Ontario to Intro ‘Ranked Ballots’ for Municipal/County Elections for Transparency

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Ontario will introduce changes today to the Municipal Elections Act that would, if passed, modernize municipal elections and provide the option of using ranked ballots in future municipal elections.

Between May and July 2015, Ontario consulted on potential changes to the Municipal Elections Act and received more than 3,400 submissions. Most submissions were from members of the public and supported giving municipalities the option of using ranked ballots in future elections, which would allow a voter to rank candidates in order of preference. The option to use ranked ballots would begin for the 2018 municipal elections.

Other proposed changes to the act would, if passed, increase transparency and accountability and make election rules clear and modern, by:

  • Shortening the campaign calendar by opening nominations for candidates on May 1 instead of January 1
  • Creating a framework to regulate third party advertising, including contribution and spending limits
  • Making campaign finance rules clearer and easier to follow for voters, candidates and contributors, including giving all municipalities the option to ban corporate and union donations
  • Removing barriers that could affect electors and candidates with disabilities
  • Making it easier to add or change information on the voters’ list

Enhancing transparency and accountability and allowing more choice in municipal elections is part of the government’s economic plan to build Ontario up and deliver on its number-one priority – growing the economy and creating jobs. The four-part plan includes investing in talent and skills, including helping more people get and create the jobs of the future by expanding access to high-quality college and university education. The plan is also making the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario’s history and investing in a low-carbon economy driven by innovative, high-growth, export-oriented businesses. The plan is also helping working Ontarians achieve a more secure retirement. 


“These proposals clarify the rules for voters and allow for more choice in how to run elections, including the option of using ranked ballots. Thank you to everyone who shared their feedback with us.”

— Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing


No Canadian jurisdiction currently uses ranked ballots.

There are 444 municipalities in Ontario.

In 2006, the City of Toronto was given the authority to ban union and corporate contributions, and has prohibited these contributions for the past two elections. It is currently the only municipality with the ability to do so.


Proposed amendments to the Municipal Elections Act are listed below.

Summary of the Municipal Elections Act consultation

Ranked ballots

Proposed Amendments to the Municipal Elections Act

The government intends to introduce legislative amendments to the Municipal Elections Act that would, if passed, give municipalities the option of using ranked ballots in future municipal elections.

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 meets the needs of Ontario communities.

A public review of the Municipal Elections Act took place between May 2015 and July 2015. Through this review, the province received more than 3,400 submissions from the public, municipal councils and staff from across the province. The proposed changes respond to the concerns heard during the review.

A summary of the results of the public consultation can be read online.

Ranked Ballot Voting

The proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act would, if passed, give municipalities the authority to pass a by-law to use ranked ballot voting, beginning in the 2018 municipal elections. Ranked ballots would allow a voter to rank candidates in order of preference.

The proposed legislation would 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, and which offices on a municipal council may be elected using ranked ballots. The framework and details for ranked ballot elections would be set out in regulation.

Election Calendar

The government is proposing to shorten the municipal election campaign period by 120 days. Candidates would be able to 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 would give municipalities more time to prepare ahead of the election, should they choose to use ranked ballots. Ontario currently has the longest nomination period of any province. These changes respond to feedback heard during the review about the length of the campaign period and campaign fatigue.

Third Party Advertising

The government is proposing to introduce a framework to regulate third party advertising, which would include contribution and spending limits. Only contributors who are eligible under the act could register as a third party. Third parties would also have to identify themselves on signs and advertisements. Spending limits for third party advertising would be set out in a regulation.

Campaign Finance  

The government is proposing changes to ensure that rules for municipal elections are consistent with transparent, accountable, fair and modern election finance practices. Some examples include giving all municipalities the option to ban corporate and union donations and setting clear spending limits on post-campaign spending on gifts and parties. Changes to spending limits for campaign finance would be set out in a regulation.

Compliance and Enforcement

Proposed changes to the act will help ensure the rules under the act are clearer and simpler for voters, candidates and contributors to follow. One proposed change is to encourage compliance by refunding nomination fees to candidates only if they file their financial statement by the deadline. In this way, candidates would be encouraged to file on time.


Proposed changes to the act would require 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.

The province plans to introduce the proposed amendments now so that municipalities have the opportunity to consider ranked ballots before the 2018 municipal elections.

Supplemental: Is this move a recycling of an Ontario Green Party initiative? From March 10: https://www.thesilo.ca/ontario-greens-push-ban-political-donations-counties-province/

MPP Toby Barrett intro’s Private Member Bill: 13% of All Adults in Ontario are Public Sector Employees!

4 Comments to Ontario to Intro ‘Ranked Ballots’ for Municipal/County Elections for Transparency

  1. Omnibus bill creates confusion for conservation authorities, OMB

    Overdue changes to the Ontario Municipal Board appeal process and Conservation Authorities Act are presently being debated in the Ontario Legislature through an omnibus bill. The bill seems to have good intentions, but like many well intentioned bills the devil is in the details.

    Omnibus bills are characterized by many related but separate initiatives. This one is titled Bill 139, Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017. If passed, it will make changes to 21 acts ranging from the more obvious Municipal Act and Conservation Authorities Act, to the less obvious Ontario Heritage Act and Shortline Railways Act. Lumping these changes together means cutting short fulsome debate and public scrutiny.

    There is a need to reform the Ontario Municipal Board, established in 1906. For example, Bill 139 will rename the OMB as the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal.

    Legislation is needed that respects the authority of municipalities and the input of local community groups, without adding additional delay and red tape for well-planned developments. But, concerns from different stakeholders have already made it clear this bill has missed the mark.

    Another concern raised is the proposed legislation limits the ability to have tribunal fees waived for low-income individuals. This also limits the ability to waive fees for community groups that wish to appeal.

    Numerous groups have raised concerns that these changes will lead to more cases going to court, making the process more expensive and less accessible to groups and citizens.

    Like the changes to the OMB, alterations to the Conservation Authorities Act are also overdue.

    Bill 139 adds another purpose to the mandate of conservation authorities, “to provide for the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario.”

    Our area conservation authorities can deliver these services, but will the government provide more funding for delivery? With the province only providing about 10 per cent of the conservation authorities’ budgets, adding more responsibilities without the money is a concern.

    While the jury is still out whether adding to the mandate of conservation authorities will add to budget strains, some upper level meddling could cause problems. One proposal is to change the fee structure, taking away local control and allowing the minister to mandate the fees conservation authorities charge.

    The bill gives the minister the ability to make regulations regarding lands owned by the authority and the right to set regulations specifying qualifications for conservation authority board members. Currently, a municipal council which contributes to the conservation authority’s budget has the right to appoint board members.

    An ongoing issue for me is the proposed changes allow conservation authority staff to enter a property without a warrant. The existing act required a warrant or consent with the exception of specific circumstances. This is part of an alarming trend to diminish property rights under this government that has seen several pieces of legislation expand warrantless entry.

    Although the Ontario government has attempted to paint itself as green, it hasn’t increased the budget of conservation authorities for a number of years. Furthermore, why wait until the end of its mandate and lump conservation authority changes in with an omnibus bill instead of drafting a separate piece of legislation as it deserves?

  2. The Silo

    Today- #Ontario government passes Ranked Balloting option for all municipal (“County”) elections.

  3. April 13, 2016

    Government collusion with big money a threat to democracy: Barrett

    QUEEN’S PARK – I weighed in on the Ontario government’s high-priced private fundraisers during debate in the Ontario Legislature this week.

    My position, really, is that big money has skewed policy, it’s skewing decision-making, and I consider it a threat to our long tradition of democracy. It fosters lobbying, it fosters influence-peddling and it obviously fosters political advertising.

    I feel there is cynicism and distrust of what is seen as a rigged system, bought and paid for by big unions, big corporations and other special interest groups.

    It’s time to curtail the influence of special interests and take the big money out of the process.

    I sincerely feel that the system we have is broken, it’s corrupt and it’s not to be trusted. I think people are correct when they see an elected representative no longer representing the people who voted them in and essentially serving as a puppet of those who are writing the cheques..

    For more information contact me, MPP Toby Barrett at 519-428-0446 or toby.barrett@pc.ola.org

  4. Trevor Watt

    Kathleen Wynne Premier of Ontario
    STATEMENT ON ELECTION FINANCING REFORM to Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa April 11, 2016

    “As you know I have just had a meeting with the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Third Party to discuss election financing reform. I will be meeting tomorrow with the Leader of the Green Party. I want the thank the Leaders for meeting with me — as we move forward with reform it is my hope that we can put partisanship aside and work together on changes that are in the best interests of the people we serve.

    I am committed to changes in election and political party financing in Ontario. I believe it is important that these changes be in place or significantly underway before the June 2018 election, with initial changes legislated for January 1, 2017. Je m’engage à changer les règle vis-à-vis du financement électoral et des partis politiques en Ontario. Je crois qu’il est important que ces changements soient mis en place ou soient dans le processus d’être mis en place avant les élections de juin 2018, incluant des changements législatifs initiaux au 1er janvier 2017.

    It is clear that there are flaws in the current legislation, which all parties have been operating under. The reality is that Ontario’s election financing system has not kept up with changes made federally and in some other provinces. The current system also does not meet today’s public expectations. I am determined to make changes that are right for Ontario. And I believe it is important that we now move expeditiously to make these changes.

    Our government has already undertaken a number of initiatives to make election financing more transparent. In 2007, we introduced third-party advertising rules and real-time disclosure for political donations. Last June, I announced that we would make further changes to the Elections Act. And, as I announced last week, our government plans to introduce legislation on political donations this spring, including measures to transition away from union and corporate donations. Notre gouvernement prévoit introduire un projet de loi sur le financement politique à l’Assemblée législative ce printemps. Ce projet de loi va inclure des mesures nous permettant de nous éloigner des dons des syndicats et des corporations.

    I believe in leadership by example. That’s why I have made the decision to cancel upcoming private fundraisers that I or Ministers attend.

    It is important we get this right. That is why I have met with the Leaders to discuss these important issues.

    I want to give the Leaders time to consult with their respective parties so their feedback and input can be reflected in the legislation that we introduce.

    I therefore intend to bring forward legislation in May before the Legislature rises on June 9.

    With the agreement of the Legislature, we would send that legislation to Standing Committee sooner than usual, after First Reading to allow for a first opportunity to make amendments based on public input, before Second Reading. In addition, further legislative committee hearings after Second Reading will allow for another round of input and amendments.

    This would allow for consultation immediately, while the Legislature is still sitting, and for further consultation during the summer, across Ontario, in agreed-upon locations. The first government witness invited to appear before the legislative committee hearings would be Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer. In the meantime, as the legislation is being drafted, we will consult regularly with the Chief Electoral Officer.

    I believe that to delay the reform process, by striking another, additional committee or process, does not acknowledge the reality that there is already a broad consensus on the actions that need to be taken.

    The legislation we will bring forward this spring will include the following:

    First — reform of third-party advertising rules, including definitions, anti-collusion measures and penalties. Maximum spending limits on third-party advertising will be severely constrained for election periods and constraints considered for pre-election periods.

    Second — a ban on corporate and union donations.

    Third — reduction of maximum allowable donations to a figure that is in the range of what is permitted federally for each Party; to all associations, nomination contestants and candidates, as well as leadership campaigns.

    Fourth — constraints on loans/loan guarantees to parties and candidates, including leadership candidates

    Fifth — reform of by-election donation rules.

    Sixth — overall reduction in spending limits by central parties in election periods and introduction of limits between elections.

    And seventh — introduction of leadership and nomination campaign spending limits and donation rules.

    There are some critical decision points associated with these issues. I know there will be public discussion about them, but I also want input from the other party Leaders. These are the question I asked in our meeting:

    On the issue of third-party advertising, we are proposing a much lower spending limit. What should that limit be? What should the constraints on third-party advertising be between elections? Should there also be an individual contribution limit for those advertising campaigns?
    We are proposing a ban on corporate and union donations, which would begin on January 1, 2017. Should there be a transitional subsidy based on vote counts from the previous election? If so, how long should the transition period be in order to allow all parties to adjust?
    We are proposing a lower limit on donations. Should that limit be phased in over time?
    We are proposing that, during by-elections, that there be no special doubling of donations to the central party. By-election campaigns should be restricted to raising funds only to the allowable limit, both locally and centrally. What are the other Leaders’ thoughts on how we should manage any by-elections that occur before the legislation is in effect?
    We are proposing overall spending limit reductions in the writ period and setting limits between elections. We would like the Leaders’ input on this.
    We are proposing setting spending limits for leadership and nomination campaigns. What should these spending and donation limits be?

    The government also intends to bring forward separate legislation this fall to amend the Elections Act, including proposals to:

    Change the fixed election date for the next general election to the spring of 2018
    Allow provisional registration of 16- and 17 year-olds
    Establish a single address authority in Ontario
    Eliminate the first blackout period for all elections, and
    Integrate, simplify and modernize a range of election processes as per the advice of the Chief Electoral Officer.

    The Leaders I met with today also made some specific requests that I would like to respond to directly.

    Patrick Brown has called for an immediate public inquiry. All parties have been following the rules as they exist now. It’s clear that those rules need to be changed, which is why we’ve committed to introducing new legislation this spring. Our party has been following the rules that exist with integrity, and I can only assume the other parties have as well.

    He has asked for the establishment of an all-party select committee. The legislation we introduce will be debated publicly and go through the legislative committee process — there will be opportunities for the opposition and the public to participate. We’re committed to making sure that is a robust review that engages Ontarians across the province. Striking another, additional committee does not acknowledge that there is already a broad consensus in place on what needs to be done. We want to move quickly to bring about change.

    Mr. Brown wants to limit third-party advertising. We agree. That’s why the new legislation will put limits on third-party advertising. I look forward to hearing from the opposition about what those limits should be, and how we prevent collusion and enforce those limits. We need to limit the amount third parties can spend on advertising while respecting the fundamental right for all Ontarians to have a voice in elections, and between elections.

    Mr. Brown wants to ban corporate and union donations. Our proposed legislation would do so.

    He wants to end ministerial fundraising targets and fundraising. Ministers need to fundraise, just as all MPPs do, to support their work during campaigns. We will introduce legislation this spring that would ban union and corporate donations. In the meantime, I believe in leadership by example. That is why I have made the decision to immediately cancel upcoming private fundraisers that I or Ministers attend.

    Ministers can do small group high-value fundraisers with two stipulations:

    1. The event is publicly disclosed before it occurs.

    2. The Minister is not meeting/fundraising with stakeholders of his/her ministry.

    Future Liberal fundraisers will be made public on the OLP website.

    Mr. Brown wants to strengthen restrictions on lobbyists. This government strengthened the lobby rules in 2014 in response to recommendations by the integrity Commissioner. These changes included new powers for the Registrar, including the power to investigate alleged violations of the Act, the ability to provide guidance and direction on lobbyist conduct, and the power to prohibit lobbying for up to two years. They will come into force this July. We are open to ideas to further improve the lobby rules.

    Ms. Horwath has said that people need to know that Ontario politics, quote: “isn’t under the influence of big money.” Political donations do not buy policy decisions. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false. As Premier, I’ve always been clear that decisions made by me and my Cabinet are always made with the best interests of Ontarians in mind. That’s why we’re committed to a rational, depoliticized and evidence-based process when determining policy. And our government’s decisions, including creating jobs for today and tomorrow, reflect that commitment. We’ve all recognized that the existing rules all parties operate under need to be changed, which is why our government will be introducing new legislation this spring to ban corporate and union donations.

    Ms. Horwath today put forward a proposal for an advisory panel on political finance reform and electoral participation. I believe what we are proposing today addresses her request for a timely, open and credible process to reach consensus on these issues. I met with the leaders to start the process of consulting the parties, and hope to hear their further input and recommendations. The legislation will also undergo an extensive review by a legislative committee over the spring and summer, allowing Ontarians to voice the opinions through public hearings. All three parties will have the opportunity to invite individuals and organizations to appear. We also set out a clear timeline for changes to be legislated.

    Ms. Horwath has also stated that the first step to reforms should be a meeting of the leaders of the three political parties with Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer to discuss the practical steps needed to move ahead. The Chief Electoral Officer provided his recommendations in his report following the last election. We’re looking closely at those recommendations and intend to act on many of them. We’ll also continue to engage with the Chief Electoral Officer to better understand his advice, and would encourage the other parties to do the same. I have written to the Chief Electoral Officer today to make clear that the government will be calling him as its first witness to appear before the legislative committee that will consider the reforms proposed in the spring legislation.

    Ms. Horwath has also asked that my office be removed from the reform process and place Ontario’s non-partisan Chief Electoral Officer in charge of framing the legislation in this area. The drafting of the new legislation will be done by the Ministry of the Attorney General. That is the responsibility of government. The Chief Electoral Officer cannot write government legislation, but we will be taking his recommendations seriously and continue to seek his advice as we move forward.

    As I said earlier, it is important to get this right. I look forward to working with the other Leaders to reach consensus and move quickly to bring about these needed reforms. Je vais travailler avec les chefs de l’opposition pour en arriver à un consensus et aboutir à des réformes rapidement.

    I’m happy to take your questions now.”

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