ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

Sign Up for AODA Alliance Updates by writing: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Learn more at: www.aodaalliance.org

Third Day of Second Reading Debates in the Ontario Legislature on Bill 231, the proposed Elections Reform Legislation, held on March 3, 2010

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO

ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO

Wednesday 3 March 2010 Mercredi 3 mars 2010

ELECTION STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2010 / LOI DE 2010 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS

Resuming the debate adjourned on March 2, 2010, on the motion for second reading of 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): Further debate?

Mr. Norm Miller: I'll be sharing my time with the member from Burlington this morning.

I'm pleased to have an opportunity to speak briefly this morning to Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act. This act came about from the work of an all-party committee. I think the chair was the member from Vaughan, and there was one representative of each party on the committee: The member from Willowdale, the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills, representing our party, and the member from Welland were on this committee. They made many recommendations to do with changing the way that elections are run.

With most of those recommendations, our party does support them. They're giving more power and discretion to the Chief Electoral Officer. There's the creation of a special ballot procedure, and voting by proxy will now be eliminated. There's really a depoliticization of the workers who work election day. It used to be that there were some archaic rules; I think that within 10 days of the actual voting day the parties had to submit lists of workers. That was in the day when I guess it was really a perk and a reward for people. Now the authority will be switching: The staffing of the polls will be the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer, and I think it will be done far in advance so you don't get this last-minute kind of thing going on. There are also many changes to make voting more accessible for the disabled population. So there are many things in the bill that we think are positive.

I certainly would have to say that in terms of the special ballot procedure and the way that comes about, the details are not in the actual bill itself. I know that many municipalities in my riding use a mail-in ballot. I think when the province handed that responsibility over to municipalities they weren't specific in terms of the way those procedures were to be carried out. As a result we've had varied systems amongst different municipalities across the province. In the early stages of mail-in ballots we've also had all kinds of problems, where sometimes up to 40% of the ballots are not considered or are void because of problems with the procedure. So obviously there needs to be careful consideration of the way that's done so that we don't see that happening across the province.

I think the thing I'm most concerned about with this bill is what's not in it. I don't have it right before me, but I note that the representative from our party, the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills, did file a dissenting report which focused on third party advertising, because this bill is all about election finances and the rules for election finance as well. They're pretty clear-and quite strict-for political parties.

What we've seen in the last couple of elections-the election of 2003 and the election of 2007-is that one party was spending millions of dollars through third party support outside of those rules, and that is the governing Liberal Party. Obviously, that and other forces have been successful, because they've been the government in the last two elections.

I think that with elections, you want to see a fair election; you want to see a level playing field. Right now that is not the case, because they have these groups in the Working Families Coalition. I note that the member from Simcoe-Grey listed who the members of the Working Families Coalition are. They're mainly unionized groups, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who contributed $9,720; the Ontario Pipe Trades Council, who contributed $400,000; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who contributed $280,000; the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, who contributed $100,000; and the International Union of Elevator Constructors and the operating engineers, who contributed $150,000.

Unions that benefit from public money are spending that money-millions of dollars in the last two elections-to help one party win power. I say that's not a good thing for the province of Ontario, and that should be considered within this bill.

Interjection.

Mr. Norm Miller: That's a good point. My colleague raises the point that other jurisdictions do have rules to do with third party advertising, and ours are very weak. I don't think it's an oversight by the government, because there was a recommendation by the committee-I think it was recommendation 26-that this should be an issue that is dealt with, and yet they have not dealt with it. It's to the government's advantage right now, but if you have an interest in free and fair elections, this should be considered.

In the 2003 election, the Working Families Coalition ran campaigns like "Not this time, Ernie"-big billboards and TV ads; there were probably radio ads as well. They're kind of the dirty work, I'd say, so that the government doesn't wear the nasty stuff; they're shifting that over to their supporters, who are spending millions of dollars doing the dirty work.

The member from Welland was talking about corporate donors and people making donations who are looking for a return on their investment; they want to see the goods delivered. We have bills like full-day kindergarten. If you have the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation donating $100,000 toward electing or re-electing the government, they are looking for their interests to be looked after when we have legislation before this Parliament.

We've seen bills like Bill 144, going back to a card-based system for unionization, which I think some of the supporters of the Working Families Coalition very much wanted; and Bill 119, the workers' compensation bill, which some of these supporters very much wanted. You have to ask yourself what the connection is between these pieces of legislation and the Working Families Coalition support of millions of dollars in election campaigns for the Liberal Party.

I say that's not a good thing. If we're going to have free, fair and balanced elections, this is an issue that should be dealt with. It was recommended by the committee in its recommendation number 26, and yet it's not in the legislation. It's something of real concern to our party that this issue has been completely ignored. I think we're reasonably in support of what the bill does address, but third party advertising is a huge omission.

With that, I'll pass it on to the member from Burlington to continue with her comments. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for the chance to speak.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): I recognize the member for Burlington.

Mrs. Joyce Savoline: I'm pleased to speak to this bill, which will amend both the Election Act and the Election Finances Act. I guess this all began rolling out in June 2008, when a Select Committee on Elections began to meet. It was appointed, really, to study the effectiveness of our existing electoral legislation. The member from Vaughan chaired the group, and the member from Welland, the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills from our caucus and the member from Willowdale participated.

0910

The committee's final report was delivered to this House in June 2009, and it really was a timely and very important piece of legislation. It was a real opportunity to modernize and improve our legislation concerning the preparation, administration and delivery of the Ontario Election Act. But in the pattern that this government has been evolving, this Liberal government that has gone astray, another lost opportunity has happened here; another lost opportunity to create transparency and accountability. This time, it's in the most democratic task that our citizens and residents are able to perform.

What concerns me and our caucus most about this bill isn't so much what's in it but what has been left out of it. This piece of legislation is totally silent on and does not address third party advertising. It's very vague on accessibility and totally fails to establish a permanent boundaries commission, making Ontario the only jurisdiction in Canada now that doesn't have a boundaries commission.

Let's go to third party advertising. This is something that kind of mushroomed in the night two or three elections ago and needed to be addressed. It's a serious issue in Ontario and it needed to be addressed, but there's nothing in this bill that speaks to third party advertising.

Third party advertising operates outside of the Election Act. There are no rules here; it's like the Wild West. It makes elections questionable, in my opinion. We all know what purpose third party advertising serves in elections and election results: It's to support a political point of view without identifying, really, who is doing it, why they're doing it or what their purpose is. They are anonymous. Is that democratic? Third party advertising distorts the Election Act and is very concerning to the democratic process.

The PC caucus is disappointed that the government has ignored third party advertising in this piece of legislation and endorses recommendation 26 of the Select Committee on Elections to limit third party advertising and spending in Ontario, but wants to make certain that this recommendation is implemented. It may have been the most important piece in the entire legislation.

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"-war chests-"but not to report on the source of those contributions at an earlier time." What's that about? Is that democracy? Is that transparency? Is that accountability?

Third party advertising has been recognized as a very serious problem in Canada by our federal Parliament and by no less than five provinces. British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta have addressed it, but not Ontario. Some Canadian jurisdictions have enacted limits on third party spending; they range from a low of $300 in Quebec to a high of $183,300 federally. In Ontario, there is no limit.

In the last provincial election the third party advertiser-we all know who that is; it was called Working Families. Who are Working Families? Who are they? They spent more than $1 million on advertising just during the writ period. They raised $1.4 million solely from trade unions. Because of the way Ontario's election laws are written, it is impossible-absolutely impossible-to know how much was raised and spent during the issuance of the election writ.

We have to abide by different rules within our parties; the same should follow for third party advertising. Despite the Working Families Coalition scandal, the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, the legislative initiatives in other provinces and our PC dissenting report, this Liberal government has not addressed the problems with third party advertising. It leaves you to wonder whether it's because it supports the party.

Third party advertisers have a legitimate role to play in the democratic process in a democratic way: transparent and accountable. They should be open, just like the parties here in Ontario, and should not have a freer hand to influence the political process than the individuals and the parties who are actually taking part in the election.

It is also so important to ensure that such third parties are truly independent and they are not subject to undue influence from any registered candidate or a political party in the conduct of their advertising campaigns. It's simple. This is a no-brainer. Money should not continue to influence our democratic process.

The PC caucus recommends, in concert with recommendation 26, that the Legislative Assembly of Ontario enact a law that-and let me tell you, there are four points-restricts third party spending; restricts third party contributions; requires timely reporting of third party contributions whenever donations are made; 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.

We also recommended 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. The bill is silent on this. We were ignored. The residents-the voters-of Ontario have been ignored, and it seems like this act will continue for the next election. Shame on you.

Improved accessibility has been vaguely addressed in this bill also. This bill does say that the CEO of a campaign would be permitted to use new technologies, and those would include voting machines and that sort. That is to enable persons with disabilities to cast their ballot privately and independently, and the returning office advanced polls would also be included. There would also be adoption of special ballots.

Nonetheless, we must have full committee hearings. We must hear from the disabled community. They need to tell us what their needs are for accessibility. We don't know the answers; we can only assume what those answers may be. So we need to hear from the disabled community so that we can effectively improve the tools that we give them and improve their accessibility.

With regard to the boundary commission, this bill should have created a boundary commission to ensure fair, transparent, democratic boundaries are created and people are equally represented. That's what democracy is about.

As a result of the Representation Act, 2005, Ontario's electoral districts are no longer tied to changes in the federal electoral districts. A permanent boundary commission was debated during the committee but not included in this piece of legislation.

What are the Liberals afraid of? Despite recommendations to create a boundary commission, this piece of legislation does not identify a process for redistribution of ridings. With growth occurring in some communities and decline occurring in some communities this would be a very valuable tool. Ontario is the only province in Canada without a boundaries commission.

0920

This bill is silent on several things that I think would have increased the democracy, accountability, and certainly the transparency of how elections are held in our province. How can anybody argue with that? What is being hidden? So debating this bill, which is an incomplete piece of legislation, only accomplishes part of what it set out to do; the rest of it is a waste of time for this House to debate.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Questions and comments?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I think I was the only member listening to the member from Burlington and the member from Parry Sound-Muskoka.

I have to say, I agree with most of the comments made by the two members. I also agree that there needs to be stronger legislation dealing with third party advertising; I really do. When the member from Burlington says that money should not influence the political process, I agree with that. That is a direct connection to their desire to have better controls over third party advertising.

But I want to ask the same question to the member from Burlington: What you said about money not influencing the political process also applies to how unions and the corporate sector influence the political process in a way that some find, as you stated in third party advertising, is negative and that we need to check. But what is your opinion about ending corporate donations and union donations, as many other provinces have done? You made reference to other provinces having dealt with third party advertising. What do you think of that? Because in my mind it relates very much to the same argument that you were making, but your party hasn't taken a position in that regard. I was just interested to know whether or not you personally have an opinion on that or whether your party has a position on that.

Mr. John Yakabuski: Is he talking to the member or you, Speaker?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: You see how my eyes sort of go in both places.

Mr. John Yakabuski: At the same time, Rosie.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: At the same time. Which is an ability that very few have. But I wonder-

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Now the very member who brought up who he is talking to is also talking to him, so you see, it goes on.

Questions and comments?

Mr. David Zimmer: I just want to highlight and speak to one reform in this act, and that is the new flexibility, authority and responsibilities given to the Chief Electoral Officer.

In past elections-and indeed before this legislation, if it's passed-the Chief Electoral Officer had a very prescribed authority as to how he could operate elections. This legislation gives the Chief Electoral Officer greater flexibility to take into account the needs of local ridings and voting boundaries. For instance, in the city of Toronto the requirements in terms of polling stations, hours that the polls are open and how the whole process works reflect a different set of demands than those of, say, northwestern Ontario, rural Ontario or other parts of Ontario. This, over the years, has been a source of discomfort if not downright annoyance to voters, particularly as we're applying the same set of rules in a set of rural boundaries, where people perhaps drove an hour or half an hour or long distances to get to the polls, as we are to downtown Toronto, where the issue is going to the local apartment building and getting all the people in the building down to vote.

When you read through this legislation, it does give the Chief Electoral Officer considerable authority to reflect local needs in his decisions about how the voting process is carried out. This, of course, is subject to consultation with all the political parties.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Questions and comments?

Mr. John Yakabuski: I appreciate the comments of my colleagues from Parry Sound-Muskoka and Burlington.

The crux of this bill-I'm going to touch a little bit on the member for Trinity-Spadina; he wants to compare corporate and union donations to third party advertising. Well, donations are tabulated. If they go to a political party, the political party is responsible for spending that money within the limitations of the Election Finances Act, and they have to ensure that they fall within the spending limitations.

The problem with third party advertising, and that is what this bill has neglected to do, is that it's free game-wide open. To have a third party as strong as the so-called Working Families Coalition in Ontario influencing an election without a clear indication of the party they are supporting, or that they're opposing other parties, and not responsible for claiming that money as election expenses is categorically wrong. It tilts the playing field; it upsets the balance. That is why we were so disappointed in this government, which knows it is the primary beneficiary of that third party advertising.

If you look at the legislative record of this government, the Liberal government here in Ontario post-2003 election, when all that third party advertising-I remember seeing the signs go up all over the place in my riding the week before the election: "Not this time, Ernie," with an insulting caricature of then-Premier Ernie Eves. You knew that that kind of advertising and those kinds of games in politics are wrong. This government could have done the right thing with this legislation. There are a lot of good pieces and a lot of good changes in this bill respecting elections in Ontario. But they could have done the right thing and eliminated third party advertising like so many other jurisdictions have done. It would have been the right thing to do, the fair thing to do-a level playing field for all.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Questions and comments? The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Hon. James J. Bradley: This is a change in position in the Conservative Party. I can remember in years gone by, when the National Citizens Coalition was spending all kinds of money and the taxpayers federation was spending all kinds of money, particularly to support the Mike Harris government, that I didn't hear a peep from members on that side. But it has changed now, because someone else is involved in third party advertising.

If they were in opposition to it in principle, one could say there's virtue in the argument being made. But it appears that it's only because the shoe is on the other foot that the members of the Conservative Party are now obsessed with third party advertising.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: So, Jim, is it okay now?

Hon. James J. Bradley: They don't think it's okay now.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: But do you think it's okay?

Hon. James J. Bradley: I'm just looking for a matter of principle. Who knows what will appear in future legislation? There are so many virtuous parts of this legislation-you will recall that it was the result of an all-party committee. This is the kind of legislation I actually like very much, where all three parties who are represented in this Legislature get together and have some recommendations. Now, is everybody happy at the end? No, not necessarily. But I can say to you that this bill, on balance, will be well received.

I remember that our Prime Minister was part of the National Citizens Coalition at one time, and they were spending all kinds of money putting forward a very right-wing agenda, which was legitimate on their part to do. But I didn't hear any objections from the Conservative Party at that time.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): The member for Burlington has up to two minutes to respond.

Mrs. Joyce Savoline: I'd like to thank the members for Trinity-Spadina, Willowdale and Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke and the Minister of Municipal Affairs for commenting.

You know, this isn't a matter of what's good for the goose is good for the gander; this is a matter of what's good for democracy here in Ontario. If, at that time, anybody felt that whatever was going on in previous governments was not correct, to take up on that and use it now because they have the power to do so is wrong. It's wrong. When you know what the right thing to do is, you do it. You don't do it to give yourself more opportunity to move your own agenda forward. You do things because it's right for the people of Ontario.

0930

This government has lost focus that they work for the people of Ontario. The people of Ontario want transparency. They want accountability. They want this government to be honest about everything they do. Third party advertising is through-the-back-door kind of government. It isn't good government. It isn't good electioneering. It isn't good campaigning.

So although this bill addresses some things that needed to be fixed, it sits silent on some very, very important principles: Elections should be open; they should be democratic; they should be transparent. We've fallen short with that in this legislation. So if the opposition feels that this is the time to change it, and the government felt 10 years ago that it was wrong to do, then this was their opportunity to do it, with the huge majority that they have. They've missed that opportunity.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Further debate?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I'm happy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill 231. I just want to say, again, that I agree entirely with the comments made by the member from Burlington. I know my friend John from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke always gets sensitive when I ask some tough questions of them, but I did say that I agreed with much of what you said, and I still do. I think her comments that the bill does some good things but leaves some major things out apply. It is the case the member from Burlington makes that New Democrats make.

As it relates to the issue of third party advertising, the Minister of Municipal Affairs makes some good points, but then fails in his conclusion to actually understand what we are talking about. Because he's quite right: The Conservative Party had a third party, the National Citizens Coalition, that was doing the very same thing federally by way of third party advertising, and lending its support, weight, money and influence to lean people to the Conservative Party nationally at the time. So the Minister of Municipal Affairs makes a very strong case that we should deal more effectively with third party financing, but don't. In the end, while he makes a good argument, he fails to make the connection that the National Citizens Coalition was not very good for us and that there is another third party that obviously supported the Liberal Party in the last election and that perhaps-

Hon. James J. Bradley: Not the Ontario Federation of Labour, surely.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: We're going to get there in a sec.

There was a group that supported the Liberal Party and, logically, to link the arguments he was making, if it's not good for the Conservative Party, it ought not to be good for any other group supporting the Liberal Party either. That is the logical conclusion I come to based on what I heard you, Minister of Municipal Affairs, say, and the member from Burlington. You both make the same arguments leading to reform of third party advertising. I just wanted to support you in that regard.

The Liberal government does what it always does: It gives a little and holds back a lot. It is in their nature to only provide just enough to say, "We've created major reform." In the old days, after they got elected in 2003, they would say "historic changes." They don't say that anymore. Mercifully, they don't say that these changes are "historic" or "never seen before" because they realize what a drag it is just to listen to that, right? So that's good. You've made some progress.

Mr. Jeff Leal: Full-day kindergarten-historic.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Just take a look at my speech that I gave the other day.

Mr. Jeff Leal: I heard it.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: You heard it.

Hon. James J. Bradley: I was surprised your leader was opposed.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: The point, Minister of Municipal Affairs, is that there are some good changes here; there are. The few little changes you made: Voters would be able to vote by special ballot, which includes voting by mail and taking a ballot to their returning officer in person. How could you dispute that? Member from Burlington, I think you made the same point. That's okay, right?

Mrs. Joyce Savoline: Yes.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: She agrees; we agree. We think-

Hon. James J. Bradley: It's historic.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Historic? Come on.

Post-secondary students would be allowed to choose whether they want to vote in the electoral district where they reside temporarily while they attend an educational institution or where they reside permanently. This has been a problem for a long, long time because you have thousands of students studying in other than where they live, and they have to make a choice: "What do we do? Do we have the time to be able to leave our studies, leave this city and go back to where we were to go and vote?" And then get back to your studies in the other city. This is the kind of decision-making process they had to engage in all the time.

My personal view is, the majority of students decided it's not worth the trouble: "It is not worth the trouble for me to have to spend the money, which I may not have, take the day to go there and vote, stay there overnight and come back the next day"-not worth the time, the effort, the money or the trouble to do that. We effectively disenfranchised a whole lot of students in the past, so this is another measure that we think is okay; it's good.

The third point is that the CEO would be permitted to use new technologies, such as voting machines, that would assist persons with disabilities to cast their ballot privately and independently at returning office advance polls. I think this is okay, too. Given the experience we've had in the by-election in Toronto Centre, where one person with a disability had to, with great effort, get to the voting poll, had to descend five steps on his own with great difficulty because he's in a wheelchair-but he wanted to vote. With great difficulty, he went down those steps somehow and voted. That ought not to be the experience of people with disabilities in their right to go to vote and not have an inaccessible way to get to that ballot.

This is a right they should be able to enjoy without having to struggle to get there. This is a right they should be able to enjoy without having to say in the last 10, 20 or 30 years, "We need to have accessible voting stations." They keep lobbying-that is, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance-for entrenched regulations that would give them the right to be able to go to vote, as opposed to, in each and every instance where they've been denied that right, having to go to the Chief Electoral Officer and/or the ministry and/or the government to say, "This is happening each and every election. It has got to stop." And I agree with them: It should stop. It shouldn't be something that they have to negotiate every election. It shouldn't be something that every election, they go to the Chief Electoral Officer and say, "Not again," and to hear from them, "Yes, we're dealing with it," and then, every election, there's another problem. It ought not to be happening. So while some advances have been made, no permanent regulatory framework has been established to solve that problem for people with disabilities.

Obviously, they want hearings. They want to be able to come to talk to the committee about how we entrench in law accessibility for people with disabilities, and we're looking forward to hearing them give us their view on this matter vis-à-vis this particular bill.

The other thing that this government has done is to end the politicizing of poll workers. I think that's good, too. I think the member from Burlington might have mentioned that-I don't remember-but my suspicion is that they agree with this, that it isn't right that the member who is elected has the power to refer poll workers to the CEO, and by so doing, hire those individuals to do the job now. It doesn't mean that most of those people are not able-I'm sure that most of them are able-but they're directed there politically by the person elected. That's wrong. It's wrong for any political party to have that power to do that.

0940

The governing party, of course, has the majority of influence because they've got more members than the rest of us do. So they have more political influence by way of sending workers to that election for the few dollars they earn for the couple of days that they get those jobs. It's not a big deal; it's not like you're earning thousands and thousands of dollars. But, still, it's political influence exercised mostly by the governing party and, indeed, by all of us who are elected. I just think it's wrong.

My suspicion is that a lot of members don't even do it because they don't even know they can. It's quite possible that a lot of members haven't been doing it because they didn't know they could, but I suspect the governing party knows and that most of the government members would have been told that they could and should be doing it. I just think it's wrong. This ends that particular practice.

Some of these points in the bill that are positive are good, but as the member from Burlington said, what is missing is what is wrong about the bill; what is missing is what should be debated-strongly; what is missing tells us about what the party fears or is worried about and why they haven't done the things that I'm about to talk about. One of them was third party advertising, which has already been debated by Conservative members and I'm sure by my colleagues as well. My friend Michael Prue from the riding of Beaches-East York spoke for a whole hour in the last couple of days in this regard. He has covered that as well.

Third party advertising has to be dealt with, so the question I ask is, why hasn't the government done that? My answer is that they haven't done it because they profit from not having any strong legislation dealing with third party advertising. That is clear to me. The reason why you don't deal with it is because it must be good for the governing party not to touch it.

So when you hear the Minister of Municipal Affairs saying, "But look what the National Citizens Coalition did 15, 20 years ago," we say that's correct-exactly. And if you disagree with the politics of the National Citizens Coalition and what they did and what they were trying to do, why not end that particular practice by ensuring, through strong regulation, that no group can ever influence a political process unfairly or disproportionately?

The government takes advantage of something that exists because it brings to them political advantage. I think it's just wrong, and they don't have the courage to deal with that. I just think it's political opportunism and nothing less than that.

The other, more important thing for me is ending the practice of corporate and union contributions to political parties.

Mr. David Zimmer: Union contributions?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: And union contributions as well.

Mr. David Zimmer: Oh, that's a surprise. You'd be in trouble with your base.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Not at all.

Mr. David Zimmer: Oh, you're going to be in big trouble with your base.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: But you would be in trouble with the base, too, because 40% of union money comes to the Liberal Party. You would be in trouble, too.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Gentlemen.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: The argument is that we're in trouble-

Interjections.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Through you-

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Gentlemen. Thank you.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I try to keep my eyes both on the left and the right here.

Mr. David Zimmer: Watch out for the middle.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: The member from Willowdale says, "Oh, you'd be in trouble," but they would be in greater trouble because 40% of their funding comes from unions and 40% to 50% of the other money comes from corporations. They're in real, real trouble. The Liberal Party is so frightened to deal with that issue that they dare not even talk about it.

The member from Willowdale thinks he's trapping me by saying, "Oh, the NDP's lost without union funds," without understanding that they're the ones who are the big losers, because not only do they get a big, big chunk of union money but they get a big chunk of corporate money.

The point is that it's political influence that we would like to end. The Canadian government has ended that practice. It was your Liberal government that did that. God bless them; sometimes they do the right thing.

Mr. David Zimmer: That's Ottawa; this is Toronto.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Yeah. In Saskatchewan, in Manitoba and in Quebec they have ended the practice of accepting corporate and union donations. Other provinces have done that; the Canadian government has done that. Surely the Ontario government, through the Liberal Party, could take a stab at it. I don't think it would be too hard. End the practice of influence on political parties.

Mr. David Zimmer: And where would the money come from?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: And where would the money come from? That's okay; I can tell you. Here's what the Canadian government did; here's how it works: The federal government gives a 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. What do you think? Is that a good thing?

Mr. John O'Toole: Through the Chair.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I think it's a good thing, Speaker, through you to the member from Willowdale. I think it works. It's the way to go. It's what you've got to do to be able to give individual voters the right to say, "This is where my vote is going. This is my influence to that political party. They're not beholden to the unions necessarily and they're not beholden to the corporations necessarily. You are beholden; you, the government and the members, are beholden to me." I like that. That is the democracy that we should want and desire and that we should be fighting for. That is something that Liberal members could champion and they would look good.

Interjection.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I think they would look good.

That's what is missing in this bill. That's why this particular bill is not very historic. That's why it does a few nice little things but no more than that. It doesn't take on the big challenges; it refuses to. It is afraid to do so, and they are afraid because doing what I'm recommending-or what the Conservative folks were recommending through third party advertising-would damage their political future, it seems.

It doesn't have to. It shouldn't have to. But if you look at the political influence, look what they are able to do in Ontario, both the corporations-they've got a few more dollars than I do-and the unions, to be fair, are able to contribute 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 or 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. Do you see what I'm saying, John?

Hon. John Gerretsen: How about public financing?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Do you see what I'm saying? Do you see all that money that can go to a political party? Do you see how they buy influence? Do you think corporations give because they are magnanimous, that they are kind and responsible citizens? That they don't want to influence Mr. Gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment; they really don't want to influence him, but they just want to be kind to him by giving a few generous dollars because they love him, not to influence the kind of political direction that comes through the regulations and laws that he introduces by way of bills in this Legislature? John, please. They gave you the money. They give you money to influence you.

Hon. John Gerretsen: Where do I send my donation to you?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Send it anytime you want: any day, any hour. Give it to me in person; you don't have to send it. Save on the stamp. Bring it across the way. I can take it just as easily, just to help out.

So you understand: Corporations give to take. They give to influence. And that is the way they dominate the political process. All the politicians know that if I get $7,500 from someone, do you think I'm not going to watch myself when I introduce a bill in this place? Do you think I'm not going to be careful? Do you think I'm not going to give him the meeting that he requests and/or demands? Of course I'm going to give him that meeting. Because when $7,500 plus $1,000 plus $1,000 comes my way, I'm going to have to have a meeting with that individual. But not John Gerretsen; he's above it all. He transcends political influence. You're so good.

0950

Hon. John Gerretsen: So are you, Rosie.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Thanks so much.

It's about influence. I want to end that political influence. I want to give the power back to individuals to be able to feel good about the choices they make vis-à-vis the vote they give to that political party. That is what democracy ought to be about and that's what this Liberal government is afraid of. They want and need corporate donations. They want and need the union donations. They want both: union donations, which they get-

Hon. John Gerretsen: I thought you were getting union donations.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: No, you get 40%. You get as much as we do, God bless you. I don't know how you do it. I don't know how unions could give you money when there's nothing in this House that you ever do for them. I don't know how they do it, but you get half from them and the other half comes from corporations. You benefit so much from both of those two sectors. It's time to end it, John. Time to end it. Time to be strong. Time to change this law, make this bill stronger than it is.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Questions and comments?

Mr. Rick Johnson: It's a pleasure to rise. I appreciate the comments of the member from Trinity-Spadina. When he was discussing the percentages of who gets what, we must be making pretty good use of our donations.

The Election Statute Law Amendment Act of 2009 would, if we pass it, modernize election administration and improve the voting process, making our election system in Ontario fair, more flexible and accessible to persons with disabilities. The initiatives contained in this legislation are based on the recommendations of the select committee of all parties. It will improve the voting process.

One of the things I know in my riding-we've got many seniors-is the accessibility issue: allowing these people easier access to vote. It will improve that and make it easier for them as we go forward.

The other thing that I'm happy about is that it will improve the voting process for students. One of the things is the lack of people voting; our voter turnouts have been dismal in the last few years. A 40% voter turnout seems to be standard, which means that a small minority of people are having huge influence: those that are going out and voting.

Inspiring young people to vote would be a good thing. Parts of this bill, by allowing greater access for students and some flexibility for them with different types of balloting, would be a good thing. If we can get more young people enthused in the process, it would be great. There was a process that was started a couple of elections ago called Kids Voting Canada, which is run by a fellow named Taylor Gunn, to inspire young people in our schools to move forward and get involved in the process. They've had great results with it.

I believe that this is a good step forward in improving the election process and getting more people involved. Anything that we can do to inspire more members of our communities to do so is a good thing.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Questions and comments?

Mr. John O'Toole: I always attend, or try to attend, when the member from Trinity-Spadina speaks. He brings passion and knowledge to the debate. More importantly, I completely concur with his remarks and sentiments on third party advertising.

Other issues: the permanent electoral list, the boundaries commission and special ballots. The special ballot, I approve of. The permanent electoral list, which eliminates the enumeration issue, is quite important as long as all parties have access, whenever, to this list and the system that it's going to be updated on regularly. The boundaries commission: The Liberal Party is inconsistent there as well.

I'm looking at the actual, official list of the contributions on the third party advertising report. I'm looking at one at random here out of a list of many pages. Arrow Communications Consulting: I'd like to know the principals, the names involved. Here's this one company, Arrow Communications. Look it up; see who they are, who the people are. They must be connected to Premier McGuinty somehow. They contributed to the Liberal Party. Here's the number of contributions: $9,600; $108,000; $46,000; $318,000; $212,000; $4,000; $4,800; $55,000; $4,000. I'm quoting an actual report that this company, Arrow Communications-if they're involved in eHealth scandal or other consulting, we have the link.

What we're asking for is to do the right thing and put an end to this third party advertising. This is political patronage at the worst and most obvious phase. So I commend the member from Trinity-Spadina. I'm pleased to share this list with him.

One more comment: The CAW contributed $300,000-

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Thank you. The member for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.

Mr. Paul Miller: This is a quite an interesting discussion that's going on today. I see certain groups are leaving out certain things. My friends from the official opposition are not talking about corporate donations, which is probably the base to their whole fundraising. And the Liberal member from Toronto said, "What are you going to do if you don't get union donations?" Well, our union-based donations are probably less than what the Liberals get.

I also think that if you look at the federal rules, the NDP federally now has more money than they ever did because they dropped these union and corporate donations, and they get $1.58 per voter in Canada as a rebate. We have more money in our coffers than we ever did. So, of the three parties, this rule would probably be more fair to us than anybody because we don't have access to the corporate donations or some of the union groups that back the Liberals.

Really, I think it would be a fair playing field for everybody if you got per voter what you're entitled to. A lot of times, when we're second place, we lose a riding maybe by 200 votes, and if you based it on how much you get per voter, we'd have a lot more money in our coffers and be able to compete fairly instead of being financially burdened all the time because of the situation we are in.

I think this would be a good thing overall for everybody. It may affect the other two parties more so than us because of their great reliance on donations from corporations. Trust me, we don't get a lot of donations from corporations, and that's the way it goes. Unfortunately, that's the way it is, but we do get donations from individuals.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): The member for Oak Ridges-Markham.

Ms. Helena Jaczek: It's a pleasure to enter into this debate and make a few remarks, in particular about the comments made by our colleague from Trinity-Spadina-always with great passion, but today I found a certain lack of logic in some of his remarks.

He states that 40% of union donations come to the Ontario Liberal Party. He claims that such donations may lead to some sort of influence or some potential favouritism towards those who donate to the democratic process. But then he goes on to say that in fact we do, as a Liberal Party, nothing for unions. Somehow I don't quite understand how you can have it both ways.

In terms of Bill 231, there are some aspects that I'm particularly happy about. As my colleague from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock has stated, the issue of seniors and those with disabilities is particularly troubling. I well remember the last couple of provincial elections visiting polling stations and seeing the issue of several steps being required to go up or down in order to cast one's ballot. Certainly, there have been stories of individuals leaving their wheelchairs at the top of the stairs to somehow stumble down to, in fact, cast their ballot. This is a very difficult situation for many of those with disabilities and for seniors. Obviously, voting by proxy for many people is not an option that they wish to exercise.

These changes will in fact increase access. We know that we've had some really low voter turnout in the last few elections-only 53% in 2007. So all these actions will in fact boost the opportunity to cast a ballot.

1000

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): The member for Trinity-Spadina has up to two minutes to respond.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I thank all the members for their comments. I want to respond to my friend from Oak Ridges-Markham because she thought there was a loss of logic at some place. I want to explain that loss of logic, because the loss of logic isn't mine. The loss of logic relates to the contradictions that I have to deal with as they relate to unions. Many unions, of course, support the Liberal Party because they're in power. They're hoping that, by supporting them, some benefits will accrue to their members-not because they often do, but because they feel they could. That contradiction has always hurt me a little bit. It's not my contradiction; it is inherent in the way unions operate, trying to protect their members in the best way they can. The best way they can is sometimes to support Liberals, and I could never, never accept that. I've been here for 20 years, and Liberals do very, very little for unions and union members. In spite of that, they still-many of them-send their money to the Liberal Party, and that has puzzled me for ever so long.

But I want to say, with respect to the bill-it's a nice bill. It really is. It won't hurt. Some of these elements are really nice, and we should be doing it. I already commented on that. But the Liberals are not bold; they never will be. They're always tepid in their approach to politics. They're always cautious. They're risk-averse. They never want to do something that ought to be done. What we ought to do is make sure we deal with third party advertising, and they refuse to do it. What we ought to be doing is making sure we end corporate and union donations to political parties to end their influence on parties. This is where the government fails to do the right thing. That's the problem with the bill.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Further debate?

Mr. Wayne Arthurs: I'm pleased in the time remaining this morning to be able to enter into the debate on Bill 231. I'm going to spend most of my time probably talking about what's in the bill rather than what is not in the bill.

I think the member for Trinity-Spadina's final comments were about the Liberals not being bold and being tepid and risk-averse. I think we truly reflect, to a large extent, what the people of Ontario want, and thus we have a fairly significant majority in this place. They want people who are going to be cautious, who are going to think about what they do and act accordingly.

To the bill itself: I'm very pleased to be saying-actually, yesterday, I spoke for just two minutes when we were making some responses, and I want to pick up where I left off. I was telling you a little story, which, for me, bears repeating, and I think it bears repeating for a number of people, on at least one or two aspects of the bill, particularly as it relates to the issues of proxies and special ballots, and as it might relate similarly to post-secondary students having the option to choose where they cast their ballot.

When I was in municipal governance-I think it was probably my second or third election as mayor; it was subsequent to my being in that office-a gentleman came in with his daughter. She had turned 18-I don't think she was 19 at that point-and it was her first-ever opportunity to vote. There hadn't been a provincial or federal election. But she couldn't be in the municipality to cast her ballot. As a matter of fact, she was away at school, if I recall.

We had a nice conversation, her and her dad and myself, in the office. I thought at first that her dad had brought her in to meet the mayor face to face, see what municipal politics was about, what the issues were and help her to get educated about the political process. Certainly that was part of it, but when we finished the conversation, she said that since she was going to be unable to cast her ballot for herself, she asked me if I would cast her ballot as her proxy.

I must say, at that time that was an honour, and it remains an honour, that a young person in my constituency-at that time, municipally-would come to me, hear what I had to say and ask if I would cast her vote for her, not only for myself. She said to me at that point-because I asked her what she would like me to do in regard to a regional position and a local position. She had a candidate on one of those two positions that she wanted to have the ballot cast for, which I was happy to do. In the third choice that she had available to herself at that point, she said she would trust my judgment to cast the ballot on her behalf.

As nice as that was and as proud as I was to do that-I remember it so distinctly-the provisions of this bill would allow that student, that young person, or anyone else at least one of two options. One would be, if they just simply couldn't be there for some reason to cast their ballot, to have a special ballot. That's not only for students but also for those who can't vote, who can't get to the polls on the day available or in any advance poll that might be available. It reminds me as well of those who are hospitalized. I recall collecting ballots of people who wanted to vote but wouldn't have the opportunity, and proxy voting for people in the hospital.

Special ballots would allow those people to cast their ballots effectively when they're hospitalized and might not otherwise have the opportunity. The list in that regard would go on to all of those people who, for whatever number of reasons, cannot cast a ballot at the time available to them but have the opportunity, through a special ballot provision, to do that.

As I understand it, we're the only jurisdiction provincially and nationally, in essence, that doesn't have that provision within our legislation. It seems appropriate that we effectively catch up with the federal government and every other jurisdiction in the country.

Mr. Mike Colle: What's the distinction between a special ballot and a proxy?

Mr. Wayne Arthurs: The member from-help me-

Mr. Mike Colle: Eglinton-Lawrence.

Mr. Wayne Arthurs: -Eglinton-Lawrence was asking, "What's the distinction between the proxy and the special ballot?" The proxy is where when you ask someone to vote on your behalf. In the example, the young person came and asked me if I would vote on her behalf. In that instance, we were allowed to cast one ballot for someone else in addition to ourselves, on a proxy.

A special ballot is a ballot that the individual gets to cast, a mail-in ballot, for that particular purpose on a special provision. They get to vote themselves, on behalf of themselves, for whomever they want, but they don't have to do it through a proxy provision, and they don't have to do it at the location of the ballot box to which they would otherwise be prescribed or necessarily on the day of the particular election. It gives to the individual the opportunity to cast their own vote for their chosen candidate, as opposed to allowing someone else to do that on their behalf.

I can say, speaking of the young people who are at university-I was mentioning that-those who will then be given a choice as to where they want to cast that ballot-and that's always a bit of a contradiction. They live in one jurisdiction, and have for some time, with their family, yet they're attending school somewhere outside of the municipality, and they spend most of their time there, for two, three, four or more years. It becomes their home in that locale. Their residence with their parents, presumably, in their hometown no longer really is the place to which they are connected.

When they're casting their ballot, not only do they want to cast their ballot in the context provincially of a government, they want to cast their ballot in the context of the member who will be representing their interests in this place. Their interests at that point in time are not necessarily the interests of their hometown. Their interests are where they are going to school, the community in which they live and the issues that affect them in that community.

There are a number of provisions within this legislation. Those are just a couple that I think are important provisions.

Certainly, increasing access for those with disabilities is an important part of what we're doing. As we move through the process of making this an accessible province for all, it's important in this process that we ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that there are no hiccups in the system. We've heard, so eloquently put forward during the debate, about an incident in the recent by-election where an individual with a disability could not access the polling booth in the basement of a building and, as I understand the conversation, had to be assisted in one fashion or another from the ground level into the basement. That's not an acceptable standard in Ontario today, and it's one that we have to be ever-vigilant about. Provisions within this legislation that will increase access for persons with disabilities are important provisions.

The use of electronics for the purpose of voting, at this point now, is increasingly well established. Municipalities throughout Ontario have been using voting machinery effectively without problem for a number of years. They have proven to be accurate when there have been concerns about a ballot, when they've had to be recounted in some fashion. I would suggest that 100% of the time, the machines have proven to be an effective and efficient means by which people can vote. It's time we started to use the same provisions. It's time we started to look more carefully at opportunities to use technology effectively.

I think this will be a step, and there will probably be future steps in which we will look more intently at using even more current technologies: the Internet systems that are available to us for voting purposes. That is not a provision in this legislation, but at least it takes us down the road of starting to think about technology as a strategy, as opposed to hard pieces of paper in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of pieces of paper that have to get counted on election night.

There are provisions in here that provide some additional flexibility for the Chief Electoral Officer. This is far more administrative than the public would see, but I think there are important provisions that remove from the capacity of the system for primarily the governing party to have a greater degree of influence on the appointment of officials in each of the ridings for the purposes of the electoral process. I think those are good provisions. Those are provisions that the public-although they won't see them on a day-to-day basis, they certainly would appreciate knowing that this is a process of selection that is removed from the political body having the opportunity to influence in any particular fashion.

The work that was done on this select committee by virtue of having members from all three parties-and I understand that there were dissenting opinions, but that's the nature of this process too. When you don't have a standing committee per se, often select committees provide provisions for a dissenting opinion when there's not full and 100% agreement. It gives the opposition parties-primarily the opposition, but I suppose it could be a government member too-the opportunity to express their dissent with what's being proposed.

Having said that, I know that the member from Willowdale and the member from Vaughan were, from the government side, active and experienced members. I know that the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills has a long history in this place and has brought a tremendous amount of expertise. I'm sorry, but I don't know the member from the third party who sat on the select committee. I just don't have that in front of me.

Interjection: Peter Kormos.

Mr. Mike Colle: The member from Niagara.

Mr. Wayne Arthurs: The member from Niagara, from Welland-regardless, people with considerable experience in this place brought to bear in the process of bringing this legislation forward. I know they gave it full and due deliberation. It's been said broadly that the provisions in the legislation are provisions, if I understood it right, that are generally agreed upon around this place. There are always matters not in legislation that opposition, in particular, would like to see in legislation, and that's certainly part of their role. They've articulated that succinctly over the course of the debate. That being said, I believe this to be good legislation in the context of reform that will serve well the electors in the province of Ontario.

Speaker, with that, if there's time remaining for questions and answers, and if not, then I presume you'll advise us accordingly.

Second reading debate deemed adjourned.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): It being 10:15 of the clock, pursuant to standing order 8, this House will recess until 10:30 of the clock.