Municipal Elections Act Review
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing reviews the Municipal Elections Act after each Ontario municipal election to determine if it meets the needs of Ontario communities.
Here are some of the changes proposed following the review of the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.
What is Proposed
Ontario has committed to providing municipalities with the option of using ranked ballots in future elections, starting in 2018. The review of the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 in 2015 sparked a lot of public interest and support for ranked ballots.
Proposed changes would give municipal councils the option to pass a by-law to use ranked ballot elections, once the government passes a regulation authorizing these elections. Ranked ballots are not being considered as an option for school board elections at this time.
Most of the details for ranked ballot elections, such as public consultation requirements and how votes would be counted, would be set out in a regulation. The regulation(s) would be put in place once the legislation has been passed.
The proposed changes reflect a frequent recommendation from the public, municipal councils and municipal staff to shorten the election campaign period. It would be shortened by moving the first day that nominations can be filed from January 1st to May 1st. Nomination day (the deadline to file a nomination) would move from the second Friday in September to the fourth Friday in July.
A number of other deadlines related to elections would also move:
- A municipality would have to pass a by-law to place a question on the ballot by March 1st in the election year. The deadline for other questions (e.g., a school board, a minister’s question) would be May 1st.
- The deadline to pass by-laws authorizing the use of alternative voting, such as by mail or by internet, and vote counting equipment would be May 1st in the year before the election (e.g., May 1, 2017 for the 2018 election).
- The clerk would need to have procedures and forms related to alternative voting and vote counting equipment in place by December 31st in the year before the election.
Third Party Advertising
The proposed changes include a framework for third party advertising.
A third party advertisement is a message in any medium (billboard, newspaper, radio, etc.) that supports or opposes a candidate, or takes a position on an issue related to the election. (For example, advertising on an issue related to the election could include encouraging electors to vote in support of public transit, without referring to any specific candidates)
Advertising that does not cost money to post or broadcast, such as comments made on social media, would not be considered to be third party advertising.
Any person, corporation or trade union eligible to contribute to candidates could register as a third party advertiser. Third party advertisers would need to register with the municipality where they want to advertise. If they wanted to advertise in more than one municipality, they would have to register in each municipality.
Registration would allow a third party advertiser to promote or oppose any candidate that the electors in the municipality can vote for (local council, school board trustee positions and regional or county offices), as well as promote or oppose any issue related to the municipality’s election.
Third party advertising must be done independently of candidates, who would not be able to direct a third party advertiser on where they should focus their efforts, or what their advertisements should say.
Candidates would not be able to register as third party advertisers. If a candidate wants to promote or oppose an issue related to the election, this would be considered to be part of the candidate’s campaign.
The third party advertising framework would replace the current rules for campaigning for “yes” or “no” on a ballot question.
Most campaign finance rules that apply to candidates would also apply to third party advertisers. Third party advertisers would have spending limits, and there would be contribution limits for those wishing to contribute to a third party advertiser.
The government is proposing changes to help ensure that the rules are consistent with transparent, accountable, fair and modern election finance practices.
All municipalities would have the option to ban contributions by corporations and trade unions to council candidates. Corporations and trade unions could not be third party advertisers or make contributions to third party advertisers in municipalities where a by-law banning contributions is in effect.
There would be a new spending limit for parties and expressions of appreciation after voting day.
A candidate who does not accept any contributions of money, or incurs any expenses, would not be required to open a bank account.
If a candidate sells items for $25 or less in order to raise campaign funds, the money would be considered campaign income rather than a contribution. In this case, the candidate would not have to issue a receipt, or make sure that the person buying the item was eligible to make a campaign contribution.
Rules for determining whether two corporations should be considered to be one single corporation would be simplified, so that it could be easier for corporations and candidates to determine whether the contributions from two corporations should count towards the same contribution limit.
Proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 aim to encourage greater compliance with the campaign finance rules.
Every candidate would be entitled to a refund of the nomination fee only if they file their campaign financial statement and, if needed, the auditor’s report by the deadline.
There would be a 30-day grace period for candidates and third parties who miss the deadline to file a financial statement and auditor’s report, provided that the candidate or third party pays a $500 late filing fee to the municipality.
If a candidate or third party advertiser has filed their financial statement early and then discovers an error, they could file a corrected financial statement and auditor’s report up until the filing deadline.
If an eligible voter believes that a candidate or third party advertiser has contravened an election campaign finance rule, the voter may apply for a compliance audit. Compliance audit committees would be required to provide brief written reasons for their decisions.
There would be a new process to enforce contribution limits. The clerk who conducted the election would be responsible for reviewing the contributions to school boards, council candidates and third party advertisers that are reported on the financial statements. If a contributor appears to have given more than the contribution limits allow, the clerk would report this to the compliance audit committee. The compliance audit committee would decide whether to begin a legal proceeding against the contributor.
Currently, it is an offence to give, lend, offer or promise someone an office or employment in order to convince a person to run for office, not run for office or withdraw from running for office. This would be expanded so that it is also an offence to give, lend, offer or promise someone money or other compensation in order to convince a person to run for office, not run for office or withdraw from running for office.
The government will be working with stakeholders and a stakeholder working group to look at systemic issues in the development of the voters’ list, and to try to identify solutions for longer-term improvements. While this work is ongoing, some changes are proposed to the legislation to help address certain issues.
All certified candidates would have access to the parts of the voters’ list that apply to the office they’re running for beginning September 1st in the election year.
Currently, applications to add, delete or change a person’s own information on the voters’ list must be done in person or in writing. Municipal clerks would be able to determine other formats that people could use to make these applications.
The process to remove another person’s name from the voters’ list would be simplified and limited to when an elector on the voters’ list has died. An application could be made from September 1st up until the close of voting on voting day. Even if the clerk has not received a request, the clerk would be able to remove a name from the list if the clerk knows that the person has died.
Nomination and Eligibility
There would be a new requirement that anyone wishing to run for office on a council must submit the signatures of 25 voters supporting the nomination. The individuals providing the signatures would each have to fill out a declaration stating that he or she was eligible to vote on the day that he or she signed the endorsement.
If a candidate files a nomination, and then changes their mind and decides to run for a different office on the same council, they would not have to submit new signatures.
The signature requirement would not apply to candidates running for school board trustee positions.
Proposed changes would also allow the minister to clarify, in regulation, what kinds of circumstances would make a tenant eligible or ineligible to vote as a non-resident voter.
Candidates would be able to access apartment buildings, condominiums, non-profit housing co-ops and gated communities from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. in order to campaign. Landlords and condominium corporations could also not prohibit tenants or owners from displaying campaign signs in their windows.
Candidates and third party advertisers would need to identify themselves on campaign advertisements and signs, so that it is clear who is responsible for each sign and advertisement that appears or is broadcast.
The proposed legislation includes a number of changes on how elections are conducted.
Municipalities and school boards would be required to set out policies on the use of municipal and board resources during an election. Municipalities and school boards would be able to set out a policy before the election addressing when an automatic recount would be conducted. (For example, a council may decide before the election that if two candidates are within 10 votes of each other, a recount would be held without either of the candidates having to request it.)
Clerks, rather than councils, would determine the dates and times for advance voting, reduced voting hours in certain institutions, and whether voting places will open early on voting day.
Voters would not be able to take pictures or videos of their marked ballots.
Members of the public would be able to inspect documents and materials related to the election for 120 days after the results of the election have been declared.
Currently, clerks are only required to declare who won the election. Clerks would be required to provide the public with information regarding the number of votes received by each candidate, the number of votes for “yes” and “no” for a question on the ballot, and the number of declined and rejected ballots.
Clerks would be required to prepare a plan for the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that effect voters and candidates with disabilities, and make the plan available to the public before voting day. The clerk would also need to provide a follow-up report to the public within 90 days after the election.
Clerks would have greater flexibility in determining how certain election documents may be submitted and how notices are sent out.
Original signatures would be required only for nomination forms, third party registration forms and proxy appointment forms.
- Discussion Guide
- Ranked Ballots
- Overview of the Municipal Elections Act
- Campaign Finance
- Third Party Advertising
What We Heard
For more information on the Municipal Elections Act, you may wish to read the following materials:
- Voters’ Guide to Municipal Elections
- Candidates’ Guide to Municipal Election
- Follow Your Ballot: An example of a ranked ballot election
- Counting Votes in a Ranked Ballot Election
- Frequently Asked Questions About Ranked Ballots
- Ranked Ballots Would Give More Choice to Municipalities
- Municipal Elections Act, 1996 (e-laws)
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is also reviewing the Municipal Act, City of Toronto Act, and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. For information on that review please follow this link: ontario.ca/provincialmunicipalreview.