ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
ONTARIO HANSARD APRIL 27, 2010
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ELECTION STATUTE LAW
AMENDMENT ACT, 2010 /
LOI DE 2010 MODIFIANT DES LOIS
EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS
Ms. Smith, on behalf of Mr. Bentley, moved third 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. Monique M. Smith: I will be sharing my time this morning with the member from Willowdale, and as he has now reached his seat, I will be sharing it with him now.
Mr. David Zimmer: I was in a rush to get in. I got locked out this morning.
Anyway, I'm very pleased today to rise to speak to Bill 231 on third reading. This act, if passed, would amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act. Third reading of this bill is the result of nearly two years of work. We've built on the recommendation of the Select Committee on Elections through public hearings. As well, extensive consultations with the Chief Electoral Officer have taken place. I think we can all agree that Bill 231 is better as a result of these consultations.
Bill 231 would improve our election system in a number of ways. It would give Ontarians with disabilities more equal opportunities to participate in the voting process, it would make our electoral system more responsive to the needs of voters throughout the province and abroad, and it would bring our election finance system into the 21st century. What I'd like to do this morning is to take some time and tell the members of this House how Bill 231 would accomplish these very important improvements.
Ontarians with disabilities: I want to talk about voting technology as it affects them. We've learned a lot about the barriers faced by people with disabilities when they vote. We're bringing forward ways to break down these barriers. The use of voting technology could allow electors with disabilities to vote privately and independently. Bill 231 would require the Chief Electoral Officer to use accessible voting equipment in returning office advance polls starting with the 2011 election. This is a very significant change to the voting process. It puts Ontario at the cutting edge of these issues.
It is our responsibility to ensure that even as the voting system evolves, it maintains the highest level of security. Indeed, this goes to the very heart of our democracy. We recognize that as technology evolves, additional voting methods may become as secure as the equipment that Bill 231 requires. That's why we have created a process that would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to direct the use of an alternative voting method if certain conditions are met. These are the conditions: successful testing at a by-election; protecting the integrity and security of the voting process; consulting with parties, experts and members of the public; and-and this is important-approval by a legislative committee after public hearings. This meets the key shared objectives. It would create a process for voting methods to evolve with technology, it would ensure that the integrity and security of elections is maintained, and it would require that there be significant opportunities for public input, including experts in the field of alternative voting methods. To make sure that we're on the right track here, the Chief Electoral Officer would also be required to conduct a comprehensive review and report on alternative voting technologies by June 30, 2013. Voters with disabilities, and indeed all electors, need to vote privately and independently. And they need to be sure that the voting method they are using counts a vote the way it was cast. We are confident that the measures taken in Bill 231 would meet these requirements.
Let me take a few minutes now and speak to some additional access measures. As important as new voting equipment and other voting technologies are for accessibility, there is more that must be done to enhance access. That's why we also strengthened Bill 231 by requiring that all polling places be accessible to people with disabilities. We know that people with disabilities require greater transparency and more accountability, and that additional opportunities for input are necessary. That's why the Chief Electoral Officer would be required to publish proposed voting locations six months in advance of a scheduled general election and invite public comment on those locations. This would allow members of the public, particularly electors with disabilities, to provide input before any final decisions are made about where to locate polling places. After every election, the Chief Electoral Officer would also be required to report about the steps taken to ensure accessible, barrier-free elections in Ontario. All reports and election-related materials provided by the Chief Electoral Officer must be made available to people with disabilities in an accessible format. This bill would provide more opportunities than ever before for people with disabilities in this province to participate in the voting process and to offer their advice and input about how to make elections work better for everyone here in this province.
There are some other changes in the voting process that I'd also like to touch on in my remarks this morning. The bill would improve access as well as convenience for all electors through the introduction of special ballots. Special ballots can be cast, for example, through the mail. People with disabilities would be given the option of requesting that election officers make a home visit to assist with the special ballot application and with voting.
But special ballots would not only enhance voting options for people with disabilities; they would also enhance voting options for a broad range of Ontarians who are unable to vote on election day or in person during the election period. By permitting special ballots, people such as snowbirds, who go back and forth to the warmer climates in the winter, senior citizens, and military personnel, who are often out of the country, out of the jurisdiction, would also benefit. Voting should be quicker, more convenient and more efficient for everyone.
An important feature of the bill is that the Chief Electoral Officer would be allowed to modify the voting process and to streamline the voting process at polling locations. In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer would be given the flexibility to determine the hours and dates for advance polls, to better deal with local needs. This was an issue that the select committee heard quite a lot about. Ontario is a vast and complex province. The practicalities of voting are quite different in downtown Toronto, in the suburban GTA, in the Far North and in the aboriginal communities, so the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to take into account those practical local challenges is an important piece in this legislation.
We also want to encourage our young people to get involved early, to vote early, as soon as they're able to, and to establish that pattern of participating in the voting process, so it's important that voting is not made to be unnecessarily or unfairly inconvenient for young people simply because they are away at a college, university or other training facility. That is why post-secondary students will be allowed to choose whether they want to vote in the electoral district where they are attending for their education and training or where they reside permanently, typically with their parents. This was also something that we heard quite a lot about. Often, a student studying here in Toronto who lives in northwestern Ontario is keenly aware of the issues in northwestern Ontario where he or she has grown up, where their family lives, and wants to vote there rather than in the GTA, where they're temporarily a resident. This is a fair way to deal with that concern.
As I mentioned earlier, these initiatives are supported by measures that ensure the integrity of our election system, that ensure that it remains strong. I just want to touch on a few of those.
Under the heading of professionalization, Ontarians need equal and ample opportunities to cast a ballot. They also need election officials who are sufficiently experienced and appropriately qualified. That is why this bill will depoliticize the appointments of returning officers and poll workers. This is a big change. This includes eliminating the existing requirement that poll workers be appointed from lists provided by candidates.
This bill would also establish a new authority for the Chief Electoral Officer over appointments and remuneration of election officials so that these officials are more directly accountable. The Chief Electoral Officer would be permitted flexibility to establish fees, including wage levels for election workers. This would better ensure that election officials are sufficiently experienced and appropriately qualified. It would also reduce delays in staffing and training poll workers. What we're doing is professionalizing the people who are responsible for servicing and working with the voters as they cast their ballots.
With responsibility, of course, 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 where he would establish fees for election officials. The board would have the authority to accept, reject or modify these proposed fees.
Let me say something about modernizing election financing-and this is a very important aspect of this bill. We are mindful that changes to modernize Ontario's election finance rules need to be made. That is why we are introducing more convenient contribution options that reflect modern banking practices and emerging transaction technologies. Bill 231 would bring us into the 21st century by allowing the use of corporate credit cards, debit cards, online contributions and electronic transfers. We have also put forward rules requiring larger parties to develop their own electronic receipting and contribution systems. This would allow parties to centrally manage the issuing of their own receipts instead of relying on the receipt forms provided by Elections Ontario. In the future, parties would be able to provide receipts in a manner and in a format that is convenient and easy to manage. As of June 1, 2012, larger political parties would be required to develop an electronic database and receipting system that has been approved by the Chief Electoral Officer. Smaller parties will be able to opt in if they wish. These changes to election finance rules are all about modernizing the system, a system that currently inconveniences some Ontarians who want to get involved in the election process by contributing to a political party or a candidate.
Let me say in conclusion that overall, this bill is the answer to one simple question, and that question is, how can we make Ontario's election process work better for everyone? We have listened carefully to people with disabilities. We are taking significant steps to make Ontario a leader in Canada to make elections accessible. We have developed a variety of options that would make voting more convenient for electors throughout the province and those temporarily living abroad or out of the jurisdiction. We've introduced changes to Ontario's election finance system to bring us into the 21st century.
We have considered thoughtfully the implications of all of the changes that have been proposed, and we have identified appropriate safeguards to ensure security and integrity of the election process. I'm confident that Bill 231 would make the election process work better for all Ontarians, and I encourage members of this House to support it enthusiastically, as I do.
In closing: I had the privilege of sitting on the select committee on election reform, chaired by Mr. Sorbara; Mr. Sterling sat on it and Mr. Kormos sat on it. I want to thank everyone for the contributions they made to the work of that select committee, which served as the basis for Bill 231.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Comments and questions?
Mr. Norm Miller: I'm pleased to have a chance to comment on Bill 231 and the speech made this morning. I think our party is in support of this bill, although we see that it's missing one big part that the member for Mississippi Mills pointed out in his report, and that is that it doesn't deal with third party advertising. The government is taking advantage of that, in that they have this Working Families Coalition spending millions of dollars in third party advertising and it's not being covered by this bill. That is a huge, glaring error or omission. However, there are aspects of it, and changes at committee, that are positive. I did sit in on some of the committee hearings and I know that many from the disability community expressed that the easiest way for them to vote is via telephone or Internet, and I believe there was an amendment put forward by our critic at committee. I'm pleased to see that there is an option to go forward to bring about alternative voting methods. As has been pointed out, there first of all has to be a by-election, security issues have to be addressed, there needs to be more consultation and then there has to be approval after by a committee of the Legislature. This seems like a reasonable process to put safeguards into effect but that will still in the future allow the easiest way for those who are disabled to be able to vote. I think all parties want to encourage and make it easier for all people to take advantage of and participate in elections. So we're supportive of this bill, Bill 231, with the exception of the fact of that huge omission of missing third party advertising.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further comments.
Mr. Peter Kormos: The critic in this area for the NDP, Michael Prue, the member from Beaches-East York, will be speaking in due course to this bill. He had the pleasure of working with Mr. Zimmer, the parliamentary assistant, while this bill was in committee.
Mr. Zimmer is quite right that I was with him on the Sorbara committee. I was not there in my own right; I was there on behalf of Howard Hampton, who was the committee member. I subbed in for him during the course of the whole committee. I commend Mr. Zimmer, the parliamentary assistant, for his patience with these matters. The Attorney General gives him stuff like the election reform stuff. He gives him stuff like the accounting act, which we're visiting this Thursday in clause-by-clause. Who gets the sexy stuff? The Attorney General keeps it for himself. The stuff that has any prospect of spotlights and TV cameras and media coverage he gets for himself, and Zimmer is compelled to make clandestine early-morning phone calls to Andy Barrie to get done what he wants to get done.
But I commend the parliamentary assistant for his work on these things and I just want to tell you that he is a delight to work with. He's intelligent, he's articulate, he puts forward a rational argument-he is just such an unusual government member. And for the life of me, he's the best cabinet minister that this province never had. I can't do enough-I suppose I've probably done too much already since Mr. Zimmer's election, trying to get him into cabinet, and I'm not sure that we haven't reached that point where the rate of return has started to diminish, but I'll continue to make best effort in that regard and use every capacity that I can muster to ensure that David Zimmer gets the profile that he deserves, because he surely, truly deserves it.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Comments and questions.
Mr. Pat Hoy: I'm pleased to make a few comments as we begin third reading on An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act. I too think that Mr. Zimmer, the parliamentary assistant, did an excellent job of giving an overview of what this legislation means at this point, having come back here for third reading, with all the consultations having been completed, and what we call clause-by-clause. I'm pleased to hear from across the way that there is general support for this bill. It's one that legislators should and do take seriously, because after all, we are the subject of the voting rights that people enjoy. Every four years here in Ontario, in October, we are up for what I call review. It's important that people have fairness in how they go about the process of casting their vote, accessibility, understanding what their rights are, where the voting places will be, what day etc. The Chief Electoral Officer has some other powers here to ensure that accessibility is fair and in place.
These things that we're talking about within this bill are important to democracy overall. We pride ourselves in what we do as a democracy here in Ontario and indeed in Canada. The voting is part of our definition of democracy, I would think, in that we pride ourselves in how we approach these issues.
Of course, with modern technology and growing populations and the needs of all to be considered, it's excellent to be here at third reading to see the amendments that are put forth in this legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further comments?
Mr. John O'Toole: I came to the House because the member from Willowdale was speaking. He read the notes that were provided for him very thoroughly, I think. Most importantly, I'm listening and waiting for the member from Halton, our critic, who will bring some substance to the concerns that we have.
In fact, I think our finance critic, Mr. Miller, mentioned that we would be supporting the bill but that we want to render a couple of serious concerns. Third party advertising has been-"destructive" would be putting it modestly. I have in front of me a formal document here which is supplied under the elections finance office, and this is from Working Families. What it does is detail the contribution of over $1 million-$1,084,904.85-and it attributes this to Alex Lolua, who was the chief financial officer of Working Families. Then it goes on to list, and this is the distressing part of this politicization of this process, to the extent where-there's full accountability; we agree with that. All parties have to file, and all contributions are filed and disclosed. I think what's missing here-these are augmenting, in this case, the Liberal Party war chest for the election. It's right here. It's saying that, for instance, there was $1.4 million from trade unions; that's what it says. If I look at further detail, it goes on to list the IBEW local union, $9,000, and $400,000 from the Ontario Pipe Trades Council.
Now, it's these kinds of contributions that render it unfair to the third party and the opposition. We're for the bill. We're for more transparency. The problem here is this whole disclosure part of third party advertising. It was ignored, and I think that's a mistake in the bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member for Willowdale has two minutes to respond.
Mr. David Zimmer: I thank my colleagues in the Legislature from all parties for their comments.
I was reflecting that there are lots of new things in this bill, lots of things to move us towards the most modern electoral system here in the country. But I suppose one of the most important things for me is the new role of the Chief Electoral Officer. In the past, it has sort of been a hodgepodge of who's supervising whom in the electoral process, who's supervising returning officers, who's hiring returning officers, how polling stations are set up and all of those issues. The result has been that throughout the province, I think it was fair to say and we'd all recognize, the voting process, in subtle ways and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, was sort of different in Toronto, different in the Far North, different in rural Ontario. The single most important thing we've done is vest new authority in the Chief Electoral Officer to manage, in an overall way, the electoral process. We've delegated real authority to him to do the hiring of the people involved in administering elections in Ontario, to set their wage rates, to supervise them-hiring, firing, discipline and quality control, if you will. We have reached a whole new level of professionalization and quality control by vesting the authority to do so in the hands of the Chief Electoral Officer. That is a big-
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Thank you. Further debate?
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: I'd also say that you have tied the Chief Electoral Officer's hands in a very significant way by not passing many amendments that you could have passed in this act, ignoring the elephant in the room, as it were, with third party advertising. I'll have more to say on that as we go forward.
This bill, as it went to committee, became very contentious. The disabled community was very eager to have a number of amendments passed and to have a great deal more accessibility to polls. We all read with alarm and distaste about the plight of some handicapped people in elections and by-elections in Ontario where the polling station was at first judged to be accessible and then, through the experience of handicapped people in visiting that poll, it was found to be very inaccessible.
Each poll was judged after the election or by-election as to whether it was accessible or not. Some of the criteria that were used for that judging were way out of date and didn't take into consideration the handicapped people who had to use it. Indeed, the consultations with the handicapped community were sadly lacking. Some of those things were addressed in this bill, and certainly many of them were improved through amendments.
The government had not initially thought of those circumstances that handicapped people would find themselves in. It's amazing to me that the discussion on handicapped access to polling stations wasn't considered until after the bill got into committee. It certainly wasn't discussed or considered when the bill was being drafted, because so many of the amendments dealt with accessibility issues.
The result was that there were a huge number of amendments, many of which were accepted. I think that the PC Party set a personal-best record with having eight amendments accepted by the government, none of which, of course, dealt with third party advertising, but which did deal with accessibility items such as the review of polling stations' accessibility by handicapped people following the election. That report would go to the Chief Electoral Officer, and following every election that we have, if those reports are listened to and read, the system that we have should improve itself over time so that, as we proceed, it will continue to get better and better as far as accessibility is concerned for handicapped people.
This bill, when it went to committee, did not contain any legislation that would allow the use of telephones or electronic equipment by handicapped people or indeed the general public. Through, I believe, a six- or seven-page amendment that the government introduced, that was corrected. I would like to think that that amendment was introduced because of a similar amendment that our party put in that found large acceptance by the handicapped community. I think the government was more or less forced to bring in that piece of legislation, that amendment, that opened up some of the aspects to allow for very private and personal voting by handicapped people. I think it was a good thing that the government brought that forward eventually and passed it. I think that made this bill a better bill than it was initially. Certainly, the hearings that the government went through were not necessarily reflected in the legislation. But by the time the legislation got to the committee level and the amendments began to flow, the bill started to take on a shape that was better than the bill that was introduced for first reading some months prior to that.
There was some serious concern, some debate, between the government and our party concerning the facilities around post-secondary students and where they would vote. We felt quite strongly that the post-secondary student who was involved in a community in Ontario and had lived and grown up in that community might be more aware of the political situation that that community faced and might wish to cast his ballot in that community. The government, on the other hand, wished to make it as easy as possible for that student to cast his ballot where he was living in the university or college town, or living away from home. I think there's a certain political concern in that area when you get such a large block of votes in one particular area that might, indeed, be single-issue voters who might not necessarily reflect the needs or the wants of the larger community or the larger riding that was involved in that particular issue.
One of the most interesting parts of this bill was the report that was put in by Mr. Greg Essensa, the Chief Electoral Officer. He submitted a report back on May 7, 2009. His report went to the Select Committee on Elections. I'd like to quote from his report. I'm going to read most of it, I think. I'm going to make some comments about it as well, because I think it's an excellent report that the government should have listened to in much greater detail than apparently turned out when they produced this Bill 231.
He appeared before the committee in December 2008 and he recommended that the advertising provisions of the Election Finances Act be reviewed. "The law was drafted over 30 years ago," he says, "and the way in which campaigns are run has significantly changed. In February, my written submission recommended that a task force be created to review the rules governing political advertising." The task force was developed but it was much broader than just the political advertising aspect that the Chief Electoral Officer had suggested. He said, "Today I would like to focus on one aspect of political advertising, specifically third party advertising. I will address three topics in my presentation: first, the third party advertising requirement in the Elections Finances Act; second, questions the select committee may wish to consider with respect to the regulation of third party advertising"-and that's a very interesting part of the report-"and third, the role of the Chief Electoral Officer in administering the election finances process." He suggests he'd be happy to answer any questions at the end of his presentation.
"To begin with, it's important to remember that apart from parties and candidates, there are individuals and organizations who participate in the democratic process. These third parties participate in elections by commenting on a candidate or party's position, adding issues into the political debate in an election, and attempting to influence which parties or candidates are elected."
They're taking part in this election process in a very similar fashion as a political party, either the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP, the Green Party, the Family Coalition Party-the Rhinoceros Party, for that matter-the same way in which those parties are taking part in an election, so too is a so-called third party advertiser, in that they are trying to get their specific position, their specific wants, needs or philosophy, across to the general public during that election process.
The Chief Electoral Officer goes on to say: "Third parties participate in the democratic process by sponsoring advertising, the same way as candidates and parties. They advertise before and during campaigns to deliver a message about a particular issue or about the merits of a specific party or candidate. Third party advertising has been present in the democratic process in Canada for quite some time. As early as the 1970s, on the recommendation of a royal commission, Parliament"-the Parliament of Canada-"amended the Canada Elections Act to include controls over third party advertisers."
Why would they do that? We have control over the amount of money that the Liberal Party of Ontario can spend in a general election. We have control over the amount of money that an individual candidate can spend in a general election. These controls on how much money parties and individuals can spend are very important to the democratic process. It's important to the democratic process in that money cannot buy an election, and I think we would all agree that that is not the way a democratic process should take place. Yet here we have a third party advertiser who has the same logical position as a party or a candidate, and there are no controls over their spending habits or amounts anywhere in the Election Act.
I think that is a real concern and one that has been expressed by the Chief Electoral Officer. It has been expressed by a number of people in Ontario. And here we have a bill, Bill 231, which went through the House. It went through debate. This issue was raised time and again during that debate. And this government refused to acknowledge that the elections in Ontario are not fair and impartial when one sector has unlimited funding to promote their thoughts and ideas, while all other sectors in the electorate do not have that same advantage, and indeed are restricted-severely restricted, in some cases-as to how much money they can spend, and when and where they can spend it.
The Chief Electoral Officer goes on to say that he would like to turn his attention to the first topic, the third party advertising requirements in the Election Finances Act: "As members of the committee will remember, there were various changes made to Ontario's election laws in June before the October 2007 general election. Those changes included new third party registration and reporting requirements. At the time these changes were made, there were only three Canadian jurisdictions that had such requirements: They were in place federally"-so the federal Parliament of Canada had them-"in Quebec and in British Columbia. It should not be forgotten, however, that the Election Finances Act already contained some restrictions on third party advertising dating back to 1998. The law already imposed blackouts on third party political advertising on polling day and the day before polling day, and deemed that $100 or more spent on advertising by a person, corporation or trade union which promoted a party or candidate was to be treated as a contribution, provided it was done with the knowledge and consent of that party or candidate. In essence, the law required for several years that third party advertising be treated as a contribution if it could be shown to be controlled by a political party or candidate. The cost of such advertising was also subject to contribution limits and treated as a campaign expense of the party or candidate."
These are all very fair, equitable regulations. The inequity comes when the third party advertising is not part and parcel of a party's platform or campaign efforts and operates outside any political party's contribution ceilings or limits. That's where the inequity comes from. It's unfair that one portion of the Election Finances Act is ignored, or can be ignored, completely by one aspect of people who are trying to influence the outcome of an election in Ontario.
The legislation that was passed in June 2007 contained the following significant requirements: "Third party advertisers spending over $500 on election advertising had to register with the Chief Electoral Officer"-that's in Ontario; "all registered third party advertisers had to report on their advertising spending six months after the election; and third party advertisers had to report all contributions they received to support their advertising during the campaign period and in the two months before the election was called."
Now there's a very serious problem in the legislation in that the third party advertisers only had to report money they collected two months prior to an election. In Ontario, that would be somewhere around July 4, 5, 6 to September 4, 5, 6, depending on when the election day is and the day the writ was dropped. It would be in that first week in September, and that gives them two months now.
It's known in Ontario that one particular third party advertiser, the Working Families of Ontario, collects money for the four-year period in between the elections. In fact, Working Families could very easily have a campaign chest that exceeds what the Liberals are allowed to spend in the next provincial election and what the Conservatives are allowed to spend. Those are the two largest spending entities in elections-they have been-in the history of Ontario. In this next election, we could see in excess of $10 million spent on advertising by the Working Families Coalition; $10 million can seriously tilt the outcome of an election, and that is eminently unfair to all parties, to anybody who is concerned about democracy. This government ignored that issue while putting this bill through the House.
These provisions are similar to federal third party provisions, with the exception that the amendments did not impose any spending limits. Whether you're a candidate or a political party, you have spending limits as to how much money you can accept from one individual or from one corporation. The spending limit for an individual candidate is somewhere in the $1,100 area. You cannot contribute more than that, from an individual or a corporation, to an individual candidate. You cannot contribute more than-I'm not sure what the party max is, but it's somewhere in the $3,000 or $4,000 range. Perhaps someone could help me with that, but it's somewhere in that ballpark, where a political party cannot receive more than that from one individual. I think that's good. That limits the ability for a party or a candidate to buy an election. I think it would be undemocratic for money to play a disproportionate role in swaying an election one way or another, and that's exactly what we're talking about with third party advertising, which has no limit on it whatsoever.
"In support of these new requirements, my predecessor"-this is a Chief Electoral Officer speaking-"issued new guidelines, which attempted to clarify for third parties, candidates and political parties alike how these new rules worked. These guidelines attempted to address, for instance, how to differentiate between issue-based advertising that would not be subject to these requirements and advertising promoting or opposing a particular party or candidate that would be subject to these requirements."
They tried to clarify this within the standing act, and as Chief Electoral Officer, he found it very difficult to do; therefore, he is asking the government to have a review of this situation. As Chief Electoral Officer, he can't tell the government what to do, but he can suggest, in the strongest of terms, which I believe he is doing in this paper, that the government review this situation and include some new guidelines or some new rules around third party advertising and how and where it can take place during an election, and this government ignored those recommendations entirely.
The Chief Electoral Officer goes on to say, "I think it can be said, in fairness to all, that implementing a new system on the eve of a general election"-this is back in 2007-"posed significant challenges for Elections Ontario and for those involved in the electoral process. I will have more to say about how … I intend to address these challenges in the last part of my presentation." This took place in 2007, of course, on the eve of the election of October 2007 but his call for a committee to look into the Election Finances Act was to carry on into the next Parliament and to make those recommendations on a go-forward basis.
He goes on to say, "In light of Ontario's recent experience with third party advertising requirements, I would like to address my second topic, and that is, questions that the select committee"-the proposed select committee-"may wish to consider with respect to the regulation of third party advertising. I began my presentation today by noting that it is time for a comprehensive review of the political finance rules in Ontario. This review is certainly timely with respect to third party advertising requirements," since third party requirements had been used in a new way, in a way in which they had not been used before. In particular, they had been used with a massive amount of money behind them. In the 2007 election they spent at least $2 million, and we don't know what the total was because they were collecting money long before the two-month requirement to register that money. So how much money they collected before that is unknown. How much money they spent during the election writ period, how much money they spent prior to the election writ period is unknown. There are estimates that I've heard that are as high as $5 million, or about half of what both major political parties in Ontario spent, and probably about the same as what the NDP spent as a political party in Ontario. When a third party advertiser is able to get to that level of expenditure in a totally unregulated way, I think everyone can see that it could and probably does have an effect on the outcome of the election. Without some fiscal controls on that, that is wrong in a democratic process-and this government ignored that.
The Chief Electoral Officer goes on to say, "Since changes were made to the Election Finances Act in 2007, two more provinces, New Brunswick and Alberta, have either adopted or proposed to adopt controls over third party advertisers, and BC has substantially amended its third party requirements.
"Now that the legislation is over and the reports have been submitted, and taking into account the innovations being introduced in other jurisdictions, there are a number of areas the Select Committee on Elections may wish to examine. Some of these include:
"First, should Ontario adopt third party spending limits? Currently, Ontario has no spending limits" for third parties. "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 jurisdiction." As an aside, I kind of wonder where they came up with those numbers, but there you have it. "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...." To put that in context, a candidate in New Brunswick can probably spend somewhere in the order of $60,000 to $80,000, depending on what the population of his riding is. I think they get 96 cents per elector that they can spend as the limit, and so 1.3% of the maximum amount a political party could spend would be somewhere in the order of $1,500, I would think, per riding. "In Quebec, a thirty party is limited to spending $300 on issue advertising, and third parties may not advertise to directly promote a party or candidate." Quebec has certainly the most restrictive controls over third party spending. I'm not sure I'd want to see Ontario go that far.
"The second area of consideration is, should Ontario adopt third party contribution limits?" The first was spending limits, this is contribution limits. "Currently, no jurisdiction has contribution limits, but Alberta has 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 no more than $15,000 in a non-election year." That would limit their contributions significantly from the current levels that exist in Ontario.
To continue on a second point, the Chief Electoral Officer goes on to say that "regarding issues that the select committee may wish to take into consideration respecting" third party advertising, "Should Ontario try to limit third party advertising spending to the amounts it raises prior to and during an election?" In reading the Chief Electoral Officer's report, I think it's important to note that he treads a very delicate line. He's very much aware that when you put financial controls in place on third parties, or on anyone else, you have the ability or you have the danger of affecting democracy. Certainly, there should be a mechanism whereby third parties can make their viewpoints known, talk about their philosophies, get those kinds of things out into the political arena so that a fair and equitable discussion can take place. I believe that's where the Chief Electoral Officer is going. That whole debate was ignored by this government when it brought in Bill 231.
"Currently, a registered third party need only report on the contributions it receives to support its advertising in the two months before an election is called. This allows third parties to build advertising war chests but not have to report on the source of those contributions received at an earlier time." As I mentioned earlier, this is certainly an inequitable situation, and it cannot be considered fair when you consider that a third party should have some restrictions placed on it in a similar vein to what other political parties have placed on them. They shouldn't be able to go down the road without controls while the mainstream political parties, the three that have representatives in this House, and the six or eight-I believe there are 26 registered parties in Ontario, or 27; I think I heard in the news coming in today there was a 28th one just registered-but those parties should all have the same access to funds and access to the limits that all parties in Ontario share.
"In 2006, there was a bill before Parliament"-the Canadian Parliament-"that proposed to limit third party advertising spending to the amounts donated and reported in the six months before an election. While Bill C-79 died on the order paper, this is a requirement that legislators in Ontario may wish to consider."
The Chief Electoral Officer continues to push forward his concerns about third party advertising, and he keeps asking the government, "You may wish to consider;" that phrase is repeated many, many times. Given the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer is an officer of this Legislature, he cannot direct the government to do anything, but he is repeatedly asking the government to do something-to the point of pleading for the government to do something-on this issue which he sees as a serious affront to the democratic process in the province of Ontario.
"The fourth public policy area for consideration" could be, "should Ontario adopt stricter registration and anti-collusion provisions? Under the Election Finances Act, there is no specific provision that prohibits a third party from co-operating or coordinating its advertising with either a political party or one of its candidates, provided that the party/candidate is not actually controlling the third party's advertising. Such advertising is not necessarily prohibited so long as the cost of the advertising does not exceed the contribution limits and is reported by the party/candidate as an expense."
Herein lies the problem with third party advertising that we have in Ontario. They are coordinating and co-operating-the Working Families Coalition, which is a coalition of a number of unions, including teachers' unions and construction unions. It would appear that they are co-operating and coordinating with the Liberal Party, but they are not admitting that they're doing so. Therefore, their contributions, their advertising and their costs in elections are not included in the Liberal Party's maximums, in the number of-
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Pardon me?
Mr. Peter Shurman: Connect the dots.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: The member from Thornhill says, "Connect the dots." It's easy to figure out. Connecting the dots becomes a little easier when you see that the executive directors of the Working Families Coalition contain the same names as many of the directors who sit on the Liberal Party of Ontario. It's a fine line that separates it and it's one that distorts the election process and allows the Liberals to double their expenditures over and above what the regulations allow them to do during an election. That's a dangerous thing for democracy in this province.
The Election Finances Act has no specific connection between what prohibits a third party from co-operating or coordinating its advertising with other provincial parties. "Such advertising is not necessarily prohibited so long as the cost of the advertising does not exceed the contribution limits," which is my main concern.
"Similarly, with the absence of spending limits in Ontario, there are also no explicit prohibitions on third parties coordinating their activities with one another." When we look at the makeup of the Working Families Coalition, for instance, there are eight, 10, 12 people-organizations-who are contributing money to that organization. There is nothing to say that they shouldn't be able to do that, but they should be able to do that only under the same conditions as all other political parties in Ontario find themselves faced with when it comes to raising funds and operating in Ontario under Ontario regulations.
"In contrast, more stringent requirements are in place federally, in British Columbia, in New Brunswick, in Quebec, and are being proposed in Alberta. It is, or will be, an offence in these jurisdictions to collude for the purposes of circumventing spending limits for political parties, candidates and third parties." I believe those same regulations should apply in Ontario.
"These are significant questions, and there may be" many "others." The Chief Electoral Officer says, "I do not have the answers to these questions." I think he has a pretty good idea of which direction he'd like to see it go in. He doesn't have a particular policy recommendation to make to you. "As the Chief Electoral Officer, that is not my place." If you read between the lines, I think he would say, "I wish it was my place, because I think this should be fixed, and I'd like to see it fixed. Therefore, please put it in the recommendations of the committee." But he goes on to say, "But I do see that these are important issues that other jurisdictions have turned their minds to, and recommend that Ontario do the same." I think that comes as close as the Chief Electoral Officer can come to asking the government to place some regulations in Bill 231-the bill that has now moved into third reading-and fix the problem that is facing Ontario.
He goes on to say, "I had such examples in mind when I recommended in December and in February that a task force be created to examine the rules of political financing in Ontario." He's trying to get the government's attention.
"Finally, I have not just come here today to suggest things that this committee and the Legislative Assembly can do. As I mentioned earlier, I have a few thoughts with respect to the role of the Chief Electoral Officer in administering the election finance process. While I am not new to the world of elections, I am new to the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. It is incumbent on me to ensure that I administer Ontario's elections finance laws in a fair and impartial manner."
Again, reading between the lines, the Chief Electoral Officer seems to have some frustration that the regulations in place in Ontario do not allow him to administer elections in a fair and impartial manner. This government had the opportunity to change that. This government had the opportunity to promote democracy. This government failed to do that.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Questions and comments?
Mr. Michael Prue: I stand to commend the member from Halton, who has just spoken, but I am somewhat puzzled because I did hear in the body of the debate and I did hear from some of the people doing questions and comments earlier that the Conservative Party will be supporting this bill. After listening to the member from Halton-who was really quite articulate. He pointed out all the huge failures in this bill: the lack of any kind of concrete action towards the disabled; the weak, ineffective law; the third party spending limits that were not going to be honoured; the continuing reliance on donations; he didn't talk about this, but there's also the leaving out of advertising and third party advertising in municipal elections-all of the things that were wrong, all of the things that the Conservative Party in committee tried to fix. The government was having no part of it.
Then I listened to him and I listened to his colleagues, and it seems to me that in spite of the many flaws of this bill, they are prepared to support it. Perhaps when the member gets an opportunity in his two minutes at the end, he could indicate why, if this bill is so wrong, as his careful analysis has shown that so many things that could and should have been done have not been done, he is in fact supporting the bill. It would seem illogical to me that any bill that will continue to allow third party advertising and have no third party spending limits, which is the crux of his argument today of what is wrong with the bill-why he would be supporting that to allow that continuing inequity to take place. I am absolutely puzzled as to why he and his colleagues will be supporting this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Further comments and questions?
Mr. David Zimmer: I particularly want to respond to the comments of the member for Halton, Mr. Chudleigh. He spoke at length in his remarks about some of the flaws that he saw in the bill. He particularly addressed and spoke strongly, if not passionately, to the issue of third party finance. We listened carefully to everything that he said. Third party financing is something that he's very, very upset that-when you listen to what he said today-was not addressed in the bill.
To paraphrase Shakespeare and referencing Lady Macbeth and, "The lady doth protest too much," I think the member doth protest too much here because the Progressive Conservative Party and Mr. Chudleigh, the member for Halton, sat in clause-by-clause as we went through the bill. The Progressive Conservatives put forth some 40 amendments to the bill in committee-40 amendments. That's a great stack of amendments. They wanted to amend this, that and the other thing-a comprehensive amendment package. We were happy to support a number of their amendments; I believe we supported seven. But the interesting thing is, not one of the Progressive Conservatives' 40 amendments addressed the issue of third party financing. Now, talk about a conflict: The member for Halton sitting here used up a good chunk of his speech complaining about third party financing, yet at clause-by-clause, not one-
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Thank you. The member for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.
Mr. Randy Hillier: The Election Act-we all recognize how important it is and why we have an independent officer of Parliament as the Chief Electoral Officer. We all recognize that that Election Act is to prevent the fixing of elections. The Chief Electoral Officer recommended strongly that we have guidelines about third party financing to prevent collusion and collaboration between invisible agents and political parties.
The Conservative Party recognizes, and so does everybody else, that the Working Families Coalition is spending and contributing millions and millions of dollars to the Liberal Party. The Liberals are using trade unions, the building trade unions especially, as a proxy political party. They had an opportunity to close this loophole within the Election Act-this gaping loophole, one that the Chief Electoral Officer exposed completely-and they failed to act. They want this loophole to stay there. They want this unseen appendage, the Working Families Coalition, to continue to raise and contribute money outside of the Election Act.
What we're looking for is disclosure and accountability. We want third parties to be active in the democratic process, but they need to be open, they need to disclose and they need to be accountable. Had third party financing been included in this act, you would have seen many amendments by our party in there, but you prevented it by not having it in the act in the first place.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member for Parkdale-High Park.
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: It is a pleasure to stand up and say a few words about this, certainly following on the heels of the member from Halton. Yes, he's right: There needs to be more transparency about third party contributions. Also, our friend from Willowdale is right: Unfortunately, the Progressive Conservatives didn't put forward any amendments to that end. We, however, in the New Democratic Party, put forward over 30 amendments that would actually assist those in the disability community and disability rights community, none of which the government acceded to-in fact, in full view of those who were there as stakeholders. That is a real focus, and that's something that my colleague from Beaches-East York will be focusing on when his time comes to stand and speak about the bill.
Those who are viewing should also know that we in the New Democratic Party would like to ban contributions from corporations and unions. That's our party position. There's significant work to be done about transparency in the election laws in Ontario and, unfortunately, on a number of fronts this bill just doesn't do what's necessary. It doesn't really do what's required to amend our election laws. Like so many Liberal bills, it fiddles around the edges but does nothing, really, to the substance of the issue and the substance of the problems. One is to make elections more accessible to those who have disabilities; the other is to look at where contributions come from and to be really open and transparent about that.
It's sad to see the member from Halton rise and speak so eloquently and then, of course, unfortunately it looks like the Progressive Conservatives are going to support this bill. So I'm looking forward to my colleague's comments. They may not come at this time, but suffice it to say that we need election reform in this province and this bill won't do it.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): The member for Halton has two minutes to respond.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: I'd like to thank the members for their comments. From the former mayor of East York and his riding, whatever that is-
Mr. Michael Prue: Beaches-East York.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Beaches-East York, yes. Why are we supporting this bill, having railed against it for 45 minutes? I railed against what's not in the bill. The bill itself does improve the election process, in particular for handicapped people, and it's worth supporting on that basis. The bill could have been so much better, especially when you talk about the ability for this bill to improve the democratic process in Ontario.
To miss that opportunity-this Election Act doesn't get opened up all that often. It's 10, 12, 15 or 20 years sometimes between acts opening up. With this bill, you missed an opportunity that would have helped democracy in Ontario, and when you look back on your years in this House you will look at that one omission and you will say, "We missed an opportunity to do a better job for the people of Ontario," and that is a sad thing.
Secondly, I'm surprised that the member for Willowdale wouldn't know that when you put in an amendment to a bill, there has to be a clause for you to amend. There was no clause on third party advertising in this entire bill, so there was no clause for us to amend, and that's why there were no amendments that we put in regarding that. I'm surprised that the member for Willowdale, who is a lawyer and tells everybody he's a lawyer at every opportunity, wouldn't know that.
Third reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Thank you. It being close to 10:15, this House stands recessed until 10:30.