GPO Mike Schreiner's comment for Municipal Elections Act Review

Municipal Elections Act Review
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Local Government Policy Branch
777 Bay Street, 13th Floor, Toronto, ON M5G 2E5
 
 
To whom it may concern:
 
Democracy is the foundation for a just and fair society. I welcome the government’s efforts to strengthen our democracy through the Municipal Elections Act Review.
 
The Problem
 
Far too many people don’t vote. They might feel that their vote doesn’t count and that the electoral system is not fair. Or perhaps the issues that matter to them are not discussed in relevant and meaningful ways. 
 
Under the current system, someone can be elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. This means that more than half of voters might feel their views are not represented. 
 
Municipal electoral reform is important to re-engage voters and give everyone confidence in our democracy.
 
As leader of the Green Party of Ontario (GPO), I am pleased to offer the following recommendations to strengthen local democracy with reforms to the Municipal Elections Act.
 
Include a Statement of Purpose
 
The Municipal Elections Act should provide Ontarians with a framework for fair elections and effective democratic representation. Changes to the Act should: improve the fairness of municipal elections; increase the effectiveness of votes; expand the fairness and diversity of representation on municipal councils; and strengthen the democratic legitimacy of municipal councils. 
 
The GPO supports including a statement of purpose including these objectives in the Act to guide those who have a responsibility to interpret it.
 
Encourage choice in voting systems
 
The GPO supports changes to the Municipal Elections Act. Ontario should allow municipalities to reform their voting systems, including the use of ranked ballots.
 
Municipalities are entitled to determine the voting system that best works for them. Some municipalities might choose to use ranked ballots in a proportional system, such as single transferable vote in multi-member wards, which would create the fairest voting system. Others might choose to use ranked ballots in a Ranked Choice Voting system in single member wards for positions such as mayor. Some might choose to stay with their current system. Provincial legislation must be flexible and enable local choice.
 
The GPO does believe that it is in the best interest of local democracy for municipalities to take advantage of changes to the Act to make their local elections more democratic. For this reason, we believe the province should support and encourage municipalities to explore electoral reform. The province should engage in a public education effort that provides supporting documentation and information for electoral reform. This information should be available for elected leaders, municipal staff and residents.  
 
Voting reform requires public support. Voters need to be consulted by each municipality to determine the voting system that will work best for them. Public consultations should be open, transparent, and accessible - educating people of their choices while encouraging dialogue.
 
The GPO supports empowering residents to formally petition council to adopt ranked ballots and other electoral reforms.  We also support allowing residents to require council to hold a referendum to determine if voters support the use of ranked ballots and other reforms.
 
Elections must be transparent and fair. The public should have as much information as possible before, during and after elections. This is why the GPO supports making the results of each round of counting in ranked ballots available to the public.
 
Voting reform such as using ranked ballots can lead to more positive campaigns, more diverse governments, more collaborative councils, more choice for voters, and ensures majority support to elected winners. Ranked ballots eliminate strategic voting and “vote splitting”, so that people can vote for the candidate of their choice without worry.
 
Update rules for campaign finances
 
Ontario must have transparent, accountable and fair financing of election campaigns for the public to support election results.
 
We need to reform rules for third party advertising in municipal campaigns. There is growing concern about the influence of third party advertising in election campaigns at all levels. This can create an uneven playing field, and enable candidates to exceed campaign spending limits. The province should establish regulations and rules for third party advertising that include spending limits, increase transparency and define what constitutes such advertising. Third party advertising that explicitly supports a particular candidate should not be allowed and/or should have the value of the advertisement count towards the candidate's spending limit.
 
Stiffer penalties for candidates that exceed their campaign spending limits. There are recent examples of municipal candidates exceeding campaign spending limits with little penalty or using the appeals process to avoid penalty. A slap on the wrist for overspending creates the appearance that candidates can buy an election. 
 
The Municipal Elections Act should tighten the rules for the appeals process and require stiffer penalties for candidates that exceed campaign spending limits. The province should explore whether Elections Ontario or a similar independent body should oversee municipal elections across the province to insure proper compliance, especially rules related to donations and spending.
 
End corporate and union donations to political campaigns. People vote, not corporations or unions. Corporate and union donations allow some people to donate multiple times, possibly giving them an unfair advantage in influencing government policy. Federally corporate and union donations are not allowed. This needs to extend to all municipal elections.
 
Make elections accessible
 
All eligible voters must have easy access to voting in order for our democracy to function fairly. 
 
Voting must be fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities. The GPO supports designating a single minister to have lead responsibility for ensuring municipal elections are fully accessible. The provincial government should provide support for municipalities to make elections more accessible including exploring options for telephone and secure internet voting, and physical accessibility at polling stations. 
 
Election campaign information must be immediately and readily available in accessible formats. Each Municipalities' campaign website should be designed to be fully accessible.
 
Engage new voters 
 
Extend the right to vote in municipal elections to permanent residents. Permanent residents are members of our communities and pay taxes for municipal services. Yet, they are not allowed to have a say in how those taxes are spent how services are delivered. 
 
Since municipal councils do not make national decisions such as whether to engage in war or negotiate national trade deals, the restrictions requiring citizenship to vote in municipal elections are not applicable to the issues at the local level. 
 
Lower the voting age to 16. Young people aren’t voting as much as they used to. Studies show that young voters who are engaged and who vote usually vote throughout their lifetimes. Many high school students vote in mock elections, but then don’t vote in real elections when they turn 18. For many, their first opportunity to vote corresponds with moving to a different city, and they don’t know where they can vote. If they can vote while still living at home, they’ll be motivated to keep voting later.
 
The Premier has already indicated her support for allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote as a means of encouraging them to get their names on the rolls early. Taking this one step further, by allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in municipal elections, will likely result in higher voter turnout for youth in all elections. 
 
Conclusion
 
Thank you for this opportunity to offer recommendations on behalf of the GPO to strengthen local democracy with reforms to the Municipal Elections Act.
 
I sincerely hope the government uses this review as an opportunity to take actions to make our municipal elections fairer, more transparent, accessible, and open to new voters.
 
Sincerely,
 
Mike Schreiner
Leader
Green Party of Ontario