By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The mayor is saying a series of changes to the way citizens vote and how elections are carried out could lead to a tumultuous time come the next municipal election in 2018.
Bill 181, which was approved in the legislature on June 7, includes sweeping changes to the Municipal Elections Act, including changes to the elections calendar, a ban on corporate and union donations for candidates, new privacy regulations surrounding the voter’s list and new options for voting, including the option to use ranked ballots.
Mayor John Henry says he has many “challenges” with the new bill – first and foremost, that municipalities are the ones left with trying to sort out all the new changes come 2018.
“I’m actually incredibly disappointed that he’s thrown this onto the lower tier municipalities,” Henry says, pointing his ire at Ted McMeekin, the province’s minister of municipal affairs and housing. McMeekin announced earlier this week he would be stepping down from his position once a replacement was found.
“What challenges me is putting it on to the lower tier (municipalities) and putting it out there for us to try and explain how ranked ballots work and the other stuff with no proper plan and no funding.”
Henry says he has always been behind the idea of election reform, but if the province was serious about this change, it should be the one to take the lead. The provincial election is slated for June 2018, just months before municipal elections in the fall.
“If they want to practice what they’re downloading, why don’t they try it in their election”? Henry says.
“It’s their idea, let them do it.”
The changes were recently discussed at Oshawa’s corporate services committee prior to their approval at Queen’s Park, where other councillors shared some concerns with the bill.
Specifically, the provinces’s decision to place bans on corporate and union donations to candidates. However, the new Elections Act would allow unions and corporations to place ads and publicly state their support or opposition for particular candidates. Previously, these groups were only allowed to publish political opinions relating to ballot questions.
Councillor Nancy Diamond says she is unable to see the reasoning behind the financial ban on one side, and the permission to be more vocal on the other.
“It seems to be closing one side, but opening Pandora’s box on the other,” she says.
Among other changes for candidates include a shortened election calendar and a shortened nomination period. Previously, candidates were able to register on Jan. 1 of an election year. That has now been pushed to May 1, with the closing date for nominations set for the fourth Friday in July.
Large-scale changes have also been made to assist those living in apartment buildings or seniors homes. The act would now allow candidates to campaign in these multi-resident buildings and tenants would have the right to display political signs.
The bill was recently ordered a third reading in legislature on May 30.
– Tenants in apartment buildings can now display campaign signage on building’s front lawn
– Amendments to ensure the secrecy of your vote, making it clear it is prohibited to photograph your ballot in any way
– Policies and procedures for election must be approved prior to Jan. 1 of an election year – previously, it was June 1
– Ballot questions must be approved by March 1 – previously was June 1
– Voting subdivisons (used to determine where people will vote and ensure numbers are spread evenly around the city), must be set by March 31.
– Policy to establish how encumbents can use city recourses during election time must be approved by May 1 of an election year
– Adopting alternative voting methods (ranked ballots etc.) must be decided upon prior to May 1.
– Shortened nomination period: starts May 1, instead of Jan. 1, of an election year
– Candidates must get 25 voters to endorse their nomination
– Advertising will need to be fully transparent as to who is responsible for the message and advertising partnership
– Will not need to account for donations under $25 on financial statements, previously every donation over $10 needed to be recorded
– New limits on post-election day celebrations
– Now have the right to access apartment buildings between hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.