Changes to the Municipal Elections Act
Ontario has passed the Municipal Elections Modernization Act, 2016 which would amend the Municipal Elections Act.
The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 sets out rules for electors and candidates, and roles for municipal clerks and councils in municipal and school board elections in Ontario. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing reviews the Municipal Elections Act after each Ontario municipal election to determine if it continues to meet the needs of Ontario communities.
The changes and related initiatives address:
Ranked Ballot Voting
The Municipal Elections Modernization Act, 2016 provides for regulations to be passed to give municipalities the option to use ranked ballot voting, beginning in the 2018 municipal elections. Ranked ballots will allow a voter to rank candidates in order of preference.
The framework and details for ranked ballot elections will be set out in regulation that will address items such as:
- Consulting with the public before a municipality decides to implement ranked ballots
- How votes in a ranked ballot election would be counted
- Which offices on a municipal council may be elected using ranked ballots.
The act helps to ensure that rules for municipal elections are consistent with transparent, accountable, fair and modern election finance practices. Some examples include banning corporate and union contributions to council candidates in every municipality across the province, and providing for regulations to set out spending limits on post-campaign spending on gifts and parties. The ban on corporate and union contributions would also apply to contributions to school board trustee candidates.
The act introduces a framework to regulate third-party advertising, which includes contribution and spending limits. Only contributors who are eligible under the act will be able to register as a third party. Third parties also have to identify themselves on signs and advertisements. Spending limits for third-party advertising will be set out in a regulation.
The act defines third-party advertising as advertisements supporting or opposing a candidate. This helps to create more flexibility by allowing charities and groups that do public outreach to continue their issues-based advocacy work throughout an election period, without being subject to a third-party advertising framework.
The act shortens the municipal election campaign period by 120 days. Candidates can register between May 1 and the fourth Friday in July, instead of January 1 to the second Friday in September in the year of the election.
Shortening the length of the nomination period gives municipalities more time to prepare ahead of the election, should they choose to use ranked ballots.
Compliance and Enforcement
The act helps ensure the rules for municipal elections are clearer and simpler to follow for voters, candidates and contributors. For example, the act encourages compliance by refunding nomination fees to candidates only if they file their financial statement by the deadline, thereby encouraging candidates to file on time.
The act requires municipal clerks to prepare accessibility plans to identify, remove and prevent barriers that could affect electors and candidates with disabilities, and make the plan available to the public prior to voting day.