Ontario urged to hold next election on a weekend
Ontario elections should be held on weekends or holidays in June to boost turnout, chief elections officer says in new report
March 10, 2015
By Rob Ferguson
Here’s something extra for your June weekend: vote.
Ontario’s chief elections officer is urging Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government to change the law requiring a provincial election every fourth year on the first Thursday in October.
Greg Essensa said in a new report that a Saturday, Sunday or school holiday in June could make it easier for citizens to cast ballots and to put polling stations in schools.
“Other democracies, such as Australia, hold elections on weekends and their experience suggests that, should Ontario follow suit, voter turnout may increase,” he wrote in a new report issued Tuesday, noting just over half of eligible voters - 52.1 per cent - cast ballots in the last general election.
Essensa says such a move would cut down on voter burnout as well by eliminating campaign overlap with municipal elections held in late October and make life easier in farm communities, where October is harvest time.
Voters avoided double jeopardy with local and provincial elections last fall because Wynne’s spring budget was defeated in the minority legislature, prompting a June 12 vote that returned her to power with a majority.
“Closely placed elections can lead to voter fatigue and a drop in participation at the polls,” warned Essensa, who made news last month by declaring two Liberal operatives were in “apparent contravention” of bribery provisions in the Election Act. They allegedly dangled the prospect of a job to former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier as an enticement to not run in the Feb. 5 Sudbury byelection campaign. The incident is now under OPP investigation.
The government wasn’t about to commit to any suggested changes in the report, which also repeated Essensa’s push for spending limits on interest groups like unions and business lobbies in election campaigns.
“The government looks forward to reviewing the report. We are always open to conversations on ways to improve Ontario’s democratic process,” Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur said in a statement.
Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker applauded the recommendations, saying changes are needed to get citizens more jazzed about casting ballots.
“With the voter apathy we have right now we should be looking at anything that’s going to entice more people to get out and be part of the democratic process,” said Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound).
“If it’s wide open on a Saturday, why wouldn’t you at least look at it? It would be easier, more convenient, and get them out. That’s the key here. Let’s make it as easy as possible.”
Walker said he’s planning a private member’s bill to set campaign spending limits for interest groups, which Essensa has again flagged as an “uneven playing field” given that there are spending limits on parties.
“We’re the only province in the country that hasn’t closed this loophole,” Walker said, urging a “proper debate” on limits for third-party groups. Federal law sets a $188,000 spending limit on them.
Elections Ontario reported a month ago that interest groups spent almost $9 million during last spring’s election, up from $6.7 million in the 2011 provincial election.
Leading the pack was the anti-Progressive Conservative coalition called Working Families, with $2.5 million in advertising.
Conservatives consider Working Families to be a front for the Liberals but have been unable to prove any connections in court cases.
Wynne has been cool to the spending limits, with her officials saying there is transparency because a 2007 law requires interest groups spending more than $500 on election ads to register with Elections Ontario.