Municipal election reforms?

September 14, 2017   ·   0 Comments

MOST OF THE ELECTION REFORM talk in recent years has concerned the “first past the post” victories in federal and provincial elections, with the status quo being favoured by the parties in power and opposed by most of the other parties. Relatively little has related to municipal elections, but we think it’s time to start looking at possible reforms.

Over the years, the biggest change has been in timing. As recently as the immediate postwar period, municipal elections were held annually, with nomination meetings in late December and polling a few days later.

Wartime contingencies led to an experiment with two-year terms in the 1940s, but  the experiment ended when vloters preferred a return to annual elections.

Since then we have witnessed a move to two-, then three- and finally four-year terms being imposed by Queen’s Park, so that today we have the irony of municipal policitians in Ontario having terms twice as long as members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

One thing we’ve never seen explained is why it was found necessary to impose the same rules on all Ontario municipalities rather than allowing local ratepayers to choose. Our suspicion is that in at least some communities the voters would prefer shorter terms, in recognition of the fact some good potential candidates simply don’t want to commit themselves to four years.

One place where the Province has permitted flexibility is in the area of voting methods. Although Orangeville and most other municipalities have clung to the traditional paper ballot and a single voting day, others (among them the Town of Mono) have opted  for more modern methods, such as voting by telephone or via the Internet, which should result in far more residents voting.

In the case of Mono, the Town is entering into an agreement with Intelivote Systems Inc. under which the new voting options will be made available at a cost of under $3 per ratepayer, with voting instructions to be mailed out prior to the October 2018 elections.

It will be interesting to see whether Dufferin’s other three towns (Orangeville, Shelburne and Grand Valley) or the remaining townships decide to follow suit. We think they should, even if the ability to vote without leaving your own home doesn’t significantly increase the “turnout.”

We also like the idea of permitting the voting to take place over more than a single day, even if it meant the final results wouldn’t become available on “election night.”

Two other reforms that should be considered are an adjustment in council membership in Orangeville and the election of future Dufferin wardens.

It must be seen as ironic that Orangeville had a nine-member council when the town had a population of 3,000 but only seven members now with 10 times the population. And with four-year terms in place, there’s every likelihood that we shall see a repeat of recent experience when two of the seven members had health problems that caused them to miss council sessions.

As for the position of warden, the long-standing practice of them being selected by fellow county councillors each year should be abandoned in favour of a county-wide election to the full four-year term.

As we see it, one increasingly serious problem is the domination of municipal councils by the local bureaucracy, alias town staffs. In fact, we found it both unusual and refreshing that Orangeville Council rejected (albeit narrowly) the recommendation by Town staff that it transfer responsibility for local policing to the Ontario Provincial Police, thereby saving an estimated $3 million annually.

At the County level, we think the combination of growing roles and growing population require Dufferin County Council to have a full-time Warden who’s available on a daily basis to do more than just preside over Council sessions.

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