2016 – 2018 Voters’ Guide for Ontario Municipal and School Board By-elections
This Guide has been prepared by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to provide information to voters in municipal and school board by-elections. The Guide has been updated to reflect amendments made to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 under the Municipal Elections Modernization Act, 2016 (Bill 181). The information applies to any council or school board by-election held after Bill 181 received Royal Assent on June 9, 2016.
Some of the changes to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 will not come into force until April 1, 2018. Reference to those changes have not been included in this Guide, as they do not apply to by-elections conducted prior to April 1, 2018. When the Guide is updated for the 2018 regular election, those changes will be set out in the Guide.
Bill 68, Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2016, was introduced on November 16, 2016. The Bill contains provisions that, if passed, would affect contribution limits. This guide will be updated to include any changes that would apply to by-elections if the Bill is passed and the amendments to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 in that Bill come into effect.
This Guide provides general information in plain language about the rules contained in the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 and other legislation and regulations. It is not meant to replace provincial legislation. For more specific information, please refer to the relevant legislation and regulations which can be found online at www.e-laws.gov.on.ca.
Table of Contents
- How to cast your ballot
- When to vote
- Where to vote
- Taking time off to vote
- Appointing a proxy
- Being a proxy
A vacancy occurs on a municipal council or a school board when a sitting member resigns, dies or becomes ineligible to hold office. The court can also declare a seat vacant.
After the seat has been declared vacant by a council or the court, the council has 60 days to decide whether to fill the vacancy by appointment or by holding a by-election. A school board has 90 days to decide whether to fill the vacancy by appointment or by holding a by-election.
A vacancy on a council must be filled unless the vacancy occurs within 90 days before voting day in the next general election. A vacancy on a school board must be filled unless the vacancy occurs within one month before voting day in the next general election.
If a council or board decides to fill a vacancy by appointment, it must appoint a person who is eligible to serve on the council or board and who is willing to accept the appointment.
The legislation does not set out any other criteria. It is up to the council or board to determine how they will decide who to appoint. Differing approaches include:
- appointing the candidate who came second in the general election
- inviting interested persons to apply for the position
- offering the appointment to a member of the community
Sometimes councils or boards want to put additional restrictions on appointees, such as requiring that an appointee agree not to run in the next general election. While a council or board may set this as a condition for appointment, there are no rules in provincial legislation that would prevent someone who was appointed from running in the next election.
Once the council or school board has decided to hold a by-election, the clerk is in charge of conducting the by-election. The council or board does not decide when nomination day or voting day will be. These dates are determined by the clerk.
Nominations open when the council has passed the by-law ordering the by-election, or when the school board has passed a resolution ordering the by-election and sent it to the clerk who will conduct it. The filing of nominations closes at 2 p.m. on nomination day.
The clerk must set nomination day for a by-election to be no later than 60 days after council passes a by-law that the by-election is required, a school board sends a resolution to the clerk indicating that a by-election is required, or a court orders a by-election.
Voting day will be 45 days after nomination day.
A municipal council may pass a by-law to put a question on the ballot. The council must hold at least one public meeting before passing a by-law to put a question on the ballot.
There are conditions on the kind of question that may be asked:
- it must be about a matter that the municipality has authority for, and that the municipality can implement
- it cannot be a matter of Provincial interest
- the wording of the question must be clear, concise and neutral
- the question must be answered with “yes” or “no”. No multiple choice or multi-part questions are allowed
Any person may appeal the wording of the question to the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Ontario. This appeal must be filed with the clerk within 20 days of the by-law being passed.
There is no ability for members of the public to require a council to put a question on the ballot.
If a council or board wants to put a question on the ballot, it does not have to wait until the next general election to do so. It could hold a by-election to allow electors to vote on the question.
Voting day for a by-election to put a question on the ballot must be at least 180 days after the by-law or resolution to hold a by-election has been passed.
In order to vote in any municipal by-election in Ontario, you must be aged 18 or older and a Canadian citizen.
You must also qualify to vote in your municipality. There are several ways to do this:
- As a resident elector
Your residence is where you live. If you live in a municipality, then you are eligible to vote in that municipality’s election. You are only allowed to have one residence.
- As a non-resident elector
If you live in one municipality, and own or rent property in another municipality, you are eligible to vote in each municipality’s election.
- As the spouse of a non-resident elector
If your spouse qualifies as a non-resident elector in a municipality, then you can also vote in that municipality’s election.
It can sometimes be complicated to determine whether you qualify as a non-resident elector. The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 says that you must be an “owner or tenant” of land. For example, if you have a cottage that is actually owned by a trust, or a
business premises that is owned by your business and not by you personally, then you are not considered to be the owner of the land, and would not be eligible to vote. If you have questions about whether you would be qualified to vote as a non-resident elector in a municipality, you should contact that municipality’s clerk for further information.
There is a special rule for students who may be living away from home while they attend school. If you are a student and consider your “home” to be the place where you live when you are not attending school (i.e. you plan on returning there), then you are eligible to vote in both your “home” municipality and in the municipality where you currently live while attending school.
If your municipality has wards, you must vote in the ward where you reside. If you also are the owner or tenant of a property in another ward, you are not permitted to vote in that ward instead.
If you are a non-resident elector, and you are the owner or tenant of properties in more than one ward in the municipality where you do not reside, you must choose which ward you wish to vote in. You should make sure that you are on the voters’ list for that qualifying address.
In order to vote in a school board by-election in Ontario, you must be aged 18 or older and a Canadian citizen.
If you are a resident of a municipality, you are eligible to vote for school trustee. If you are the owner or tenant (or spouse of an owner or tenant) of residential property in a municipality, you are eligible to vote for school trustee. Note: School boards can cover large areas of the province and include many municipalities. You are only allowed to vote for the same school board once.
If the reason that you are eligible to vote in a municipality for the members of council is because you are the owner or tenant (or spouse of an owner or tenant) of a commercial property there, you are not eligible to vote for school trustee.
There are four different kinds of school boards in Ontario.
- English-language public school board
This is the default – unless you are qualified to vote for a separate or French board, you will vote for the English public school board in your area.
- English-language separate school board
You must be a Roman Catholic, and you must be a separate school board supporter or the spouse of a separate school board supporter. If your spouse is a Roman Catholic and you are not, you are not eligible.
- French-language public school board
You must be a French-language rights holder, and you must be a supporter (or the spouse of a supporter) of the French-language public school board.
- French-language separate school board
You must be a Roman Catholic and a French-language rights holder, and you must be a supporter (or the spouse of a supporter) of the French separate school board. If your spouse is a Roman Catholic and you are not, you are not eligible.
“Supporter” refers to which school board the school portion of your property taxes goes to. The default is the English-language public school board. In order to be a separate school supporter you must direct your taxes to the separate school board. Contact the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (1-866-296-MPAC (6722)) for more information.
“French-language rights holder” is set out in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and refers to the right of citizens whose first language is French to receive educational instruction in French.
It is up to your municipal council to decide what methods will be used to cast votes in the by-election. Voting methods that have been used in Ontario municipal elections include:
- traditional voting (you go to a voting place and mark a paper ballot)
- alternative voting, such as:
- touch screen voting (you go to a voting place and vote by touching a screen)
- vote by mail
- vote by phone
- vote by Internet
For a by-election, the municipal council must pass a by-law authorizing an alternative voting method at least 60 days before voting day. If an alternative voting method is used, the municipal clerk is responsible for establishing the policies and procedures for voting, and for informing electors how to cast their ballot.
For more information on how to cast a vote in your municipality, please contact your municipal clerk.
Voting day for the by-election is 45 days after nomination day, the date of which will be set by the municipal clerk.
Your municipality may have one or more days of advance voting.
On voting day, voting places must be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The municipal clerk may allow voting places to open early on voting day.
Voting places are chosen by your municipal clerk. The Act requires that all voting places be accessible to electors with disabilities.
For more information on voting in your municipality, please contact your municipal clerk.
You are entitled to have three hours in which to vote on voting day. If your job requires you to work hours that would not give you a three-hour period in which to vote, you are allowed to be absent from your job for enough time to give you that three-hour period.
Please note: This does not mean that you are entitled to take three hours off of work.
Voting hours are normally from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. If your working hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., you could be entitled to leave one hour early so that you would have from
5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to vote.
Your employer may decide when it would be most convenient for you to be absent in order to vote. For example, if you work from noon to 6 p.m., your employer may decide that you should come in at 1 p.m., rather than leave work at 5 p.m.
If, for any reason, you will be unable to get to a voting place to cast your ballot, you may wish to appoint someone to go to the voting place and cast a ballot on your behalf. This person is called your voting proxy.
You must know who you want to appoint as your proxy when you fill out the form. The person you want to appoint must be eligible to vote in the election, and should be someone you trust to mark the ballot the way you have instructed them to.
You cannot appoint a proxy until after nomination day.. Nomination day for a by-election will be set by the municipal clerk.
Note: Voting by proxy may not be available if your municipality is using an alternative method of voting such as vote by mail, telephone or internet.
If someone has appointed you as their voting proxy you must take the completed form to the municipal clerk to get it certified. Once the form has been certified, you may cast a vote on behalf of the person who appointed you.
If you are appointed as the proxy for a family member you may also be appointed as the proxy for additional family members. Note: “Family member” refers to a spouse, sibling, parent, child, grandparent or grandchild. There is no limit to the number of times you may be appointed, but you may only be appointed for family members. You may not be appointed as a proxy for a non-family member if you are appointed as a proxy for family members.
If you are appointed as the proxy for a person who is not a family member, you may not be appointed as a proxy for anyone else, including family members.
Note: The only time you can vote on someone else’s behalf is if the other person has appointed you as their voting proxy. If you have power of attorney, or if you are acting as that person’s executor or in any other representative capacity, you are not entitled to vote to on their behalf unless they have also appointed you as their proxy.
Your name must be on the voters’ list in order for you to cast a ballot.
The voters’ list is prepared in several steps:
- A preliminary list is created by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) based on data it keeps on home ownership and tenancy. If you have moved since the last municipal election, you should contact MPAC to make sure it has your current information: 1-866-296-MPAC (6722).
- The preliminary list is sent to the municipal clerk after the by-election has been called. The clerk can correct any errors on the list, and the corrected list then becomes the voters’ list.
- If you are not on the voters’ list, or if your information is incorrect (for example, you are listed at an old address), you may apply to have your name added or your information corrected. This may be done until the close of voting on voting day in the by-election. . You may have your name added to the voters’ list at the voting place. You may be asked to show identification to establish that you are eligible to vote. For more information about getting on the voters’ list, you should contact your municipal clerk.
When you arrive at the voting place, you must show identification to prove that you are the person whose name appears on the voters’ list. The identification must show your name and address. Photo identification is not required.
There are many documents that can be used to show your name and address, including:
- an Ontario driver’s licence
- an Ontario health card (if your name and address are printed on the card)
- a mortgage, lease or rental agreement
- an insurance policy
- a credit card statement
- a bill for hydro, water, gas, telephone, cable TV
For a full list of acceptable documents, please see Acceptable Documents for Voter Identification.
Please note: A Canadian passport is not an acceptable document, because you write your address inside your passport yourself.
If your name is on the voters’ list and you do not have identification, you may fill out and sign a declaration that you are the person whose name appears on the list.
If your municipality uses alternative voting, such as vote by mail or internet voting, the clerk will establish processes and procedures for voter identification. If you will be voting using an alternative method, you should contact your clerk for more information.
The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 does not regulate the size or placement of signs. Your municipality may have rules regarding where signs may be placed and when they may be displayed. You should contact your municipal clerk for more information.
Any person who is a resident of Ontario may make a contribution to a candidate’s campaign.
Note: Unions and corporations are no longer eligible to make contributions to council or school board trustee candidates.
You may contribute a maximum of $750 to a single candidate ($2,500 to a mayoral candidate in the City of Toronto). This includes the value of any goods or services donated to the campaign. You may not contribute more than $5,000 in total to candidates running for offices on the same council or school board.
If you buy a ticket to a candidate’s fundraiser, the cost of the ticket is a contribution.
Groups such as neighbourhood associations, clubs or professional associations, such as fire or police associations, are not eligible to make contributions. Members may contribute individually.
Any contribution of money must come directly from the contributor. You are not allowed to pool contributions from others and then forward that money to a candidate’s campaign. If a contribution is made from a joint account, it must be clear which person is making the contribution.
Contributions greater than $25 may not be made in cash. All contributions above $25 must be made by cheque, money order, or by a method that clearly shows where the funds come from.
If the total value of the contributions you’ve made to a candidate during the campaign period is greater than $100, your name and address will be recorded in the candidate’s financial statement.
Candidates with a surplus at the end of their campaigns must turn that money over to the municipality. They are not allowed to return unused contributions.
Contributions to municipal and school board candidates are not tax deductible. Your municipality may have a contribution rebate program in place. You should contact your municipal clerk for more information.
The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 requires an automatic recount only if the votes are tied.
A municipal council or school board may put a policy in place that directs the clerk to conduct an automatic recount under certain circumstances. The policy must be adopted at least 60 days before voting day. For example, a council may decide before the election that if two candidates are within 10 votes of each other, an automatic recount will be held.
A municipal council or school board may also order a recount within 30 days after the clerk has declared the results of the election. If the votes were not tied, or the circumstances are not covered by a recount policy, and you feel that there should be a recount, you must either persuade council (or the school board, as the case may be) to order one, or you may apply to the Superior Court of Justice to persuade a judge to order a recount. Note: You must be an eligible elector in order to apply to the court.
Recounts must be conducted in the same way that the votes were originally counted, unless the recount is ordered by the court. For example, if the votes were counted by a vote tabulator, they may not be counted by hand during the recount.
If the recount is ordered by the court, the judge may order that the votes be counted in a different manner.
Each municipality and school board must appoint a compliance audit committee.
If you believe, on reasonable grounds, that a candidate has contravened the election finance rules, you may apply for a compliance audit of the candidate’s campaign finances. The application must be in writing, and must set out the reasons why you believe that the candidate has contravened the rules. Only an eligible voter is allowed to apply for a compliance audit.
The deadline for candidates to file their financial statements is 75 days after voting day. You should contact your municipal clerk to find out the date of the filing deadline for the by-election. . An application for a compliance audit must be submitted to the municipal clerk who conducted the election within 90 days of the filing deadline.
The deadline for a candidate to file a supplementary financial statement is 30 days after the end of the supplementary campaign period. (The supplementary campaign period lasts six months, and begins the 45th day after voting day.)You should contact your municipal clerk to find out the date of the supplementary filing deadline for the by-election. If a candidate files a supplementary financial statement, an application for a compliance audit may be submitted within 90 days of the supplementary filing deadline.
It is an offence to do, or attempt to do, any of the following:
- vote if you are not an eligible elector
- vote more times than the Act allows
- vote in a voting place where you are not entitled to vote
- induce or procure a person who is not an eligible elector to vote
- cast a vote yourself after you have appointed a proxy
- vote as a proxy if the person who appointed you has cancelled the appointment, become ineligible to vote, or died
- give a ballot to someone if you are not authorized to do so
- switch the ballot you were given with a different piece of paper to be placed in the ballot box
- take a ballot away from the voting place
- handle a ballot box or ballots if you are not authorized to do so
- bribe a person (using money, valuables, or offers of office or employment) to vote a certain way or to not vote at all, or give a third party money so that they can bribe the person
- accept a bribe to vote a certain way or to not vote at all
- bribe a person to become a candidate, refrain from becoming a candidate, or withdraw from being a candidate
It is also an offence to contravene the campaign finance provisions – for example, to make a contribution without being eligible to do so, to contribute more than the limit, or to contribute money that is not yours.
A person convicted of committing an offence may be subject to the following penalties:
- a fine of up to $25,000
- ineligibility to vote or run in the next general election
- up to six months in prison
- forfeiture of elected office, if the judge finds that a candidate committed an offence knowingly
If a corporation or trade union is convicted of committing an offence, it may be subject to a fine of up to $50,000.
Eligibility to Vote
My family owns a cottage. Can I vote in that municipality?
In order to qualify as a non-resident elector, you (or your spouse) must be the owner or tenant of the property. If a family member who is not your spouse is the owner, and you have use of the cottage, you would not qualify as a non-resident elector. If the cottage is owned by a trust, you would not qualify as a non-resident elector.
My company owns a property in another municipality. Can I vote there?
If the business is the owner of the property, you would not qualify as a non-resident elector.
I live in one municipality and own property in another municipality. Do I have to choose which municipality to vote in?
You are eligible to vote in the municipality where you live, and the municipality where you qualify as a non-resident elector. You can vote in both municipalities. If both municipalities are in the same school board, you can only vote for school trustee in one municipality.
I live in one ward and own a property in another ward of the same municipality. Can I choose which ward I want to vote in?
No. You must vote in the ward where you live.
If I forget to bring identification to the voting place, can I still vote?
If you don’t have identification, and your name is on the voters’ list, you can fill out and sign a statutory declaration that you are the person shown on the list. If your name is not on the voters’ list, you may be required to show identification in order to have your name put on the list.
If I don’t have identification at the voting place, can someone vouch for me?
No. Vouching is not permitted in municipal and school board elections.
Can I be a proxy for a family member and someone who is not a family member?
No. If you are appointed as the proxy for a person who is not a family member, that is the only person that you can be a proxy for.
Can I be a proxy for more than one family member?
Yes. You can be appointed as the proxy for more than one family member, as long as the family member is your spouse, sibling, parent, child, grandparent or grandchild.
Can a person in prison vote?
No. A person who is serving a sentence in prison is not entitled to vote.
How do I get on the voters’ list?
The voters’ list is put together for each election based on information that is held by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). One way to help make sure that your name will be on the voters’ list is to contact MPAC and confirm that they have your information: https://www.mpac.ca/PropertyOwners/ContactUs
After the voters’ list comes out, you can apply to the municipal clerk to have your name added up until the close of voting on voting day.
I’m on the voters’ list, but my information is wrong. Can I get it corrected?
You can have your information corrected up until the close of voting on voting day. You should contact your municipal clerk for more information.
I don’t want my name on the voters’ list. Can I get it removed?
You can have your name removed from the voters’ list, but you will not be able to vote unless you have your name put back on the list.
Can I remove someone else’s name from the voters’ list?
You can apply to the clerk to have the name of a person who is deceased removed from the list. This can be done until the close of voting on voting day.
Can a person with a criminal record run for municipal office?
Yes. The only eligibility requirements relate to citizenship, age, and having a qualifying address in the municipality.
Why is a person who doesn’t live in my ward allowed to be a candidate for ward councillor?
Candidates must be qualified to run in the municipality. They do not have to have a qualifying address in a specific ward. This is consistent with provincial and federal elections, where a candidate must reside in Ontario (or Canada, respectively), but does not need to reside in a specific riding. Any candidate who is elected by the voters in a ward is accountable to those electors, since they are the ones who will either vote for him or her again, or choose to vote for someone else in the next election.
What can I do if I feel that a candidate does not have the right experience, background, or expertise to run for office?
The only eligibility requirements relate to citizenship, age, and qualifying address. If you feel that a candidate would not make a good elected official, you should vote for someone else.
Supporting a candidate
When can I put up an election sign?
Election signs may be regulated by your municipality’s sign by-law. You should contact your municipal clerk for more information.
I am a tenant. Can I display an election sign in my window?
Yes. Your landlord is not allowed to prohibit you displaying election signs in your unit. Your landlord may have conditions about displaying signs in common areas.
I own a condominium. Can I display an election sign in my window?
Yes. Your condominium board is not allowed to prohibit you from displaying election signs in your unit. They may place conditions on displaying signs in common areas.
Can I get an income tax credit for my contribution to a candidate?
No. Contributions to municipal and school board candidates are not tax deductible. Your municipality may have a contribution rebate program.
Do all municipalities give contribution rebates?
No. It is up to each municipality to decide if there will be a contribution rebate program. You should contact your municipal clerk to see if your municipality has such a program.
Can I contribute to more than one candidate?
Yes. You can contribute up to $750 to any one candidate ($2,500 to candidates running for mayor of Toronto), and you can contribute a maximum of $5,000 to candidates running for the same council or school board.
Can I give cash to a candidate?
Only contributions of $25 or less may be made in cash. All contributions above $25 must be made by cheque, money order, or by a method that clearly shows where the funds come from.
Can I make a contribution anonymously?
Candidates cannot accept anonymous contributions that are more than $25.
Questions on the Ballot
Are citizen-initiated questions allowed on the ballot? Can I circulate a petition to make council put a question the ballot?
No. Only council, the school board, or the Minister can put a question on the ballot. A citizen may ask a council to put a question on the ballot, but council is not obliged to agree to the request.
Can council put a non-binding question on the ballot to find out how people feel about an issue?
No. All questions asked by the municipality have the potential to be binding. The result is non-binding if less than 50 per cent of eligible voters vote on the question.
You must present one of the following documents showing your name and address:
- An Ontario driver’s licence
- An Ontario Health Card (photo card)
- An Ontario Photo Card
- An Ontario motor vehicle permit (vehicle portion)
- A cancelled personalized cheque
- A mortgage statement, lease or rental agreement relating to property in Ontario
- An insurance policy or insurance statement
- A loan agreement or other financial agreement with a financial institution
- A document issued or certified by a court in Ontario
- Any other document from the government of Canada, Ontario or a municipality in Ontario or from an agency or such a government
- Any document from a Band Council in Ontario established under the Indian Act (Canada)
- An income tax assessment notice
- A Child Tax Benefit Statement
- A Statement of Employment Insurance Benefits Paid T4E
- A Statement of Old Age Security T4A (OAS)
- A Statement of Canada Pension Plan Benefits T4A (P)
- A Canada Pension Plan Statement of Contributions
- A Statement of Direct Deposit for Ontario Works
- A Statement of Direct Deposit for Ontario Disability Support Program
- A Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Statement of Benefits T5007
- A property tax assessment
- A credit card statement, bank account statement, or RRSP, RRIF, RHOSP or T5 statement
- A CNIB Bard or a card from another registered charitable organization that provides services to persons with disabilities
- A hospital card or record
- A document showing campus residence, issued by the office or officials responsible for student residence at a post-secondary institution
- A document showing residence at a long-term care home under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007, issued by the Administrator for the home
- A utility bill for hydro, water, gas, telephone or cable TV or a bill from a public utilities commission
- A cheque stub, T4 statement or pay receipt issued by an employer
- A transcript or report card from a post-secondary school
You can get copies of forms from your municipal clerk, or you can download them from the Government of Ontario’s Central Form Repository at www.forms.ssb.gov.on.ca.
- Nomination Form (Form 1)
- Appointment of Voting Proxy (Form 3)
- Financial Statement and Auditor’s Report (Form 4)
- Financial Statement – Subsequent Expenses (Form 5)
- Notice of Extension of Campaign Period (Form 6)
- Declaration of Identity (Form 9)
If you have questions or would like to give feedback on this Guide, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also contact your regional Municipal Services Office
Eastern Municipal Services Office
8 Estate Lane
Kingston ON K7M 9A8
General Inquiry: 613-545-2100
Toll Free: 800-267-9438
Central Municipal Services Office
777 Bay St.
Toronto ON M5G 2E5
General Inquiry: 416-585-6226
Toll Free: 800-668-0230
Northeastern Municipal Services Office
159 Cedar St.
Sudbury ON P3E 6A5
General Inquiry: 705-564-0120
Toll Free: 800-461-1193
Northwestern Municipal Services Office
435 James St. S
Thunder Bay ON P7E 6S7
General Inquiry: 807-475-1651
Toll Free: 800-465-5027
Western Municipal Services Office
659 Exeter Rd
London ON N6E 1L3
General Inquiry: 519-873-4020
Toll Free: 800-265-4736
Ministry of Municipal Affairs
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