Here's an email I just sent to everyone who signed the 2015 petition about changing the Municipal Elections Act in Ontario. We did it!
Just wanted to send a quick update about that petition you signed almost two years ago asking the province to update the rules governing municipal elections.
The short story is ... success!
All of the recommendations we made were implemented. I suspect it wouldn't have happened without your help (in total 75 people sent in the petition).
Here's what happened for each recommendation.
Recommendation: Give all municipalities the power to ban corporate donations (instead of just Toronto)
Ontario ended up banning all corporate donations to municipal candidates, no exceptions.
When the Municipal Elections Act (MEA) legislation was up for debate they were going to give cities the power. But ongoing provincial donation scandals turned up the heat and the government amended the MEA to just ban everything outright. They decided to do the same thing at the provincial level too.
But we got the ball rolling early by asking for city discretion, making the short jump to a total ban easier in the end.
Recommendation: Simplify the definition of "Associated Corporations"
The MEA now includes a simplified definition. Since corporations are still allowed to donate to the newly defined "registered third parties" we still need an easier definition to work with, though the MEA still has the old convoluted definition by referencing the federal income tax act.
It's hard to say how much this makes a difference. On the one hand, there won't be any corporate donations directly to candidates anyway, so it's moot. On the other hand perhaps a judge would defer to the still applicable income tax act definition when reviewing corporate donations to registered third parties.
Since it's not clear how many contributes to third parties will happen anyway, the outcome is unclear.
On the balance I'm happy to have it added. It can't hurt.
Recommendation: Put someone in charge of enforcing contribution limits.
Big success here! The MEA now puts the city clerks in charge of reviewing every single contribution to candidates and third parties to ensure no contributor or candidate has broken the rules.
Previously nobody was in charge of keeping the contributors in order. If a candidate accepted too much money there were provisions to punish the candidate. But the process for enforcing the donation limits by contributors themselves was so hard that it was never really done (as far as I know).
Now clerks will be required to review everything and report on any apparent contraventions in a public forum. Excellent news.
Recommendation: Update "Form 4" to include before/after election day sections & date of donation
Last but not least, donations will now have to be date-stamped.
It has been quite common for winning candidates to receive donations right after they've won the election. Previously there was no way to know that, other than the candidate offering up that information when asked, or the donation being made after 90 days after the election.
The new "form 4" now has a box for "date received" on each donation. I have no concrete problem with candidates accepting donations after the election results are known. Maybe the aunt that promised their niece they would donate finally got around to it.
But the public should be informed if candidates, particularly those who won, accepted donations after the results were in.
Now we will!
So - thanks again for adding your name to the petition. You made a difference and have improved the integrity of elections across Ontario for a long time to come.
The rules matter and together we've improved the rules.