By Chad Ingram
Published Sept. 15 2016
When municipal elections take place throughout Ontario in 2018 they will be somewhat different from the ones that happened in 2014.
The province has passed a number of changes to the Municipal Elections Act and chief among them is a shortening of the campaign period which will shrink by 120 days.
Previously Jan. 1 of an election year was the earliest date candidates could register. The deadline was the second Friday in September.
Under the new regulations the earliest date to register will be May 1 and the deadline the fourth Friday in July.
The change is one that seems welcome to county politicians.
“I really like the shortened campaign period especially for our small communities” said Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt. “That time frame allows plenty of time to catch up with seasonal folks and still run a condensed focused campaign. Some maintain that a candidate who declares in January is somehow more committed than someone who declares in August and I just don’t buy that.”
Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin said the previous campaign periods were too long.
“It’s insane” Devolin said. “Maybe in the horse and buggy days when you had to go around on a train.”
In 2014 Devolin and then-reeve Barb Reid both declared their candidacy on the first possible day Devolin eventually beating the incumbent.
“It needs to be long enough that we still capture when our seasonal folks are here” Devolin said adding that the real groundwork in a campaign doesn’t begin until May anyway.
Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey expressed similar sentiments.
“If you can run a provincial or federal election in 34 days surely you can run a municipal one in six months” Fearrey said.
Highlands East Reeve Dave Burton said the shortened campaign period will permit councils to better concentrate on their work.
“It allows extended time for councillors to focus on their mandate” Burton said.
Another change is the re-adoption of a policy by which municipal candidates must acquire the signatures of 25 people who support their nomination in order to run.
“I suppose it’s a way of weeding out questionable candidates” Moffatt said. “That is if you can’t find 25 people to support you then you might need to re-think the confidence of the public at large.”
“If you can’t get 25 signatures . . . I mean 25 votes won’t get you anything” said Devolin who agreed the measure was likely designed to reduce the number of fringe candidates.
“It allows for somebody who’s committed” Burton said while Fearrey thought the requirement was meaningless.
The changes also provide municipalities the option of adopting the ranked ballot system for their elections.
It seems unlikely that any of Haliburton County’s four lower-tier townships will be adopting the system any time soon.
“I can see the merit of the ranked ballot system in communities where there are numerous candidates for generalized positions but I question its usefulness in small communities like ours with the ward system where acclamations are common and voter turnout isn’t great” Moffatt said. ‘That is if two people are running one wins and one doesn’t. I can’t get much simpler.”
“Honestly I don’t know” said Devolin. “Obviously with two candidates it doesn’t have any bearing.”
Devolin added the system could have some value in wards or communities where there are numerous candidates.
“It’s a complicated system that to me isn’t required” said Burton.
Other changes include measures to improve enforcement and compliance with elections rules – such as filing financial statements by deadline – and requirements for clerks to provide accessibility plans for voting locations.