financing would go a long way. If you look at what the other provinces do and the federal government does, that should be the template, the model for what we should be doing here in the province of Ontario.
The federal government gives 50% reimbursement to any party that gets 2% nationally or 5% in each district. So if you run a party and you get 5% in, say, eight or 10 ridings, then those eight or 10 ridings would be eligible for a rebate. If you run, as the Green Party did, and get more than 2%, as they did in the last election, you would be eligible for a 50% rebate, on the reimbursement of the amount that you spent nationally. This goes a long way because, at the same time, the federal government saw the necessity-and no one is allowed to make contributions on a corporate or union level anymore, only contributions from individuals, and those contributions have to be small. They're limited to $1,000. If you contrast that to Ontario, where each person-I looked at this in awe, in shock and disbelief, and I wonder how many average citizens can afford to do this.
In Ontario, contributions from unions and corporations are allowed, and the limit from a person, a corporation, or a trade union is:
- to each party, $7,500 per year times the indexation factor;
- to each constituency association, $1,000 per year times the indexation factor;
- to constituency associations of any one party, $5,000 per year times the indexation factor;
- to each candidate, $1,000 per campaign times the indexation factor;
- to candidates endorsed by one party, $5,000 total per campaign times the indexation factor.
And you think for a moment that corporations aren't buying this place? You think for a moment that big money doesn't do a lot of talking around elections? The people here who craft this legislation and stand up proudly talk about the students-a good thing; they talk about the disabled-a good thing they're thinking about that; they talk about other factors, but never once mention how much money is being raised by corporate donations, and the influence. Where is an ordinary citizen going to be able to come up with the $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 a year to match what big corporations are giving to governments, usually governments in power?
Interjection: Can't do it.
Mr. Michael Prue: It can't be done.
In Quebec-the Quebec model is similar to the national one-they give back 50% if you get 1% of the vote, up to a maximum of 60% per elector. Manitoba has a law where you get 50% of the money back if you get 10% of the vote across all of Manitoba in an election. Saskatchewan has a similar law: 50% back if you get 15% across the whole of the province.
When they won't allow for corporate and union donations, it gives an opportunity for ordinary people to participate and for parties to get back the remaining monies, should they be successful in getting 2%, 1%, 10% or 15% of the vote in their respective jurisdictions. That's what needed to be in this bill. That's what was not contained within the body of the bill.
The member from Brant spoke and asked me why I thought it was such a minor bill. I think it's minor because it doesn't hit the key issue. The key issue is money and how the elections are being held. If you want people to be involved in the process and feel they're part of the process, they have to feel that they are contributing to it, not that it's being bought by someone else, not that it's being funded by someone else, not that their $50 or whatever they want to donate to the process is not going to be enough. Ordinary people have to think, "This $50 is absolutely essential to the process and to my candidate, and I want to donate it," not thinking the $50,000 that corporation X is going to give is going to do the whole thing. That's not what democracy is about. In my view, and I think in many people's view, the fundamental failure and the declining level of people voting, most of it, comes from this.
I think we need to look too at what's not here in the bill, and that's real-time disclosure of where the money comes from. It's ingenious, what's done now. If you give more than $100, it's supposed to show up on a website, and it usually does, within 10 or 15 days, in accordance with the act, although the act says 10. Sometimes it does take a little longer; I understand that. Monies that are donated end up on the website. But people are very smart, because they've started giving money to riding associations. Then the riding association funnels it back to the party, and that way it doesn't have to show up on the website. People are asking why that can't be controlled. This all-party committee sat around and they heard this idea. I think it might have even been one of the recommendations, but it didn't make it into the bill.
I heard the minister talk about citizens' juries and, you know, the great idea. Yes, it was a great idea. The citizens' jury sat there and did, I think, a bang-up job talking about proportional representation and a new system. But they were hamstrung from the beginning.
I remember standing in this Legislature when the then minister stood up and talked about the citizens' jury and how this was all going to unfold, and put an impossible condition on it, a condition that it was going to have to get the support of 60% of the electorate, and then a double condition, that it was going to have to take 50% in at least 64 of the ridings. This is untoward. This doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. The only other place it ever happened was in British Columbia, and in two attempts to change the electoral boundaries and the electoral map and the way that people are elected to the House in British Columbia, it failed both times on that ground, the first time narrowly, the second time more substantially. But they set conditions that are too high. What is the matter with a referendum where the winner gets 50% plus one on a clean and clear question? There's nothing in the bill about this. There's no sense empowering citizens' committees to go out and do the kind of work that that one did and then putting an impossible condition.
I know that the woman who was representing my particular riding came and said there was quite a discussion that the citizen representatives had around this issue. They felt disheartened from the beginning and that what they were doing was probably all for naught because of the impossibility and the setting of the standard so high that citizens would not be able to meet it; that there is always a reluctance to change, and that change, when it comes, is usually imposed by the narrowest of margins; and to set the value at 60% plus 50% in at least 64 of the ridings made many people very unhappy about doing this.
I have to tell you that I did vote against the legislation. I voted against what this House imposed. It imposed it with closure. That's how democratic it was: It was imposed with closure against the opposition, because the opposition saw, quite rightly, that it was impossible.
Just so that the members opposite might know, everybody thinks that it was an unfair law in spite of the good work done by the jury. The double standard in terms of setting such a high bar was put nicely by Fair Vote, which said:
"No government raises the bar for its own legislation, which often has far-reaching effects on the lives of Canadians. No politician has ever refused to accept a seat in Parliament or a provincial Legislature due to the failure to win 60% of the votes-many gladly take their seats despite winning less than 50% or even less than 40% of the votes in their ridings. In fact, thanks to the current voting system, most 'majority' governments in Canada gain power without winning a majority of votes."
So, if we ever set up a citizens' jury again with this legislation that you have seen fit not to change, I would hope that a government of the day has the moral and legal authority to come to a different conclusion in spite of the law not being changed and the 60% remaining on the books.
Next, I'd like to talk about enumerations, because not much has been done around the issue of enumerations, and in fact they appear to be redundant. I would suggest that enumerations are absolutely essential in a great many places in Ontario. If you live in an apartment building, particularly in urban Ontario-Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa-then you're going to find that people change apartments very often. The list of people who are supposedly living in that apartment unit that is obtained through city hall is woefully inadequate. In fact, people change apartment units a little over once a year on average in many of the buildings in Toronto. About once a year there's a wholesale change. There are changes and changes, and the person you thought was living there at the last election four years before has been replaced not once, not twice, but sometimes three and four times.
The enumeration process was a good process and ought to be followed in places like apartments. I do acknowledge that if you live in a house, if you own the house in which you live, city hall has a pretty good record, but if you live in an apartment building, if you live in any kind of housing that might be considered transient, if you're a student, I can guarantee you, you're likely left off the list.
I had the opportunity on election night in the riding of Toronto Centre to be in one of the downtown polls and to watch. The turnout was abysmal. It was less than 20% in the particular poll that I was watching. But the number of people who were forced to come in and swear, do all the documentation and run out and try to find a bill or something to confirm that they were living in a particular unit was very large, and so many of them had been left off the list. Thanks to most of those who showed up-they were eager, they wanted to vote. They went back out to get the necessary papers and came back. Had they not done so, the turnout would have been even lower.
I think it behooves this province to do enumerations in special circumstances. We need to know how many people are living there, especially if we're trying to determine how much money can be spent by the candidates and in order to make sure that they are fair.
I want to talk a little bit about committees, too, because one of things that was discussed in the Sorbara select committee was how to make committees within this House fairer.
One of the things that they discussed and one of the things that is not contained in the bill is what to do with private members' legislation.
I know that in the House of Commons in Ottawa that has just prorogued, with much consternation to the general public and editorialists across the country, they protect private members' bills. They don't protect government bills in the case of prorogation because prorogation is up to the government in power and generally to the Prime Minister, so that if the Prime Minister chooses to prorogue, he cannot expect his bills to survive the prorogation. But the legislation in Ottawa allows that the private members' bills go through and that they remain on the order paper to be dealt with in the subsequent session of the Parliament. There's nothing that's been done here. I don't know why in this place you have to stand up after every prorogation and reintroduce your bill.
I know I have had a bill that's been debated three times. Twice it's gone through committee and been successful. I know if this House is prorogued in a couple of weeks, it's going to be lost and I'm going to have to stand up and introduce it for the fourth time. I don't understand why nothing was done by this committee to include this. It seems to me that if the government of the day decides to prorogue, then those bills should be protected-and not just their own government bills, which they are wont to do.
Lastly-I have a long dissertation; I don't know if this is an appropriate time-I want to talk about the lack of action around people with disabilities. Although the minister did talk about what was done for people with disabilities to make it easier for them to vote, I don't believe it was enough. As the NDP disabilities critic, I do want to spend some time. So if this is an appropriate time, I would sit down and hold that piece altogether for the next opportunity.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Pursuant to standing order 38, the question that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made.