Municipal Elections Act Amendments

Municipal Elections Act Amendments

Tony Fleming*
Posted June 24, 2016 Category: Businesses

Bill 181 was passed June 7, 2016.  It makes some important amendments to the Municipal Elections Act.  A number of the amendments will not come into force until April 1, 2018, in time for the next election; many other changes are in force now.

While the volume of changes makes a brief comprehensive review impossible, we have attempted to summarize a number of the more important changes, including:

  • Third party advertising is now regulated:
    • any advertisement in any broadcast, print, electronic or other medium that promotes, supports or opposes a candidate or an answer to a referendum question is captured by the third party advertising rules;
    • advertisements by a candidate is not included;
    • if what otherwise would be third party advertising occurs without any expense to the party directing it, that is not captured; and
    • campaign advertising by a corporation, employer or trade union to its employees, shareholders, directors, members is also not captured.
  • Within the campaign period, no individual, corporation or trade union may incur an expense for third party advertising unless they are registered as a third party. Third parties are now faced with a number of restrictions that mirror the restrictions imposed on candidates, including:
    • expense limits are imposed;
    • all ads must contain prescribed information about the third party to identify them;
    • only individuals, corporations and trade unions may register as a third party;
    • candidates, the government and municipalities (including local boards) cannot be third parties;
    • fund raising for third parties is subject to restrictions; and
    • audited financial statements must be filed.
  • The Clerk is now required to prepare a plan identifying, removing and preventing barriers for electors and candidates with disabilities and make the plan available to the public before voting day. Within 90 days after voting day the Clerk must prepare a report setting out how the plan was implemented.
  • Nomination date is now the fourth Friday in July and the candidate must be endorsed by at least 25 persons.
  • Once regulations are prepared, ranked ballot elections will be possible. The municipal by-law implementing the regulation may specify which offices are subject to ranked ballots and the Clerk will be responsible for establishing procedures.  Once the regulation is promulgated how this will work in practice will become clearer.
  • Municipalities may establish a policy for recounts and any recount shall be held in accordance with that policy.
  • The Clerk must make the financial statement and auditors report for all candidates and registered third parties available at no charge to the public on a website or another electronic format as soon as possible after the documents are filed
  • Any person in control of an apartment, condominium, non-profit housing cooperative or gated community must allow any candidate or his or her representative to campaign between 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM. Tenants and condominium unit owners/renters may display signs at the premise of their unit.
  • All election campaign advertising purchased by or at the direction of a candidate shall identify the candidate, presumably so that any negative advertising is attributed to the candidate who purchased the ad.
  • Where a municipality believes certain advertising restrictions have been breached, they may order the alleged violator or the owner of land on which the ad is placed to remove the ad.
  • Only individuals may contribute to a campaign – corporations and trade unions may no longer make contributions to a candidate.
  • Municipalities may make contact information about candidates and links to the candidate’s website, available on the municipal website without breaching the Act.
  • The duties of candidates, and now registered third parties, are clarified and strengthened; examples include:
    • no contributions may be accepted or expenses incurred unless a campaign account is open first – previously there was no prohibition on accepting donations or incurring expenses where an account had not been opened, although that was logical implication of the Act as it previously read;
    • contributors must be advised of the maximum contribution limits; and
    • the gross income from fund raising events now has a $25 or less limit – above $25 receipts must be provided and recorded as contributions.
  • The forfeiture of office penalty now contains an exemption where the candidate files their financial return within 30 days after the deadline and pays a $500 fee to the municipality – previously failure to file would result in forfeiture, with no exceptions.
  • Registered third parties are subject to similar penalties and may be banned from being a third party if they fail to make the required filings – as with candidates, registered third parties can avoid being banned if they file within 30 days of the deadline and pay $500.
  • After an election the Clerk must:
    • make a report available to the public setting out all candidates (council and local boards) and indicating whether they filed their financial statements on time – the report is to be available by April 30 in the year following a regular election;
    • review all contributions reported on the financial statements to determine if any contributor exceeded the limits and prepare a report listing all breaches for each contributor (within 30 days of filing);
    • the reports shall be forwarded to the compliance audit committee; and
    • the obligation to review and report is the same for registered third party contributor.
  • The compliance audit committee must determine whether to commence legal proceedings against contributors within 30 days of receipt of the reports.
  • Registered third parties are also subject to the rules related to requests for compliance audits where any elector believes the third party may have contravened the Act.
Tony Fleming*
Posted June 24, 2016 Category: Businesses

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