RE: Comments on Bill 181, Municipal Elections Modernization Act
Submitted to the Clerk of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
I appreciate the opportunity to comment on Bill 181, Municipal Elections Modernization Act.
This legislation will help strengthen our democracy by:
- allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots,
- shortening the campaign calendar,
- removing barriers to candidates and electors with disabilities, and
- creating a framework to regulate third party advertising.
That said, the legislation can be strengthened by implementing these five amendments:
1. Apply the ban on corporate and unions donations to all municipalities
With the province set to ban corporate and union donations to political parties and the federal government having banned them over a decade ago, it is time to eliminate them in municipal elections as well.
Granting municipalities, the option to ban corporate and union donations does not go far enough. The ban should be universal and apply to all municipal elections.
Such a ban should include in kind donations such as contributing the paid time of employees to a campaign. The ban should also apply to third party campaigns.
Getting big money out of politics at all levels is essential to maintaining public trust in the integrity of government decisions and in the fairness of democratic elections.
2. Limit the amount of money a candidate can contribute their own campaign
The same contribution limit that applies to electors should also apply to candidate and spousal contributions.
Candidates for provincial or federal office are not allowed to self-finance their campaigns. Why should municipal candidates with deep pockets be able to self-fund their municipal campaigns?
This provision provides wealthy candidates with a potential advantage in funding campaigns. It also creates the potential for contributors to exceed spending limits.
3. Strengthen enforcement of the Municipal Elections Act (MEA)
We should have confidence that our local representatives are elected in fair and open elections. Without proper enforcement of the MEA, rule-breakers do not face consequences for their actions and can gain an unfair advantage.
Right now, electors have the burden of having to requesting a compliance audit to investigate incomplete or inaccurate campaign statements.
Enforcement of the MEA should not rest with electors. Instead, municipal clerks or compliance audit committees should be given the power to ensure that campaign statements are complete. They should also be given the power to review statements for completion and ask for revisions prior to their release.
4. Improve disclosure requirements
Provincially, political parties are required to provide real time disclosure of campaign donations. Municipally, disclosure of campaign contributions is not available to voters until 5 months after election day. This should change. The MEA should require disclosure of campaign contributions over $100 prior to election day.
5. Define third party spending limits
Although Bill 181 proposes a framework to regulate third party advertising, it does not provide a formula for determining third party spending limits. In the same way that a formula for candidate spending limits is contained in the MEA, there should also be such a formula for third party spending limits.
The proposed bill can be easily improved within its existing framework with these five amendments.
Moving forward, the government should consider legislation that enables permanent residents to vote in municipal elections. The GPO made this recommendation during public consultation on the Municipal Elections Act review. We are disappointed that it was not included in the proposed bill and continue to advocate for this change.
Thank you for your time and consideration.