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April 28, 2010

Ontario municipal elections in October, are you ready?

Scott Stockdale

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Although media coverage focuses more on federal and provincial government, municipal government is closest to the people and it tends to be the one people feel most passionate about, according to Tim Ryall, a municipal advisor and City Clerk for the City of Pleasantville.

Speaking at a candidate information session at the Waterloo City Center Council Chambers recently, Mr. Ryall advised anyone running, or thinking about running, for municipal office in the October election, to pick up a copy of the Municipal Election Guide and a copy of the Municipal Elections Act because prospective candidates have a legal obligation to know the law.

He told prospective candidates that they have an opportunity to try to make a difference in their communities.

“The municipality is responsible for delivering provincial government services to the municipality. The role of a member of council is to represent members of the public and consider the wellbeing of the municipality and defend its interests. This includes developing and evaluating policies and determining which services to provide. They must also maintain the financial integrity of the municipality and ensure administrative policies are in place.”

He added that a councilor’s duties also include holding senior municipal managers accountable for their actions. Municipal councilors delegate duties to municipal staff members, while simultaneously providing oversight and vision. Staff members provide research and advice to council and implement its policies.

Mr. Ryall said the Municipal Clerk is in charge of the election and, as such, he or she has broad authority to run elections.

“The clerk issues public notices and information to the voters. He or she provides a preliminary list of electors and corrections are made by working with the Municipal Property Assessment office. The process is governed in part by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.”

Under the Good Government Act of January 1, 2010, the Municipal Elections Act was amended, to change municipal elections to October, instead of November.

Nominations for office began on January 4, while 2 p.m. September 4 is the deadline for filing nomination papers.

Nomination papers must be filed before a candidate can begin fundraising. Although the election is in October, campaigns can continue until December 31, 2010, to allow candidates to raise additional funds.

However, Mr. Ryall stressed that there are strict limits to how much money candidates can fundraise.

“A candidate for Head of Council can raise $7,500, plus $.85 per elector, while all other offices can raise $5,000, plus $.85 per elector.”

He explained that all candidates must open a campaign bank account, exclusively for campaign finances, and keep accurate records of contributions.

In a subsequent presentation, Municipal Advisor and Mayor of Pleasantville Maureen Beatty said that with the exception of up to $10 placed in a “pass the hat” fundraising method, no anonymous contributions are allowed.

Candidates can only accept a cash donation of up to $25.  Receipts for donations must be issued for cash, goods and services and the contributor's name and address must be recorded.

Ms. Beatty said the public can see the name of anyone who contributes over $100 to a campaign.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ryall said candidates can get a copy of the voters' list, but they are under legal obligation to destroy it after the election, so these lists can't be used for any other purpose.

He said each candidate can send a scrutineer to a polling station to watch the ballot being counted, but because electronic vote tabulators have been in use for more than 10 years, the scrutineer's role is a throwback to a different time.

“Because vote tabulators are in use, a scrutineer can only tally what the machine said. The scrutineer only knows how many people came to vote. The only way a candidate can know (the accuracy of the vote count) is if he or she challenges the vote count.”

Ms. Beatty said that win or lose, every candidate must file a form 4, outlining campaign financing, by March 5.  She said that in past elections candidates who raised over $10,000 also had to file a form 5, which is an audited statement.

“Now form 4 and 5 have been combined. Candidates must state everything they've spent and raised. It's much more detailed than it was for under $10,000.”

She said that no individual or corporation can contribute more than $750 to a campaign, but an individual or corporation can contribute a maximum of $5,000 to different candidates. If a person is part of a corporation, they can contribute as an individual and again as part of a corporation provided the corporation is not in his or her name.

Any funds candidates don't use will be kept by the municipality for use by the candidates for the next election, but this is the last time that will be done.

Ms. Beatty said that after this, the money automatically becomes the municipality's money. In order to be as open and transparent as possible about election financing, Ms. Beatty said the clerk must make all candidates' financial statements available electronically to the public. If an elector is not satisfied with any candidate's financial statement, the law provides them with recourse.

“An elector can request an audit of a campaign statement. They must state why they're requesting an audit and a committee will decide if the statement should be audited.”

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