May 24, 2016

AMO was disappointed to learn that a government amendment to Bill 181, The Municipal Elections Modernization Act will ban corporate and union donations in all municipal election campaigns without a simultaneous increase in the limit for individual donations. There are concerns that such a move, without an increase in the donation limit, will make fundraising much more difficult for some municipal government candidates in the shortened nomination/campaign period.

AMO President Gary McNamara presented to the Standing Committee on Thursday, May 12, 2016. The comments delivered by AMO’s President stressed that municipal governments are a mature and accountable order of government in Ontario that can and should be trusted to engage with our residents and stakeholders to make decisions in the best interests of our communities. Elements of AMO’s submission include:
  • Leaving the Bill as is so that the decision to change to ranked ballot voting in a municipal election to the local council in consultation with the community, without a mandatory referendum;
  • Shortening the campaign period with the ability for candidates to take on fundraising activities once nominations are filed;
  • Municipal council choice to ban union and corporate donations;
  • Tiered penalties for late filing of election financial statements; and
  • Flexibility to set the first council meeting after an election to accommodate transition which can be different between rural and urban municipal governments.
In advance of President McNamara’s appearance, there were some persistent rumours of a province-wide ban on corporate and union donations in municipal elections. To address this, AMO advised that it would make fundraising more difficult in some councils’ positions where candidate spending limits are in the hundreds of thousands and that an increase in the individual donation limit should also be made if a ban was implemented. There was no amendment to do this. As such, the $750 contribution limit within the more constrained fundraising period in the Bill, making securing adequate funds for urban candidates much more challenging.

In the end, Bill 181 proposes some major changes for how Ontarians vote for their local councils. These changes will be judged by how they are implemented during the next election and their impact on the election process. Unlike other elections legislation, the Municipal Elections Act is reviewed regularly after each municipal election. The Bill has not been reported to the House as yet for Third Reading debate. AMO will continue to track the Bill.