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Municipal Elections Changes

By Robert W.P. Welch

On December 15th, 2009 the Ontario Legislature’s Bill 212, entitled the Good Government Act received Royal Assent. Bill 212 amended two hundred sixty two statutes, repealed eighteen other ones, and introduced two new Acts. Included in Schedule 21 to the Bill were amendments to the Municipal Elections Act 1996. As a lawyer who from time to time practices Municipal Law, some of these amendments are of personal interest. They might also be of interest to some of the clients of Lancaster Brooks & Welch.

Perhaps the most prominent change for us is that we will be heading to the polls on the fourth Monday of October, as opposed to the second Monday in November (a little bit earlier in the Fall season, while Daylight Savings Time remains in effect, presumably hoping for better weather and more light at the end the day for voting on election day, and door knocking during the campaign). Nomination day is now the second Friday in September, not as in the past, the last Friday of that month.

Other changes improve access to the political process for candidates and electors with disabilities. Campaign expenses incurred for a candidate with a disability, in certain cases, are exempt from a candidate’s maximum expense limit. Also there must be increased accessibility for electors to vote. The municipal clerk must now “ensure” that each voting place is accessible to disabled electors.

Financial contributions rules deserve analysis. The maximum contribution that anyone can make to any one candidate is $750 (except for Mayor of Toronto where it’s $2500) and contribution to two or more candidates for the same council have been capped at $5000. Other than in Toronto, which has been given the authority by the Province to restrict donations by corporations and unions, trade unions and corporations can make donations to candidates.

Expense limits have changed. Before mayoral candidates could spend $7500 plus $0.70 per elector. Other could spend $5000 plus $0.70 per elector. Now the same base sum remains but the per elector allowance increased to $0.85.

Contributions and expenses must be reported, of course. The campaign period starts the date a candidate files nomination and ends on December 31st in an election year. There is the ability to apply to extend that period beyond December 31st if a candidate needs more time to raise funds. The normal deadline to file a financial statement and auditor’s report is 2:00 PM on the last Friday of March in the year following the election. If there is an extension in the campaign period (to no later than June 30th) the reporting deadline is the last Friday in September.

There are new procedures prescribed for compliance audits and penalties for violations have increased. Individuals can be fined up to $25,000 (the former maximum was $5,000) and trade unions and corporations can be fined up to $50,000 (doubled from $25,000). A judge can even order jail time of up to six months and candidates that commit offences can forfeit their office (if they have won the election) and be barred for running for two successive regular elections.

These reforms appear to increase accessibility and transparency, and do much to clarify financial contributor rules. Should any reader have any questions I would be more than happy to hear from you.

The foregoing is provided to you for information purposes only. We caution you to obtain legal advice specific to your situation in all circumstances.

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