ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Second Day of Second Reading Debates on Bill 231, the proposed Elections Proposed Elections Reform Legislation, held on March 2, 2010
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
Tuesday 2 March 2010
ELECTION STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2010
Resuming the debate adjourned on February 16, 2010, on the motion for second reading of Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act / Projet de loi 231, Loi modifiant la Loi électorale et la Loi sur le financement des élections.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Further debate? The member for Beaches-East York.
Mr. Michael Prue: Another one of these bifurcated debates-this time, I have exactly half the time left.
Mr. Michael Prue: Yes. I'm pleased that my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party appreciate the use of the word.
On the last occasion, I had an opportunity to talk about what was good with the bill and what was bad with the bill, and today I hope to continue with what has been left out of the bill, which is very unfortunate.
Just to reiterate, I talked about the three things contained within the body of the bill that I thought were actually quite helpful, quite good and quite forward thinking. Those were: the special ballots that are going to be allowed in order that people will have an opportunity to vote by way of the special ballot; the opportunity for students to vote not only where they're going to school, but in their home ridings-I told the story about my having to get on a train in Ottawa many years ago and come to Toronto in order not to miss my first vote, which was very special and important to me, and the expense of it all in those days. The third one is the depoliticizing of the poll workers, which I think is long overdue. Gone are those days of government largesse-or the opposition party, if you're lucky enough to have run second in a particular riding, to appoint poll workers. I think we have come to expect a level of expertise and competence that we require of people, and that it is about time people were chosen on the basis of their ability, as opposed to the party they have supported in the past.
Then I went on after that to talk about some of the things I thought were missing, although they were discussed during the special committee known as the Sorbara committee: things like municipalities not being included; things like the minister not changing the rules by which corporations and unions are allowed to give a great deal of their funding; things like the province of Ontario falling way behind other jurisdictions, particularly the federal jurisdiction, the Quebec and Manitoba jurisdictions, which give public financing for municipalities. I went on to talk about real-time disclosure and how that is not happening and how some parties, particularly the government party, funnel money through riding associations so that the disclosure does not have to take place in real time.
Oh, I see my friend the member from Vaughan is here. My goodness. He has arrived.
I talked about the citizens' juries and the farcical machinations they had to go through in the most recent vote on changing the electoral rules in the province of Ontario and the first-past-the-post system-a 60% vote was necessary, plus 50% in at least 64 ridings-how very few other jurisdictions around the world do that. We recognize "one member, one vote," we recognize that the majority rules, but impossible conditions are put down here when citizens come up with a good idea.
I closed by talking a little more about some of the difficulties the government had in not implementing everything that was before the Sorbara committee.
On the last occasion, I promised to spend about a half-hour talking about the last disappointment that I had, and that is around the whole issue of disabilities. We know that a great many more than a million people in the province of Ontario list themselves as having a disability. Whether that is caused from age, infirmity or birth, they have a disability. They ask merely that they be accommodated, so that they can enjoy the same benefits and privileges of every other citizen in this province. They don't want to be special, but they do recognize that from time to time they are going to need accommodation so they can have equality. What they really are asking for in the end is to enjoy the same rights as everyone else. It isn't enough in this bill to simply say that a citizen who is disabled can vote in an advance poll. That is not enough. We know if that was all that citizens had to do, every one of our citizens would vote in an advance poll. But that's not what happens, and there's a very good reason for that.
Citizens and electors want to be able to watch what is happening in the political process, right up until the very end. Oftentimes, because of the conflicting messages that they're getting or because sometimes it takes a while to get the literature from door to door, an opportunity to meet the candidate or an opportunity to go to an all-candidates' meeting, it literally takes them from the time the election is called to 28 days later to make up their minds.
For those people who have made up their mind in advance, of course an advance poll is good. For those who have no other condition and have to do an advance poll because they're leaving the country or because they're not otherwise available on election day, of course an advance poll is a good thing. But the majority of citizens want to vote on election day. They want to feel part of the history and of the process of actually voting.
We have not done enough in this bill to accommodate people with disabilities. They are very bitter, some of them, about what is not contained in the body of this bill and at the way they were treated, both in the committee and when the issue was put before the appropriate minister.
To go on, this bill does not accomplish what the disabilities community is expecting to have. I have letters here that were sent to all three parties from ARCH, from the Canadian Hearing Society and, most importantly, I think, in the circumstances of the bill, from David Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. They are saying quite convincingly and very strongly that they do not believe that this bill accommodates the needs of the disabled community.
They talk with some real power about what happened in the by-election in Toronto Centre. We know, if you read the local newspapers, that on that day in February of the Toronto Centre by-election, some of the polls were not accessible to people with disabilities. One person in a wheelchair had to be carried down the stairs when they arrived to vote. Thankfully, that person was more than happy to be accommodated in that way, although I am sure that that would not have been the first choice. I am sure that there was a certain degree of angst and trouble about having to be carried into a polling station and not being able to get there of your own strength, your own volition, or about the accommodation that should have been there, either a ramp or an elevator. If it was truly to be accessible, that was not going to happen. I know that David Lepofsky wrote to the government and said that this has to be the very last election in which such things are not done.
It is possible to accommodate people in wheelchairs. It is possible to accommodate the deaf and hard-of-hearing. It is possible to accommodate those who do not have good vision or who are blind. It is possible to accommodate all manner of disabilities, whether visible or invisible. But there has to be a commitment from the government to do so. There has to be a legislative effect that will make it possible. This bill does not contain that. This bill and the committee that saw it, the Sorbara committee, did not set their minds to doing this, to going through this.
I'm going to rely here in great part on the letter from Mr. Lepofsky. The first thing he said was that there was no consultation with the Ontario government. He writes to the Honourable Madeleine Meilleur on February 8, 2010, and outlines in his letter precisely what did not happen. "Since the 2007 election, we have repeatedly offered to work with the Ontario government on implementing this commitment. There is no reason why the next municipal elections in 2010 and the next provincial elections in 2011 could not be barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities. The Ontario government has had ample time to address this."
Of course, he is absolutely right. This government has known for months, this government has known for years, that it intended to take action and present a bill such as Bill 231. There has been little or no effort made to accommodate people with disabilities. If there had been, we would not have had the fiasco of Toronto Centre occur. It would not have happened. But it did, which means that Mr. Lepofsky is absolutely right: The Ontario government has not had the kind of consultation process with the disabilities community to make sure that everything is barrier-free and everything is possible for persons with disabilities.
Again, I have to state, and as strongly as I can, they are not looking for something extra. They are looking to have the same rights. All they require is a little accommodation to do so. They have the same rights to show up in the polling station to cast their vote, and they shouldn't have to be carried down a set of stairs when they show up in a wheelchair or a walker unable to accommodate themselves.
Mr. Lepofsky goes on to talk about passing the buck and how this particular committee, the Sorbara committee, attempted to pass the buck when they tried to appear before them. I quote again from his letter: "On April 28, 2009, we appeared before the Select Committee on Elections. Regrettably, after receiving our input, that committee's report did not adopt many of our recommendations. Once that select committee reported, we asked you with whom we should deal to address this issue. In your August 13, 2009, letter to us, you referred us to MPP Greg Sorbara, who chaired the Legislature's Select Committee on Elections. However, as we told your office, Mr. Sorbara had previously told us that he does not have lead responsibility for this, and that after his select committee had submitted its report (which it had rendered in June 2009), it would be up to the government to decide what it will do to achieve accessible elections for voters and candidates with disabilities."
There you go: People with disabilities come before the government and ask to get something done. They are referred in turn to the Sorbara select committee, and they are told by the Sorbara select committee that they have to go back to the government, and then, "Oh, by the way, all the time frames have been over, and it is not possible for it to happen." I think that they have every right to feel aggrieved. I think they have every right to think that no one is paying attention to their issues.
They write again for the third time that there is no input; they have had no input in the legislation. They tried time and again to meet with government members and with bureaucrats who work at Queen's Park. They tried to meet so that the questions and the things they wanted to raise would be reflected in the legislation. Mr. Lepofsky, who is well known and often saluted and introduced in the House by my Liberal colleagues across the way, tried to be invited. He tried to participate. He tried to get his views known and the views of the disabled community, but he was rebuffed at every stage.
I go on to quote his letter: "In December 2009, we were surprised to learn via the Internet that your government introduced Bill 231 into the Legislature, to reform the Ontario election process, including addressing disability accessibility issues. After your government received the June 2009 report of the Select Committee on Elections and received word that we were not happy with how it addressed disability issues, no one in your government consulted us on the preparation of this legislation. This was a dramatic departure from your government's consulting us on various disability accessibility issues."
I do remember Mr. Lepofsky coming before this House. I do remember him coming to committee. I do remember him talking about the accessibility that he had had to the government under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I remember that he was quite laudatory in terms of how the government listened to the issues. He was quite laudatory of how his input was welcomed and part of the legislation. But it's quite clear that, in the preparation of this bill, he was not consulted. His group was not consulted. People with disabilities were not consulted.
I don't know how the government with a straight face can stand there, as some of the members have, and say, "This is all well and good; we're going to have special ballots," as if that is going to solve the problem. How is it going to solve the problem for people who want to fully participate in the democratic process in the way that every citizen can and does? How is it going to accommodate them to vote on election day? How is it going to accommodate them to get to the polls? This has not been answered and no one has consulted with Mr. Lepofsky or anyone else in the disabled community to find out what their input and their views are.
I think the government has failed miserably when it comes to dealing with disability issues on this particular file. I know that Mr. Lepofsky and others have seen the bill, and they are asking for full public consultation if and when this goes to committee. I can only support that they be listened to. I can only support that this bill be expanded to include a whole section on how the disabled community is to be accommodated to make sure that they have the full rights of every citizen. It is important that they vote. It is important that their views be known, that their candidates be supported and that they have the same right as everyone else. To disallow them would be a huge disservice to all Ontarians.
The disabilities community is asking for three very realistic things. At the outset, they are demanding that the fiasco of February 4, 2010, in the Toronto Centre by-election not be repeated. But they are asking, in order for that not to be repeated, that three things happen. They're asking, first of all, that all barriers be removed in provincial elections; secondly, they are asking that the government use its power to legislate that all barriers be removed in municipal elections; and thirdly, and I think most importantly, they are asking that there be a monitoring and enforcement of the act and of the laws that they don't see here, when and if it is passed.
They are asking as well, in conjunction with that, that the government of Ontario release all of the existing research that has been made available to the bureaucrats and to the ministry to the disabled community, and particularly, if the government of Ontario has that research, which was made available from the United States, that it be released. Because we know that, after the fiasco of the hanging chads in the United States, there was a great deal of consternation and upset that people who were disabled were denied votes, and that the federal government of that country-of that jurisdiction-has spent millions upon millions of dollars to make sure that the disabled community in the United States has full access to vote. They also want to have a look at some of that information, and I think it's reasonable for them to request it and reasonable for the government, if they have that information, to make it available to Ontarians. Surely, if the government was concerned about how to make elections more open and democratic and available to people with disabilities, they would have that somewhere in a dusty tome or two hanging around in their office.
They are asking, very importantly, that there be public hearings, because, to date, there have not been public hearings, and I want to go back to that. Should this bill pass second reading and be sent for third, then I would think it incumbent upon the government to hold public hearings and to make those public hearings freely accessible. I know they're accessible if they're held in this building, but if they are to travel outside of Toronto, to make sure that they are accessible in every place that it goes. It is not good enough to say that you're going to be holding a hearing in North Bay or in Vaughan or in Sudbury or in Oakville, or-I'm just looking at members who are present here from out of town, from, I don't know, Chatham way. It's not good enough to just say that you're going to be holding those hearings if you cannot ensure that they are accessible to the people of those communities. They are asking for that.
Again, to quote Mr. Lepofsky about the public hearings-and I want to talk from his letter again. He goes back and he says the following: "As indicated in our December 18, 2009 letter to you, the Premier and the municipal affairs minister, we ask you to commit as soon as possible on behalf of your government to holding full, open and accessible public hearings on Bill 231. These public hearings are needed to enable the disability community to have their voices heard at the Legislature on this bill."
He goes on to say: "The need for your government to move promptly and effectively on this issue is reinforced by the troubling use of an inaccessible polling station during the February 4, 2010 Toronto by-election. We seek your government's leadership by condemning that incident, and by ensuring that Bill 231 includes provisions that will ensure that this never happens again." They close the letter, "We are writing to both opposition parties to seek their support for public hearings on Bill 231, and for strong amendments to ensure fully accessible municipal and provincial elections." It's signed:
"David Lepofsky CM, O.Ont.
"Chair, AODA Alliance."
Copies were sent to everyone, so me standing up here now-this should not be a surprise to the government. You have had this letter for a long time. It was sent to you, to the opposition and to us in the third party. I am standing here, though, as the NDP disabilities critic, to again make the strongest possible case that this be included in the legislation. Of what value is the legislation if all citizens cannot benefit from it? If only some citizens can benefit from it, then it is not good enough.
We have, as I said, more than a million people in the province who list that they have some form of disability. We need to make sure that they have the full rights of citizens of this province and not one bit less, and if this government needs to take some time and hold full public consultations, so be it. If this government needs to take the time to go back and redraft those sections that have been left out-I was going to say inadvertently, but I don't think it was inadvertence; I think that there really wasn't the political will to do so-then go back and do it, because you have that obligation. Those citizens have the right to expect the same from this Legislature as any other citizen.
I would just like to close off, again, by going back to where I started from. I have been speaking for 50 minutes, and I haven't repeated myself once.
Mr. Michael Prue: I'm hearing some "ohs."
I just want to go back and repeat where I started from. This bill is a modest bill. It does a couple of things right: It does have special ballots, it does give opportunities for students to vote in a couple of places-their home poll and their university or college poll-and it depoliticizes the process. But so much more needs to be done. It is not enough to simply introduce little tiny bills, piecemeal, one step at a time, some form of incrementalism. It is important to seize wholeheartedly what needs to be done, to go there and to do it.
This government has the option. You have the power. You have the authority. As an opposition member, I am merely asking that you listen to the debate that is going on out there, that you listen to what the opposition parties have to say, that you listen to the disabilities community, that you listen to those people who will be affected and that you take the necessary steps to hear from them and to make sure that they are accommodated in every way possible.
If that happens, then I would be pleased to support this bill. It's up to you whether or not it gets support from the other side, because if you do the right things, I'm sure all members of the House will accommodate by supporting it. Thank you very much.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Bob Delaney: I'd like to thank the member for Beaches-East York for his observations on this particular bill. There's one provision in this bill that I particularly like. The member for Beaches-East York alluded to it; it's the depoliticizing of the process of the appointment of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Now, in the riding that I represent, the electoral officer who had been in place prior to my first election was a very capable lady. Not long after I was elected, I got a call: People were asking if I would say something nice about this person, who wanted to be reappointed. I thought to myself, "Why am I even involved in this?" In point of fact, she is a very competent, very nice person. I said, "I have no particular desire to be involved in this appointment, and I think you should appoint the person on merit."
I feel much the same way about the idea of sending a list of potential deputy returning officers in my riding in to Elections Ontario. I mean, I did it. I did it because that was what was expected, but I would rather not. I would rather that the campaigns not be involved in the act of being the referee.
So what this bill really does is say that Elections Ontario is an entity that exists apart from the political campaigns, which is exactly how it's supposed to be. We should, in an election, focus on doing the things that we're there to do. While we can get along to a greater or lesser degree for three years and change, in that last six months or so we put on our party colours, go out and talk about the things we want to do, the vision that we have for Ontario, and it's a very adversarial system.
I want to keep my best people for me. I grasp what this bill is trying to do. These are very much-needed reforms, and I look forward to the passage of this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments.
Mr. John O'Toole: I appreciate the comments from the member from Beaches-East York and respect his dogged participation in the process as well.
His comments today, representing David Lepofsky in terms of persons needing to be accommodated-I think section 14 of the bill is clear. It says, "The Chief Electoral Officer is authorized to study methods of improving the voting process and facilitating voting by persons with disabilities. The studies may be conducted by commissioning research and reports, establishing advisory committees and holding conferences."
In fact, each municipality has a pretty significant role in this. The municipal elections occurring this year have a disability advisory committee by law that gives them some advice, and I think they should work with the local community because it would be wrong to assume that the needs are the same all over the province. To be realistic, the accommodation should be as practical as possible, but is essential, so I comment on the member's role in advocating, and I want to compliment him for that.
But I think the bill fails in some respects as well. It has some good things, and it has some things that are missing. This whole idea of the family coalition funding of third party advertising is being addressed in other provinces. The Working Families Coalition is code language for the unions that supported Dalton McGuinty, and the organizational effects underneath that are something that challenges the very fundamentals of democracy itself. I think it should be strengthened there. We should all have the right to participate in it, and it fails in turning out the vote-this fixed-term election stuff that we're dealing with. The voting turnout has gone down since McGuinty took over. Although I'd like to support the thrust of this, there's not the content that I like.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments.
Mr. Peter Kormos: I listened carefully to the comments by my colleague Mr. Prue, who's the democratic reform critic for the NDP. Mr. Prue, of course, is the member from Beaches-East York. I also listened carefully to the speech by the member for Willowdale, who gave an excellent discourse on this matter. I know because I spent more than a few hours with him. Howard Hampton was the member of the committee that considered these matters under the leadership, the helmsmanship of Mr. Sorbara, who is the member from Vaughan, you should recall, and who's here with us today and I'm sure will be addressing this bill.
I'm looking forward to speaking to it as well. I have some words for Mr. Zimmer and about him; similarly, some for and about Mr. Sorbara. I have some comments, I suspect, about the Premier and that gaggle of unelected who increasingly dominate policy development here at Queen's Park.
It's interesting because one of the first Premiers, in my experience, who centralized power in the Premier's office and who increasingly used unelected people was that former Liberal Premier, Bob Rae. Now we see his successor Liberal Premier, Dalton McGuinty, compounding those sins as if Mr. McGuinty were like Charlie McCarthy sitting on the knee with Edgar Bergen operating the strings.
I'll be speaking to this, I suppose, in around an hour's time. I hope people will have the-
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Thank you. Questions and comments.
Mr. Lou Rinaldi: It's a pleasure to rise to make a couple of comments on the member from Beaches-East York in regard to Bill 231. I understand the opposition and third party positions. They're there to try to indicate those things that, as they would say, are missing or we need to do more about. The fact of the matter is, there was a select committee of all three political parties in this House that sat together and worked on this proposed piece of legislation to reform how we vote in this province of Ontario.
I'm going to focus a little bit on what the legislation does. The member from Beaches-East York focused on what the legislation doesn't do.
This legislation, if passed, will allow voters to vote by special ballot. Special ballots will enhance accessibility and convenience for many electors, including persons with disabilities, snowbirds, seniors, and military personnel. What this piece of legislation, if passed, will also do is allow post-secondary students, who in many cases don't go to post-secondary establishments within the riding where they live-I don't have any post-secondary places of education in my riding, so obviously, all my young voters would be somewhere else in Ontario. It was always a lot of work to try to get these kids either to come home or vote by proxy. But now, those young folks who shape our future will have the ability to vote either/or.
I hope we pass this piece of legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): The member from Beaches-East York has up to two minutes to respond.
Mr. Michael Prue: I'd like to thank the members from Mississauga-Streetsville, from Durham, from Welland and from Northumberland-Quinte West for their comments.
In two minutes you don't have much time, but for the member from Streetsville, yes, I tried to speak as forcefully as I could, although not today-on the last occasion. I don't know whether the members had the opportunity to be here on two occasions, but I did try to speak forcefully and in support of the depoliticizing of the positions of people working on election day, particularly because we have come to the maturity that it's no longer seen as some kind of political plum job to be handed out by the party in power or the party that happened to have come second in the last election. It is time to recognize merit and professionalism, and so I welcome this.
Also, to the member from Northumberland-Quinte West, I don't think he was available to hear the beginning of my speech; only the last half. I spent some considerable time talking about special ballots and how they are an important improvement. I talked as well about students being able to vote in two locations, and gave the classic example of myself having to travel from Ottawa to Toronto to exercise my first franchise.
It's important that we looked at the special ballots, the students and the depoliticizing-all of those things. I'm quite conscious that they're good things, but I am on the opposition side; it is my job to tell the government where improvements can be made. Those improvements can be made particularly for people with disabilities, by treating them the same way that everyone else is treating them and by making the accommodation necessary so that they can vote on election day-not just in a special ballot, not just in advance, but on election day itself, at the polls like every other citizen. That's what I tried to emphasize today and that's what I hope the government had an opportunity to hear.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Further debate?
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Let me just say that for me, it's a real pleasure to be given the opportunity to speak for a few moments on this bill. In doing so, I really want to do three things: I want to talk a little bit about what this bill is really all about, I want to tell members of this House and people who are watching the proceedings how this bill came about, and finally, I want to answer some of the criticisms that have been launched, particularly from my friend from Beaches-East York.
I had a lot to do with the creation of this bill. As you know, during the last campaign, our party made a commitment to take on some revisions to the Election Act and the Election Finances Act and the Boundaries Act as part of our overall platform for this Parliament. It was shortly after that election that this House struck a committee to begin that work. I had the honour of chairing that committee. It was an unusual committee, and I think it was a committee process that is to be commended because it worked very well. As you know, Speaker, mostly in a majority Parliament the government side gets to have the largest number of votes on a committee. In practical terms, the government controls the committee. The government can outvote the opposition parties on committees, except in certain circumstances with certain committees under our rules of procedure. But this committee was different, and it was different for a purpose. It was different because it deals with rules that are, for want of a better expression, inside baseball. It's all about us and the rules and procedures that we use to renew this Parliament every four years. So it really relates to how we go about our business of campaigning and winning elections, and the rules that govern that. Because of that, I think the government wisely decided and this House wisely decided to strike a committee made up of a Chair-that was me-and one representative from each party. In this case, it was the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills, the member from Welland-from whom apparently we are going to have to hear in a little bit-and the member from Willowdale, my colleague in the Liberal Party David Zimmer.
The government had no power to control the committee process. The fact is that any time the opposition parties wanted to outvote the government on this committee, they had the numbers; they could do it. It never happened once. There was a real consensus that the three political parties would get down to the business of looking at the Election Act and bringing forward recommendations that would ultimately result in a bill in this Legislature to improve the Election Act.
I made it perfectly clear, I think the government made it perfectly clear, and it was perfectly clear to the public and those who followed the process that we were not about to go about rewriting and reforming and transforming how we elect members to this Parliament. There were those who said, "We've got another chance to raise the question of proportional representation." There are others who said, "We have to figure out a way to make sure that other major electoral reforms were put into place." The fact is that it maybe disappointed a few-certainly not me. The mission was to do some modernization of the act-there were areas where the law was just dysfunctional-and some modernization, some housekeeping and some language that gave us a better system for the election that will take place in 2011.
I want to take a moment in my remarks to thank my colleagues on that committee: the member from Welland, the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills and the member from Willowdale. I think we worked well together. We produced a report. That report was submitted to this House. The government then examined the report, and this bill is the product of that work.
What are we actually proposing in this legislation? What are some of the changes that will result if and when this bill is passed? Let's go through some of them. I'm going to repeat some of the ideas put forth by my friend from Beaches-East York. He mentioned getting rid of the politicization of the process. What does that mean? There were some really odd things in the old law, things that required candidates, 10 days before voting, to submit their lists of who should go and work as poll clerks on election day.
Mr. Michael Prue: Bizarre.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: My friend says, "Bizarre," and he's absolutely right. That has been in there-in the old days, it was all about patronage and "I'm a candidate. I can get a job for my friends on election day. They'll get $10 for going to work the polls and maybe a beer at the end of the day," even during Prohibition times. This thing remained in the act. It was really foolish, so we've taken that out.
More importantly, the act itself was very prescriptive, down to the number of people who needed to sit around each particular polling desk. It prescribed exactly what had to be done. It lacked flexibility, and in very many cases we've been able to address that issue and add flexibility and authority to the Chief Election Officer to do what makes sense on election day to make sure that the election is conducted properly and that people have easy access to the polls and are able to vote quickly and efficiently. There are a number of changes-I'm not going to go into all of them-to bring those changes about.
We also wanted to address specifically the issue of access to polling places by the disabled community. Now, my friend read into the record a number of comments, letters from my dear friend David Lepofsky. I've known David a very long time. I went to law school with David, one of the brightest people that walks this stretch of land that we call Ontario, a very bright man. From his days in law school until today, he has been one of the most articulate advocates for the disabled community that I've ever met, certainly, and that has ever served in any jurisdiction in Canada, perhaps North America.
The fact is that although our committee, made up of three parties, did not hold broad public hearings, our committee heard directly from David Lepofsky and the disabled community. Above and beyond that, I personally, as Chair of the committee, met on a number of occasions with David and with advocates from the community.
Am I surprised now that David is writing a letter saying, "Well, we didn't get a chance to comment on the bill"? No, I'm not surprised at all-not a bit. His job as an advocate is to say, "It's not enough." I understand that. He's doing what he needs to do and calling for broad public hearings. I understand that.
The good news is that, on this piece of legislation, there has been broad public consultation on the committee work and on the language of Bill 231. We have consulted broadly, and we have consulted fairly. We have consulted with political parties, and we have consulted with the disabled community.
Is this bill representative of everything that that community wanted? Certainly not. David made the point over and over to me, for example, that you've got to deal with the municipal voting as well: "You're dealing with the Elections Act. You guys should take on the work of reforming the Municipal Elections Act." And if I said it once, I said to him 10 times, "David, we don't have the authority do that." Our responsibility is simply the election laws that govern elections through this Parliament, so we were unable to do that.
But let's look at what we actually did. Firstly, in a new, more permissive bill, a bill that gives more authority to the Chief Election Officer, an officer of this Legislature, this legislation directs him, on an ongoing basis, to make sure that everything that can reasonably be done to provide for voting by the disabled community is done, and there will be a regular process of review by the Chief Election Officer.
My friend from Beaches-East York talked about special ballots. That's an amazing transformation from what was. In Canada, it's not anything that's really new, and let's be fair; we stole the notion of special ballots from the federal government and we expanded it and made it even more reasonable and rational for voters who cannot get to the polls.
In the old days, under the old act, if you were not able to get to the polls, you could exercise a proxy. We've gotten rid of proxies. You know why? Because they don't work, they're unfair and they take away from the disabled person the right to actually mark the ballot.
Some people ask, how does a proxy work? Well, I'm the Liberal candidate. I go to somebody's apartment and I say, "You know what? You can't get out to vote. Here, sign this and I'll vote for you." That voter doesn't know whether the ballot was marked for the candidate that the voter wanted.
We're scrapping that; we're scrapping the proxy system. We're bringing in special ballots so every voter in Ontario who feels like he or she cannot get to the poll to vote can have a ballot sent to that voter's home. The voter can mark the ballot and get it to the returning officer so that the voter knows the ballot was marked in the way the voter wanted it to be marked. I think that's a great reform, and I am glad to say that we have incorporated the federal process here into our own system and indeed improved upon it.
One other thing that we did, in redesigning or making recommendations for the design, was to ask ourselves what other jurisdictions in Ontario do, and in particular what the federal government does. Nothing upsets voters more than getting to the polls and finding out that the rules are different for the federal and the provincial systems of voting; it doesn't make any sense to them. So wherever we could, we have made the Ontario Election Act in this bill reflect the standards that people know from voting in federal elections.
We have ended a number of silly provisions that no longer work. One of them is enumeration. I know my friends in the Conservative Party wanted to retain enumeration. In fact, in every election, my friends in the Conservative Party wanted everyone to be enumerated again. Remember those days when people would come and knock on your door and say, "Who lives here? How many are 21? Do they want to get on the voters list?" Well, that maybe once worked, and it provided a lot of short-term work for people who were out of work, but the fact is that enumeration, in that model, meant that at six out of 10 homes there was no one home, and at two homes, people just didn't want to answer the door; it was too late at night. So maybe you would get two out of 10.
We have incorporated, in this bill, mechanisms to make sure that we have the most accurate voting lists possible. We have made provisions to make sure that those accurate voting lists are available as quickly as possible and that they are available to candidates so that candidates can go about encountering the voters and identifying voters and preparing themselves for elections.
I want to say a couple of things about the changes that we're making to the election financing act.
Way back when, this Parliament struck a committee that dramatically changed the way in which we finance election campaigns, and in my view, the rules have worked pretty well. We have a system of quasi-public financing. There are funds provided to every campaign and every political party, based on the number of voters in that area. We have a system that very carefully regulates the donation process. We have very strict limits on how much can be donated per candidate and per political party.
But there were a few anomalies, and in the context of modernization and housekeeping, we have made a few changes, or proposed a few changes, that I think will serve people well.
For example, it sounds foolish that we would even have to write it into a bill, but if you're an individual, you are able to give to a political party by way of a credit card. Makes sense: Most of us pay for most of what we buy these days with credit or debit cards. But if you ran a small business and you wanted to make a contribution to Mike Colle's riding or David Zimmer's riding or Glen Murray's riding, you couldn't use a credit card, so we've changed that.
One other thing that I think might garner a little bit of press is that we've made a provision to allow people to make a gift to a political party in their wills. You couldn't do that before. It's not as if it's going to change the world. I mean, yes, in writing my will, I would probably do that.
Mr. David Zimmer: Here, here.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: And I know David is going to do that. I've got a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this business of electoral politics; I believe in it strongly.
Mr. Peter Kormos: What about your organs?
Mr. Greg Sorbara: My friend from Welland says, "What about your organs?" That, too, but not in my will. Our friend George Smitherman made specific provisions to allow us to do that in another form. I'll tell you, no political party would want my organs at the time that I leave this marvellous planet.
Mr. Peter Kormos: They can be rebuilt.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: My friend says they can be rebuilt. Well, in some cases that might be true, but in my case I wouldn't have thought so.
We're in the midst of second reading of a simple piece of legislation that is designed to modernize the Election Act and the Election Finances Act and do some housekeeping. It's inside baseball. It's about us. This is not going to change the plight of Ontarians who are out there looking to get a job because their factory has just closed down. There are a lot of problems out there, and mostly that's what we deal with in this Parliament. Those are the important things. But there is an election coming up in October 2011. I don't know about the other parties, but I know our party is starting to prepare ourselves to make sure we are prepared for that campaign: that up until that campaign we have been dealing with the issues that confront this province, and that when that campaign comes, we will have a set of proposals for the next Parliament that will ignite the imaginations of the people of this province. But you know something? In the interim, we have a little bit of work to do with those mechanisms that we use to get us there, and I think this bill does that.
In closing, I would like to thank a few people: once again, my colleagues in this House who sat on the Select Committee on Elections. I'd also like to thank our new Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa. He's an officer of this House. This upcoming general election will be his first. He has overseen three or four by-elections-
Interjection: Four or five.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Yes, most of which have been very favourable to our side. That's an aside; it's not the major theme of this speech. Greg Essensa, I think, is just a real champion of fair and efficiently run elections, and we are very glad to have him.
Finally, although my name stands as Chair of the select committee, in all of the work that I've done, I've been assisted by my executive assistant, Sharon Laredo, who really does all the work in my office. I just have an opportunity to take credit every now and again.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this bill. I hope the House passes this rather quickly.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Jim Wilson: Just in response to the member from Vaughan, we're gravely disappointed on this side of the House, at least the PC Party, by what's not in this particular piece of legislation, and that's dealing with third party advertising. I can understand why the Liberals didn't deal with it: the Working Families Coalition, which has run in the last two elections, 2003 and 2007, third party advertising in favour of the Liberal Party only. As labour leader Buzz Hargrove said, the objective of the Working Families group was to "make sure the Tories don't get elected here."
People at home will remember that in the 2003 campaign their TV ad said, "Not this time, Ernie," referring to Premier Ernie Eves, and in the 2007 campaign it was, "You decide." They raised $1.482 million, and they spent, on those primarily TV ads, $1.084 million, almost $1.085 million. Most of that money is recycled public money because it comes from unions who get contracts from the government. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers contributed $9,720; Ontario Pipe Trades Council, $400,000; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $280,000-
Hon. Rick Bartolucci: They're a good group.
Mr. Jim Wilson: I'm sure they're excellent groups, but the fact of the matter is, these people get government money.
Other people that contributed: the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, $100,000; International Union of Elevator Constructors, Local 90, $7,000; the operating engineers, $150,000-all unions that benefit from public money that shouldn't be allowed, through the back door, through third party advertising, to do what isn't allowed during the election campaign by political parties themselves. It's a way for the Liberal Party to benefit from $1 million worth of advertising that should be accounted for through this type of legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Peter Kormos: As I indicated earlier, I'm going to be speaking to this, I suspect at some point this afternoon. Folks will know that I was away in the latter part of 2009; I could mention that briefly, I suppose, when I have my modest 20 minutes. But it was fortunate that I got fixed up by the doctors and nurses and so on in time to get back here for February 15, when the House resumed after the Christmas break. I was grateful to have my Christmas break to do this recovery. I was grateful for the generous welcome that people gave me when they returned to the Legislature, and I want to extend that welcome today to Greg Sorbara on the occasion of his return to the Legislature. I hope that his recovery is as complete and gratifying and personally fulfilling as mine was. He deserves no less.
I'm going to talk to you, when I get a chance to talk, about serving on the Sorbara committee, because it was indeed a delight and an incredibly novel experience. It was unique, and I regret that there were but three of us amongst 107 who were able to join Mr. Sorbara, who of course was the standard-bearer for the Premier, and not inappropriately. He's one of the brightest people that the government has in its benches, and the government needs him now more than they ever have before. I suspect that they will be wooing him, and the seduction will acquire almost unsavoury qualities in the course of trying to bring Mr. Sorbara back into the matrimonial bed, if you will.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Thank you. Questions and comments?
Mr. Jean-Marc Lalonde: I want to congratulate, first, the chair of the committee, the member from Vaughan, and also all the members of this committee for their work and recommendations.
Even though we need to have better participation, I have to tell you that we are way ahead of many countries, because I had the privilege to observe elections, as appointed by the United Nations, in Cambodia, in Congo, like the member on the other side of the House from Trinity-Spadina.
But over here, today, when we see some of the recommendations that were made by the committee-first of all, there won't be any more proxy vote. I've seen those proxies every election; they're flying around, and as soon as they can put their hand on that, they run to the polling station.
Also, one of the very important parts is in the nursing homes. In nursing homes today, we will have mobile voting services. When I say "mobile," in the past they were working in the nursing home all day to get, sometimes, four to six votes, and immediately you knew who those people had voted for. This is not right. Today, with this new regulation that they're going to have in place-and by the way, the member for Beaches-East York mentioned that we should have had a consultation on it after the second reading. I'm sure that we will have public hearings on that, either here or on the road.
Once again, thank you to the whole committee that has come up with some recommendations.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Norm Miller: I'm pleased to have an opportunity to comment on the speech from the member from Vaughan on Bill 231. I would say that our party supports some aspects of the legislation, including the depoliticization of polling workers.
I do have a couple of questions for the member, and that has, first of all, to do with special ballots: how they're going to ensure, from the mail-in part of the special ballots, that there's no fraud involved. In many of my municipalities, they've had problems with spoiled ballots when they allowed mail-in ballots, so I'd ask how he's going to deal with that.
Also, I'd ask why the committee didn't put forward recommendation 26, as recommended by the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills, to do with third party spending in Ontario. Specifically, I note that the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills wrote in the dissenting report that the PC caucus endorses recommendation 26 of the committee to limit third party spending in Ontario and wants to make certain that this recommendation is implemented. He goes on to point out that other Canadian jurisdictions have enacted limits on third party spending. They range from a low of $300 in Quebec to a high of $183,000 federally. We have a situation, as the member from Simcoe-Grey outlined, where organizations like Working Families are spending millions of dollars in third party advertising outside of the election rules, and this is something that should be dealt with in this legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): The member from Vaughan has up to two minutes to respond.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: I'll begin by going back to the comments of my friend from Simcoe-Grey. I think he was quoting Buzz Hargrove, who said that the purpose at hand with third party advertisers was to make sure that the Tories didn't get elected in that election over two years ago. I'm not sure that's right. I think that the Tories did a good enough job all by themselves making sure that they didn't get elected. I don't think they needed help from anyone else.
I do appreciate, though, what my friend from Prescott-Russell had to say about some of the changes. He talked about elections elsewhere in the world. As we put this legislation ultimately into law, we ought to appreciate here in this jurisdiction that all of us, partisanship aside, are very dedicated to the notion of fair elections, where the democratic will of the people is ultimately the objective of conducting the elections. I think we move a few steps down that road with the changes that we have made here.
My friend from Parry Sound raises again the issue of third party expenditures during elections. I paid very close attention during the committee discussions as to what the member from Mississippi Mills had to say about it.
I want to end by saying that under the Election Act, the expenditures of all parties in elections must be reported and disclosed. That was the law. That has been the law up until now, and that will continue to be the law in this jurisdiction.
I hope this bill gets passed quickly.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Further debate?
Mr. John O'Toole: It's a pleasure to speak this afternoon on Bill 231. Just for the record, I did listen to the member from Vaughan. I'm only sorry that I wasn't given two minutes to respond to it, because he brought up a couple of very good points.
One of them was that Greg Essensa, the new elections officer for the province of Ontario, is an arm's-length officer of the Legislature. I feel that he should feel somewhat vulnerable since they fired the Ombudsman, as well as the Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller. So I hope that this next election goes well or they'll fire him.
Now, the bill we're dealing with-they are independent commissioners at the will of the government. But here's the deal: This bill has 20 different sections, and our critic, the member from Halton, Mr. Chudleigh, spoke to this bill on the 16th, and I think did a commendable job in outlining our party's position on a bill that, for the most part, we agree with.
Listening to the comments today and from the previous speaker, Mr. Lalonde from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, it sounds like you're going to have public hearings. The member from Vaughan said that there was an all-party committee that struck a report, and that report is somewhat included in Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act.
The points that we have trouble with-I think the member from Simcoe-Grey, in his response to Mr. Sorbara today, stated clearly one of our chief concerns with the legislation as it is currently drafted. Now, we have great hope that they will listen to us and the public in public hearings and change their tack on this third party financing.
This is the deal here: In the last provincial election, all joking aside, there was an inordinate amount of third party advertising that was really unfair. Those resources weren't available to the NDP and they weren't available to the opposition party as well. We know that the war chest-the Liberal Party just had a huge fundraiser last week, at $920 a plate, and they raised well over $1 million-close to $2 million. So they really do have the lobbyists and the consultants on the string. We see that with the Samsung deal. We see that with the new deal this morning in the media with the solar panels with Bosch. And we see it in many respects in the eHealth scandal and the OLG scandal. We see this ability to attract lobbyists, and those lobbyists are willing to buy tables at fundraisers, which is just an unbalanced approach to the fairness of democracy. I wouldn't want to compare them to US Vice-President Dick Cheney, but they're awfully close to the edge of an unacceptable role in democracy for lobbyists. This is what they're failing to do.
We call on them now to amend the act by removing the third party contributions. In the portion on electoral finance, it's quite acceptable to put an amendment forward-the member from Simcoe-Grey tried to, in all fairness, point that out-to improve the bill, because those same rules would apply to us, if and when we become government in 2011. So it's not something where we're trying to unweight the balance here. We're trying to find a way of moving forward in fairness.
The member from Simcoe-Grey's been here quite a while, I think since 1990, and he's been on both sides of the House. He's been a minister and an Acting Speaker of the Legislature, so he's a very fair-minded person. He took the time to get the election finance information, and we found out under this freedom of information that they got $1.4 million-this group. This group was made up of-and we're not making it up to smear or malign anyone.
Mr. John O'Toole: The truth will set you free.
The Working Families Coalition is the group. You'll see their advertisements on television. It's basically paid advertising over and above the threshold that's allowed by any of the parties under election finances. This is another way of getting more airtime, unbalancing the public debate and discourse. And when you look into the details, it's not surprising that many of these people are finding themselves building the Windsor casino, the Windsor Energy Centre or other projects.
I don't want to impute motive. I just think that sometimes-we look here and we see the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1739-$9,700; the Ontario Pipe Trades Council-$400,000; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 353-$280,000; the International Union of Elevator Constructors-$33,000; the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Local 721-$50,000; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 586-$50,000; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1687-$12,000. These are members' dues being used for questionable purposes, I'd say. For any members listening today, if you'd like to call, we will give you a complete list.
What we're asking for is for Mr. Sorbara and Mr. McGuinty to eliminate this unreasonable and unacceptable politicization of the democratic process in Bill 231. Many countries throughout the world are fighting this corruption, if you will, in elections. I would say to you that most provinces are taking the lead ahead of Ontario. This is being debated as we speak in Alberta, BC, Quebec and many other provinces. And regions of the United States are trying to get rid of this. Barack Obama is doing it, so it's got to be right. I mean, he's perfect.
I'm going to go on. The CAW-$200,000. The auto sector is falling off the cliff, and they're giving $200,000 to these campaign ads. You've seen them. One of them was quite good because they picked almost personal battles. They demean the leaders of the opposition parties. They characterize them as untrustworthy. I think the suspicious tone of these ads is reprehensible. It's contrary to the Canadian way of kindness and gentleness and inclusivity.
Mr. John O'Toole: Now they're laughing, see? This is where the smugness comes over, which I frequently hear in this House-that somehow, they're the only ones with integrity and compassion. It simply is not the case. I would not discredit any member; I would say that all members come with the right motives. This is one way you could make it better and fairer and more honest here.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation-$100,000; the Canadian Ironworkers Political Action group-$60,000. The list goes on.
In the limited time I have left, I want to mention a few more. Pollara strategic opinions: They're a polling company. Here they are, in for $65,800. They're the ones the government contracts to do the polling data.
I'm speaking directly to the people of Ontario: What you're seeing here is the evidence. This is simply not right. It's not right for the Liberals, it's not right for the Conservatives, it's not right for the NDP. It's simply wrong. Get in line with the process. There are election rules: that they can contribute directly to the party, and the parties have spending limits. That's the issue here: In many cases, it's simply unfair.
When you look at the whole issue of the last provincial election-there was a referendum, and that referendum was to examine voting practices. There was a proportional representation ballot on there; mixed member proportional, I believe, was the actual question.
This is what we're striving for: fairness at the ballot box and fairness for all the parties, whether it's the Green Party or whatever party.
I look at Fair Vote Canada. Here's a good thing: It says, "Why don't politicians listen?" This is the bridge that I'm making to this bill. We're saying to eliminate this third party advertising. The cynicism you get is that you have Fair Vote Canada, in fact, running campaigns to break through the barrier of intolerance or being frustrated by the system that we have.
We've got fixed-term elections now. There's more clarity about who can contribute and how much they can contribute to the political parties. But we've got to get rid of this fringe group.
The people in those unions are very credible people. Their leadership have determined that they don't want too many NDP in there and they don't want too many Conservatives, so all the money was spent purely on supporting Premier McGuinty. Now Premier McGuinty owes them. There's an IOU. There's an expectation-a direct link with some of these OLG scandals, the WSIB scandal, the eHealth scandal, the million dollars a day in consultants. There's a link here, and I'm saying we can fix it with this bill.
If they want to contribute to the parties, there's a contribution limit per company and per individual to the party and to the individual candidate. What could be more fair, more clear and more simple? On this side of the House, under our leader, Tim Hudak, we certainly want that amendment made.
For the most part, we're very much in support of some of the provisions under the bill. The special ballot procedure: We're in support of that.
Our member Mr. Chudleigh, when he was speaking on the 16th-it's worth looking up his comments because, as our critic, he took the time to review the 20 sections of this bill and listened to Mr. Sterling, who was our member on the select committee: a very seasoned person, I think, with 30 years here, who I believe has the right attitude towards democracy. He wouldn't be here that long if he wasn't trying to make it a better place for all of us and for all the people of Ontario.
I'm looking at one of the sections here. It's very important, this section. The member from Beaches-East York, I think, spoke quite passionately-I think it's important-about inclusivity, of extending the franchise of the ballot to everyone in whatever means that we can do it while those people can maintain their grace and presence, which is the special ballot.
Under section 114, the Chief Electoral Officer is authorized to study methods of improving the voting process and facilitating voting by persons with disabilities. The studies may be conducted by commissioned research and reports, establishing advisory committees and holding conferences. I think that empowers and mandates them, looking across Ontario at the different needs for the different regions of Ontario, whether it's in cities or rural, in small towns or large towns, and accommodating people with special needs, whether it's a sight problem or whatever other problems. I think that each of us, as members, would like that corrected and expanded to the extent necessary.
I think there's an extremely important flexibility, and even Mr. Sorbara, the member from Vaughan, in his remarks, made reference to that in his remarks, that he did want to get this right.
I think it's clear that the member from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell said that there would be hearings. I don't think we're going to change too much here today on the floor, but I can tell you there were three things. One of them Mr. Sorbara alluded to as well. There's an effort here, for those functional people within the ridings, to have federal and provincial rules in harmony. I think that makes practical sense, administrative sense, and is efficient as well.
What is missing, though, is that there was a change-and this is pretty important. The general public might not find this that important, but when constituents call my office in Durham, which I would encourage you to do, regardless of what riding you're in-if you happen to be more comfortable with any member, phone them. They'll usually advise the member who represents you, or at least get in touch with them electronically; we're all connected anyway.
This is the procedure here, where there was supposed to be what they call electoral boundaries. The boundary commission is not in here and probably should have been. What has happened here is, now they're starting to cherry-pick. This is important. Some of the members here are familiar with this as well. The member from Halton certainly is one of the examples. Some ridings in Ontario have about 60,000-some members. They tend to be in the north and they tend to be quite large, geographically. This presents a challenge of accessibility to the MPPs and their constituents. But there are provisions in our budgets for allowing them to travel more frequently, to get to these remote places. Mr. Brown as well, from Algoma-Manitoulin, is one example. He has served in cabinet and as Speaker, and he knows that it is harder for them. They have half as many constituents, often remotely, but they have specialized needs within those areas. Maybe it's a one-industry town; we heard about the lumber industry in such trouble.
Here's my point: We have other ridings, and Halton would be one, with 213,000 members. Are the constituents getting the same weighted vote in this Legislature? That's the issue on the boundaries commission. Those people with 200,000 have one vote, and the people with 60,000 get one vote, so their vote is worth almost twice as much, maybe four times as much.
Then you're looking at regionalization. The whole idea is that when my constituents call my office in the riding of Durham, they sometimes don't know if the policy is a federal issue under immigration, or it could be a birth certificate or passport. Often they just know the person, which is the way it should be, really. Politics is when there's an election; after that it's about customer service. When they call, we don't care if it's a federal issue, a provincial issue, a municipal issue, a school board issue or if it's not even the right riding.
We don't give them the bureaucratic shuffle like, "You've got the wrong number," or "You didn't know your riding." We try to help them because, actually, each of us is paid by you, the voters of Ontario, so we all work for you. If you're not, you should be out of office in the next election, in October 2011. Deal with that.
But here's the point: If you had a boundaries commission, federal and provincial members, as they are by legislation that we passed, would have coterminous boundaries, federally and provincially. My federal member is the Honourable Bev Oda. She's the international development minister federally, a wonderful person. I work very closely with her, and I would say that if people call our office, we make sure that our federal member knows the issue. If they call our office, and it's a municipal issue-they often call us on Mr. Arthurs', the member from Scarborough-Pickering-
Interjection: A good member.
Mr. John O'Toole: A very good member. He was the mayor of Pickering. Lots of people would call him because they know and trust him. When they call his office, I'm sure his staff say, "Look, the nuclear plants, you should call John O'Toole's office. He's the member for Durham." But, in fact, he has nuclear plants in his riding. My point is that, in reality, members do try to work together.
This bill is successful in some of it and it fails in other parts. The failure part, as I have mentioned, is this: The boundaries commission as well as third party advertising are two unacceptable breaches of what is a very solid piece of legislation.
Our leader, Tim Hudak, has made it very clear to us that we want to move forward and support it in second reading. We want it to go to committee, and we feel confident that we can find all-party agreement to correct the parts of the bill that just don't work to make Ontario the best place and the fairest place, and to be the leader in this country in terms of doing the right thing.
I can only say that I won't try to bring up these third party contributions every time, but if it happens during the next election, I think those organizations' members should come to their leadership group and say, "Look, we simply can't do this. It's unacceptable behaviour." These ads demeaning and characterizing people falsely are simply unacceptable in Ontario today.
I ask the public here to contact your member or my office, and we will make your views known to get this bill to move forward and to do the right thing.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Peter Kormos: Once again, I listened oh, so carefully. This is not a trivial matter. I suspect I'm wont to say what I do, that this is a relatively modest proposal. In terms of the content of the bill, it is a modest proposal, but the whole proposition of electoral reform is far from modest. It is crucial.
I suppose one of the things that I find regrettable, and I'm going to speak to this, is that the committee felt itself somewhat restricted by the time frame that was imposed on it and by the scope-the limited, the very restricted, the very narrow scope-that was allowed at the end of the day, notwithstanding the terms that were voted upon by this assembly.
Does the bill tinker with things and make life easier from section to section for some voters and do some things that secularize some of those appointed positions-local electoral officers and so on? It does. The real issue, as people have been pointing out, is what it doesn't do. That's not, in the total scheme of things, in and of itself a reason to oppose the bill necessarily; sometimes it is. I'm eager and New Democrats are pleased and eager to see this bill go to committee because I suspect the public has some things to say. There are going to be some issues around accessibility. I know Mr. Prue has spent a good chunk of time on the accessibility issue. He, of course, is the New Democrats' critic for disability issues. And I've got some things I want to say around that too-some things around broader accountability. The bottom line, something that should concern all of us, is voter turnout-getting people to vote. Lord love a duck, we've got lower and lower and lower voter turnouts. That should be of concern, and I'm going to have a chance to speak to that in a few minutes.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. David Zimmer: Back in September 2007, in a letter to the Accessibility for Ontarians and Disabilities Act Alliance, Premier McGuinty made the following commitment: to "develop an action plan to make elections fully accessible to voters" with disabilities. When the select committee was meeting and in the process of doing its work, it took that direction to heart, and I can tell you that one of the things we spent a lot of time talking about was how to improve the voting process for those Ontarians with a disability. That was very, very important to all members of the committee. Ontarians with a disability are often, in many, many cases, our most acute followers of what's going on in this Legislature. It struck the committee as odd that that particular group, which has some of the greatest interest in what goes on in this Legislature, was in many cases faced with the greatest challenge to actually get out and vote.
What this legislation does is that it authorizes-and I'm very proud of this on behalf of the committee-the concept of special ballots that will be managed and supervised by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer can assess a disability need and create a special ballot that is tailored to that particular disability. It goes so far as to give the electoral officer the authority to do a home visit to assist at the home with the voting process.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Peter Shurman: I'm pleased to comment briefly on the facts that were put into the record by my esteemed colleague from Durham, who always brings a balanced perspective and has the years of experience to do it in pretty well anything that he's debating.
The reason I raise that at the outset is, with his experience, I have to balance that with my own, which is much more limited. The very first thing that he said was very much related to the very first thing that I experienced a day or two after being nominated as the candidate in Thornhill back in 2007, and that was the politicization-is that the right word?-of the voting process in Thornhill, which we had to challenge. The first press release I ever sent out said, "You've got to remove the chief returning officer because of a relationship to an opposing candidate," and indeed that was done at the senior levels of the province. So it pointed up a need, and I'm very happy to see that my colleague has raised that need and that the bill indeed reflects that need. That's one thing that I wanted to say.
The other thing that I wanted to do was echo my colleague from Durham's concerns-and indeed all of our party is concerned; our caucus is concerned-with the fact that we really haven't, in this piece of legislation-which is a good piece of legislation-completed the task, and that task is to address the issue of third party contributions.
I know that the member from Vaughan reminded us all that parties and individual candidates have an extreme responsibility to Elections Ontario to do the reporting that they have to, to justify the use of funds that are collected for their individual campaigns. That's fine, and I think we all are responsible or we wouldn't be sitting here. But it's necessary to do it at a party level and it's necessary to do it on a third party level so that we can ensure a level playing field.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments?
Mr. Jeff Leal: I always have great respect for the member from Durham. He's a man of great experience. I think he started his political career-I know the history. He was born and raised in Peterborough. I think he started his career as a school board trustee and went on to become a local councillor and then moved to the region of Durham, and in 1995, he was elected to the Ontario Legislature. So he has certainly experienced several elections at various levels.
We do know that this bill incorporates a number of changes. It certainly cleans up the issue of proxy votes, and I think there is certainly no one in this House who would not suggest that this is a very good thing to do. It also looks at best practices that have been incorporated in other provinces across Canada.
It also allows post-secondary students to choose where they want to vote. Having been a university student and been away from the riding of Peterborough, I think we should give that opportunity to make sure that students, where they choose to vote, have the ability to vote.
It does provide some new provisions for people with disabilities, which is extremely important. I know when I was a municipal politician, we had to go to great lengths over a number of years to make sure that public buildings that were deemed and identified as polling locations in municipal elections were accessible for people with disabilities. That was often a difficult challenge, because many of our public buildings were older in design and nature and had to be extensively modified to make accommodations for people with disabilities to make sure that they exercised their franchise-
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Thank you. The member from Durham has up to two minutes to respond.
Mr. John O'Toole: The member from Welland spoke briefly on the voter turnout issue, and I look forward to his remarks next, because I do have a lot of respect for his participation here and on that special committee. I'm sure his input will be valued and informed.
The member from Willowdale also spoke on the special ballot process, which I think all of us are in agreement with.
I think the member from Thornhill was most accurate when he said it was a balanced debate, and as a good friend of mine, he brings great deal of informed opinion to the table. He spoke, most importantly, about enumeration. Now we're going to have a permanent electoral list, which I think is an advancement that all of us would probably agree with.
The member from Peterborough, much like myself, has a mixed background, having served quite some time on the municipality of Peterborough council, along with one of my uncles or relatives certainly, Jack Doris, who has served as mayor. In fact, he's going to run again. I think he's served publicly as long as Hazel McCallion.
Mr. Jeff Leal: Forty-plus years.
Mr. John O'Toole: Forty-plus years. Anyway, congratulations, Jack Doris.
The municipal election has been moved to October, which I think was a good move by the government as well-not in this bill but in another bill-and I want to wish the municipal candidates coming into the election this year-which isn't to be confused with this election. Mr. Sorbara said this bill does not affect the Municipal Elections Act, but it is important. The province does have authority over that.
Jim Abernethy is the current mayor of Clarington, Bob Shepherd is the current mayor of Uxbridge, and Marilyn Pearce is the current mayor of Scugog. Those are the three municipalities that I work directly with at the lower tier, and of course, at the upper tier we have the discussion about the election of a regional chair in Durham, which is a controversial issue that I won't go into.
But all of the councillors and municipal people are our partners, along with you, the constituents, the viewers today, and we're there to serve. This act changes it, and we are calling on one change, and that's to eliminate this third party advertising.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Further debate?
Mr. Peter Kormos: First, please indulge me for just a moment, because we came back February 15, we're going to prorogue but just for the weekend, so that's fine. We'll be out of here on Thursday and then come back on Monday, which is the regular sitting schedule. As indicated earlier, some folks know that I had some back problems and had some surgery that fixed it up. This is the first chance I've had to speak during orders of the day since we got back. I sincerely want to express gratitude to all the people here who wished me well when I was not here and when I was suffering the incredible pain of some serious back problems. I'm really grateful; people were very kind to me, very generous to me, people who may not ever believe how much I missed them and being here-and I really, really did. I missed my detractors; I missed my most severe critics.
It was very serious. I'm glad to be back, in any event, and as I say, I'm incredibly grateful to folks for their generosity of spirit, and I'm grateful to my caucus colleagues who, of course, had to carry the extra load. I'm also left very conscious of how relevant one can or can't be by noting that they did quite well without me. That's something all of us should reflect upon, that at the end of the day, your folks will do quite well without you. So a sincere thank you to the people here. It's not just the members; it's the staff and everybody. I was watching things that were going on. I was making phone calls. I'm on my second flat-screen TV. I don't want to tell you what happened to the first one, but Sony has done well by me.
Howard Hampton was the member of this Sorbara committee, as I'm going to call it, and I remember-he's a delight. David Zimmer was the member for the Liberal caucus, and I've always enjoyed working with David. David is a very intelligent, very capable person, just a joy to work with, always challenging, and he was not an inappropriate person to have on this committee. I want to be very careful. Norm Sterling was the Conservative member, and of course Norm is the longest-serving member, along with Jim Bradley. Not poor Bob Runciman. Poor Bob Runciman-give me a break. He's not poor at all. Bob Runciman, who is a dear friend whom I love dearly, he and his wife-and I'm so pleased for him. Bob won't be advocating for the restoration of MPP pensions anymore, will he? Bob effectively got his. But I miss Bob. I missed him from the get-go. I'm sorry he's not here. I'm very, very fond of him, and he is an irreplaceable person. But how that came about, of course, was that I was mentioning that Norm Sterling, who, along with Jim Bradley, is the longest-serving member of the House-they were on this committee, and Greg Sorbara was chairing the committee.
Again, I have a lot of respect for Greg Sorbara. I indicated that earlier. I have a lot of respect for him, I like him and I admire his intellect, but Greg had never, I don't think, chaired a committee before, and he thought, through no fault of his own, that as the chair he was going to sort of be like Fidel to the Cuban politburo. He was going to summon Raúl and Che and Camilo Cienfuegos and seat them around him and explain to them what was going to happen next in the revolution.
Well, to Greg's surprise, he learned that majority rules in a committee. Mr. Sorbara made reference earlier to the fact that this was a unique committee because it was a tripartite committee with one member from each caucus, and the opposition parties effectively formed the majority. He darned near swallowed his bubble gum, to be fair, when he discovered that because he just had no idea that was how it was going to work.
Mr. Sorbara comes from the corporate world; right? He's very successful. He and his family are very successful entrepreneurs, and like so many corporate people who get elected-now, Mr. Sorbara's so very politically savvy too, one of the best around, no two ways about it in terms of the backroom of politics; right? He knows how the machinery works. I'm confident that if the truth were to be known, if one could be entirely candid, he would acknowledge that this was a revelation.
But it wasn't long before the opposition members learned that the committee, with its rather majestic terms of reference-and you'll recall them. I'm not going to read them, because I hope people have got the copy of the committee report with them. Mr. Zimmer does. Others who have the copy here in this debate, the copy that was tabled in June 2009? I guess nobody bothered reading it. Everybody got a copy.
That's the problem with these types of reports. It was a report to the Honourable Steve Peters, "Your Select Committee on Elections has the honour to present its report and commends it to the House," signed by Greg Sorbara MPP, Chair, June 2009. Of course, the opening of it is the terms of reference of the committee. I recall the motion because the motion was pretty broad. You recall it, too, don't you, Speaker? The motion that the Premier's office wrote to strike this committee was very broad, and New Democrats quite frankly were rather enthusiastic. Mr. Prue was. He thought, "Hey, here's an opportunity to really grab the bull by at least one horn and do some meaningful things."
My caucus colleagues met with me and the leader. There was a lengthy discussion about the sort of issues that we in the New Democratic Party thought could and should be raised and considered by a committee that had such broad scope, that had such a wide or robust mandate.
New Democrats came to this committee eager to see a number of things addressed. We made it very clear that we saw the committee-and I call it the Sorbara committee. We felt very strongly that it could deal with election financing. Mr. Zimmer remembers that. When we talked about that, when we raised that in this committee, Mr. Zimmer's eyes lit up-and again, he's a person of great intellect. He was eager, I suspect. People around here tend to be very careful about what they say, especially on the record, so you have to read body language, I suppose. You have to use your intuitive intelligence; right? There's a book written about that just recently-wasn't there, Mr. Prue?
Mr. Michael Prue: There is.
Mr. Peter Kormos: -about how valuable intuitive intelligence is. Now, if Mr. Zimmer considers me to be totally out of line in saying this, I suspect he'll rise on a two-minute response and say that the member for Welland has got it wrong, that he, Mr. Zimmer, wasn't enthusiastic. I don't think he's going do that, because he was enthusiastic. He was ready to spend the time, invest the emotional and intellectual energy to address some of these issues-and not to say that we were going to write law but to prepare a report back to the Legislature.
The NDP had high hopes for this committee We had hoped that maybe the committee would consider the Manitoba, Quebec, federal election financing approach, so that once and for all, once and for all, forever and ever and ever, public and private, more importantly, interest group financing shouldn't determine election results.
Why do corporate donors give money to political parties? They're not buying them-I'm not going to suggest that for a minute-but they sure as hell are renting them. It may not be a long-term lease, but corporate donors to political parties expect to see some return on their investment.
When they buy $10,000-a-plate tickets to dinners with the Premier and his gang of however many happen to be conscripted to that evening's soiree, they want the ear of the Premier. And they don't just want his ear; they want results. You've got corporate donors putting cash on the dash, and they want to see the goods delivered.
That's the nature of the beast, isn't it, Speaker? You've been around. For a person as young as you, you've sure had a lot of experience. You know what the story is, and it's not pretty.
That's what corporate donors are all about. From time to time, so-called public interest groups-most of them have modest means, but there are a couple kicking around that have pretty significant means, don't they, Mr. Prue?
Mr. Michael Prue: A lot of money.
Mr. Peter Kormos: They are "public" in corporate title only, because from time to time, when you peel back the veneer, you find that they represent some mighty interesting interests. Do you remember Silvio DeGasperis? Asked why he attended a $10,000-a-plate Liberal fundraiser, he said bluntly, and I quote Hansard, "I wanted to speak to Dalton about my development issue in Pickering. I knew the reason I was there." Hell, at $10,000 a plate DeGasperis expects to be on a first-name basis, and he expects to see the goods delivered. This level of corporate financing, interest-group financing of political parties-Mr. Prue, just the other day, the member for Beaches, during question period raised the fact that the airport authority, with public monies-monies paid to it; they get a transfer of payments from the federal government. Am I right, Mr. Prue?
Mr. Michael Prue: Yes.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Which is taxpayers' money. Then the surcharge on tickets: A surcharge is charged by airports, and then, of course, the airlines themselves charge you-as a customer, as a flyer, as a passenger on that plane-for the landing rights, the tax on the plane landing at that airport. This is all consumers' money. You've got the airport authority funnelling-shades of Patti Starr-public and taxpayers' money into the coffers of the Liberal Party of Ontario and into the coffers of the campaigns of Liberal candidates in some very, very recent by-elections.
Mrs. Laura Albanese: Not everybody's.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Ms. Albanese complains, "Not everybody's."
Mrs. Laura Albanese: I'm not complaining.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Ms. Albanese, talk to your colleagues and ask how it's done. There are a couple of them who, I'm sure, could give you the phone numbers of the contacts-there's that line, "I have many contacts amongst the lumberjacks." There are a couple of colleagues you've got here who could tell you how it's done.
You're a wonderful member of-look, I like you, Ms. Albanese. You've not been corrupted yet, but clearly your resentment, Ms. Albanese, of not being a beneficiary of this largesse demonstrates some sort of passion to be corrupted. I don't want to be a party to that, but I suspect she's got Liberal colleagues here who would more than eagerly assist her.
Mrs. Laura Albanese: No resentment whatsoever.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Now Ms. Albanese says she doesn't want the money. She doesn't want to be a part of that crowd. I don't blame her. She has morals, and she's not about to surrender them by selling herself to corporate interests that are prepared to funnel taxpayer and public funds-with no consent or permission by those taxpayers or the members of the public-through to political parties, one presumes, so as to achieve political ends.
New Democrats thought that it was important for this committee to consider banning corporate and union donations. New Democrats thought it was very important that this committee consider that.
New Democrats wanted to talk about other ways for the electoral process to be more accessible to persons with disabilities.
New Democrats were concerned about the abandonment of enumeration. There isn't one of us-never mind us, we who get elected. The teams who elect us, volunteers who go door to door, sometimes in the miserable cold of late winter or early spring by-elections-the most uncomfortable season of the year to be out campaigning-know that the fact that voters' lists are not up to date and complete is an incredibly frustrating thing and makes it very hard to do what people should be doing in the democratic process.
My time-are you sure that clock is accurate, Speaker? Speaker, you could intervene now and exercise your jurisdiction to provide justice for individual members by rolling that clock back, because I'm sure it has not been accurate.
One of the real concerns that I think everybody on the committee had, but the government clearly didn't-what we learned, and Mr. Zimmer will recall this, is that at the end of the day this wasn't about what the committee was going to recommend. We learned not to spin our wheels, not to let the engine idle or to burn gasoline unnecessarily-or propane; whatever your choice of fuel might be-because this was all about what the Premier's office was going to do at the end of the day anyway. What we've got here is what the Premier's office was prepared to do-very disappointing.
Read the New Democrats' dissenting opinion in the report, but also hearken to this: You tell me how, in 2010, in an election in the most prosperous part of Canada-Toronto Centre-after all of this consideration about accessibility during the voting process, could we have possibly had a voting site that was inaccessible? After all this time, after all of the focus, after the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and as I say, amongst the wealthiest and most densely populated parts of the world, you still have people confronted with, as I recall it, and based on the Toronto Sun article, a set of stairs that made it impossible for people in wheelchairs, amongst other things, to get up and down to vote.
How can that be? What is going on? Who's in charge? You don't need a Sorbara committee to address that. You need somebody who is prepared to be accountable and accept some responsibility.
I haven't yet heard an apology from whoever is responsible or accountable. Surely, with this government's obsession with apologizing-and, Lord knows, they haven't done enough-you'd think that at the very least there would have been a public apology by the people who are responsible for selecting those sites, and perhaps an explanation of exactly how stupid they were, that they would confront persons with disabilities with a stairway in downtown Toronto-not some rural, remote community where the opportunities are limited.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments.
Mr. Wayne Arthurs: I'm pleased to have just a couple of minutes. I want to take the opportunity, since the member from Welland indicated that this would be his first opportunity to get a full rotation in since his return. Certainly it's my honour to be able to spend a couple of minutes commenting on his speech and to welcome him back in that fashion.
I have to tell you, Speaker, I haven't always enjoyed all of his speeches. In my time here, there's been one or two times that I've questioned whether or not I've really got the full value from his hour. Maybe the good news today is that it was 20 minutes, so he can get back up to full speed.
I must say, though, I did appreciate yesterday's article in the Toronto Star written by Jim Coyle. I thought it was not only gracious and generous, but there were astute observations of the role the member from Welland has played in this place and the contributions he has made for so very, very long. I think that it's well deserved, and I was very pleased to read that article.
As to his comments in respect to the legislation itself, I'm pleased to see that there are members here, certainly from the government side-both Mr. Zimmer and Mr. Sorbara-who participated on that committee, which was an important initiative untaken by the government. I think there are some very good initiatives within the legislation, not the least of which is the special ballot provision. I know from my municipal days that garnering proxy votes, when people couldn't be there-it was always nice that people entrusted you with their vote. I recall during one of my early mayoralty campaigns that a young lady came with her father to my office, and it was her first opportunity to vote-she had just turned 18 six or so months before that. But she was going to be out of town at that point in time, and she entrusted me with her vote. That was important. But I think this is a better provision: special ballots, so she could cast that vote herself and not depend on me or anyone else to fulfill her wishes.
So I think there are some very important provisions, with reference made to issues of disability, the use of technology-a lot of good provisions in the bill that are available. I'm anxious to see the debate continue and hopefully see the legislation adopted.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments.
Mr. Norm Miller: I'm also pleased to welcome the member from Welland back to the Legislature and see that he's returning to his usual fine form. We had a member from our party on the committee as well, the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills. He, too, wrote a dissenting report, specifically to do with recommendation 26 of the committee. So I would like to ask the member from Welland: What happened to recommendation 26? Because it's dealing with third party advertising. In that dissenting report, he writes, "Third party advertisers have a legitimate role to play in the democratic process but they need to be open and transparent and should not have a freer hand to influence the political process than the individuals and parties who take part in the election."
I agree with that, and we've seen the Working Families Coalition spend millions of dollars in the last two elections. Like the member from Welland, when he was talking about corporate donators, I think the Working Families Coalition is wanting a return on their investment, or, as he described it, "They want the goods delivered." Frankly, I think we've seen that happen with bills like Bill 144 and Bill 119. So I would like to ask the member from Welland, what happened to this recommendation 26 of the committee to limit third party spending in Ontario? For further detail on it, you can read the complete dissenting report by the member from Carleton-Mississippi Mills.
There are other aspects of the bill that we do support: certainly modernizing and getting rid of some archaic rules, like having a list of workers supplied by the political parties 10 days before voting, which, I think, is a depoliticization of the workers involved with elections. I think that's a positive thing, but I would be interested in seeing what happened to recommendation 26.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Questions and comments.
Mr. Michael Prue: It is indeed an honour to comment on my friend from Welland. I came back in order to make sure that I heard the full 20 minutes of his speech, because he always speaks with such an educated, yet folksy, down-home charm. He tells great stories, he holds the audience captive, and he brings them all within the ambit of what he's trying to say.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Yes, but what about Kormos's speech?
Mr. Michael Prue: I'm talking about Kormos. I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the member from Welland.
Within that time, he brought up some really key issues. He brought up the issue-which I'm still hoping to have resolved by the Minister of Transportation-the whole thorny issue of the GTAA and how they took $12,875 of people's money who had to pay, and have no option but to pay, the fees when they travel through Canada's busiest airport. They took that money and they funnelled it to the Liberal Party. I don't know whether it's illegal, but I sure think that it's morally reprehensible what was done. The member from Welland had every right to question exactly how that money came about, how it was spent and whether or not political parties of any stripe should be taking it, because we discovered, after the question, that in fact other parties were taking the money as well.
He also raised a very real question, which I spent some time on today, about disabilities, and asked a very solid and good question: What was happening in the riding of Toronto Centre in 2010, in a province as rich as Ontario, in a city as cosmopolitan and savvy as the city of Toronto, where a person would show up in a wheelchair and couldn't vote and had to be carried down the stairs? I think these are legitimate questions and asked in his own-
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Thank you. Questions and comments?
Mr. David Zimmer: The member from Welland is back, and I welcome him back. We enjoy listening to him, but we always have to be vigilant about the mischief that he's trying to stir up.
In his 20-minute remarks, he made comments somehow implying that I, as the Liberal member of the committee, was keen to launch into the whole area of electoral financing reform. He challenged me, if that was not the case, to say that he was wrong. So I stand here and I look at the honourable member from Welland and say categorically: You're dead wrong, and I invite you to review the transcripts and so on.
I would add this additional thought: The member for Welland implied that but for Liberal intransigence on that select committee on election reform, that somehow we would have delved into the whole area of electoral reform. But I can tell you, from comments at the committee and in public, that the one place the member for Welland did not want to go, in terms of electoral financing reform, was anywhere near a discussion of union donations. So you see, you're stirring up the pot here, trying to create discord in the Liberal ranks.
I say, in closing, that I spoke my mind at that committee, and I spoke forcefully. I was not in any way intimidated by our illustrious chair, who guided us through complex and detailed discussions and reached a fair series of recommendations. So I say to the member opposite, the chair of the committee-
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Thank you. The member from Welland has up to two minutes to respond.
Mr. Peter Kormos: I feel compelled to join Mr. Zimmer in his praise and adoration of the great helmsman, Mr. Sorbara. In fact, I'm surprised that this report wasn't printed in a little red book. I suspect that, should I visit Mr. Zimmer's office in the near future, there will be portraits of the helmsman, Chairman Sorbara, on his wall, perhaps with candles lit around it and wreaths and garlands of flowers.
I also want to apologize to Mr. Zimmer: I misread him. But I'm heartbroken to learn that he's not keen at all about considering or discussing election finance reform. I saw him and understood him to be an enlightened, progressive person who was interested in a fairer and more just electoral process. I've known him for years now. I've always known him to be an open-minded person who never shied from a discussion, never mind a debate. So I'm saddened to learn that he's just not the man I thought he was, that he's not the advocate for far-reaching and wide-ranging consideration of topics that may not have ended up in the report, but at least warranted some consideration.
But I know him well enough and my affection for him is strong enough to know that, given some time, we can bring Mr. Zimmer around-and I'm confident that the fair-minded people around him in his family and his social life will help us put the appropriate pressure on him.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Cheri DiNovo): Further debate?
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: It's always a joy to speak after the member from Welland. It's just good because the expectations are much lower when I'm standing to speak. But I do want to join the members in welcoming him back to Queen's Park and to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. You, sir, were truly missed, and it's good to get you back here. As I mentioned to him once before, when he's speaking, I learn far more about this place, the history and the tradition, so it's good to have him back to educate the rest of us on how to get things done right.
This is a very important bill, Bill 231, speaking on dealing with both the Elections Act and the Election Finances Act, pieces of legislation that ensure that our democracy, our electoral system continue to move further forward and progress in a manner that is truly fitting of a democratic society. This really ensures that our institutions remain strong so that those of us, like ourselves, who are privileged enough to be elected and to be standing here are elected in a manner that is legitimate and reflective of people's decisions and desires.
I think a lot of you know a little bit about my background. I have spoken about that before, as to how my family and I came to Canada. That's why I feel very strongly about this particular bill and all our democratic institutions. I think I have mentioned before that my father was involved in the pro-democracy movement in Pakistan, in my native country where I was born. I lived there in the 1980s when there was a military dictatorship and there was no right to vote. There was just simply no right to vote because a military junta was the one in power, and a general made the decision. When he did at one point decide that there would be elections, they were not party-based elections because political parties were banned. In fact, I remember a time when any gathering of five or more people was not allowed under the martial law.
In those kinds of circumstances, you cannot have any type of healthy debate. You cannot have an assembly of people where you can share political ideas, because a repressive regime feels that that's not right, because that undermines that regime's authority.
It was in that climate that I started to learn about politics, about rights, about democracies and what's important to make sure that everybody in a country is respected. My parents were very involved in that process. As I have mentioned before in this House, my father was part of a movement to restore democracy. He led a pro-democracy march. It was illegal to do so, so he was arrested. He was tried by a military court, a general. He was sentenced to up to 10 months as a political prisoner, and he spent about nine months-and the story goes on.
I vividly remember visiting my father every weekend, along with my mother and my other siblings, and that was a very transformative part of my life: Why did he do this? It's interesting; you can imagine being 10 years old and attending school at that time-and 10-year-olds can be very cruel to each other-and getting taunted and teased by your peers, because for them, your father was a criminal because he was in the jail. I was standing there trying to make those arguments about, "No, my father is a political prisoner because he believes in democracy." None of that mattered, right? Ten-year-olds don't understand. This 10-year-old did because he was living through it, but the other 10-year-olds did not.
It's quite a learning experience, being able to visit your father and seeing him in shackles, literally, both hands and feet, and being treated as a criminal when his crime-his only crime-was that he wanted his fellow countrymen and countrywomen to have the right to vote in a fair and open election. That was it; that was his crime.
I still have a copy of his charge sheet. I should bring it translated one day from Urdu to English and read it in this House. It makes you laugh when you read it because it talks about offences which are fundamental to democracy: "inciting people to vote," I think it read; "inciting people to have democracy," the right to speak out. Those were the charges that were laid against him.
Thank God, in their wisdom they made the great decision of moving to a country like Canada because they did not want their children to grow up in a society where they did not have a voice. They did not have the most simple, most fundamental right to vote.
Now, fast forward: It was 1988 when we moved to Canada. I remember distinctly, I became a Canadian citizen in 1992, and my very first vote was on the Charlottetown accord, the referendum.
Mr. Peter Kormos: How did you vote on it?
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: I voted for it. I was really against the Meech Lake accord, I don't know why-I had just come to Canada. I was just learning Canadian politics. But with Charlottetown, I was really engaged.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Bob Rae screwed me around on that too.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: I'm sure I'll hear about that in your two-minuter, Mr. Kormos.
To this day, I remember feeling the goosebumps, walking into that voting booth and being able to cast a ballot. I thought about my father and my mother and the sacrifices they made to make sure that I was in a position, as a free citizen, to be able to cast a ballot on the future of my newly adopted country. Merely in the country for four years, and here I was an equal citizen having the right to cast a ballot, to decide on the future of my country, to change the Constitution of my country. This is where people lose blood on the streets in some parts of the world, and we were able to do it in our Canadian society in an extremely civilized manner.
I don't think I have missed any single election, municipal, provincial or federal, since that day, where I have not cast my ballot, because I will not let my parents down. I would not let my father's sacrifices down by not exercising my right to vote.
It amazes me when I go door to door during campaigns-and I've campaigned for a lot of people in the past, and I've campaigned for myself, and there are by-elections going on right now-the number of people who tell you at the door, "Oh, I don't vote." It really breaks my heart every single time. I feel like giving them a speech like I'm giving right now, telling them why it is so important that they should vote. In our democratic country, where we have all the benefits and privileges of living in a very civilized society, it's sad to see that people sometimes exercise not to vote. I always say, "Listen, you might just want to go and spoil your ballot, but at least make that effort, because there are a lot of people around the world who would give their life for the opportunity to mark that X on a ballot."
Imagine the time when I got to vote for myself. That was exciting. Can you imagine, 19 years later, walking into a booth-
Mr. Michael Prue: It's supposed to be a secret ballot.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: I'm letting you know I voted for me. That's no secret. There's only one vote in Toronto I have, and that's me, and I got my vote.
I remember very quickly putting an X by my name: Naqvi, Yasir. It was after that I just paused and thought, can you imagine, I just voted for myself. I'm sure a lot of you have voted for yourselves many, many times. If it happens every single time, it becomes routine. But for me, it really gave me pause to see the ballot. I was hoping there might be a way that I could keep that ballot for posterity's sake, but I'm sure that would be breaking some provision in the Election Act, which I'm supposed to be talking about.
Anyway, I just wanted to give the context of where I'm coming from when talking about the system we've got.
We have a great system in this province. We have an incredible system which allows people to exercise their right to choose representatives every four years. We are extremely lucky to have that system where all 107 of us sitting around this assembly are legitimately elected as the voices of our communities.
Of course, we're at a heightened level of enlightenment where we want to make the system even better. That is the effort we are trying to make, as I read Bill 231: to make sure that we have a system which allows people to properly exercise their rights so that they are able to cast their ballots. So it's important that we have issues around accessibility, that Ontarians with disabilities are not denied their rights. It's extremely important, because we are at that level of democracy where we want to make sure that nobody has any impediment to casting a ballot in an election, because if there's an impediment then their voice is being muzzled, and we cannot afford that in our democracy. That's one of things this legislation is trying to do: It's trying to give the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to have accessible voting equipment.
The special ballot procedure which is allowed for eliminates proxy voting and ensures that if you're not around in your community, you still have an opportunity to cast a ballot. If you happen to be out of the country or if you're on military duty, we do not deny you your right to vote. Just because you do not happen to be in your community, you still get that opportunity to vote. Through the amendments introduced in this bill, we're making sure that special ballot procedures are put in place so that those who are not in Ontario at the time of an election have an opportunity to exercise that very, very important right.
I note the provisions around post-secondary students. I think Mr. Prue, the member from Beaches-East York, talked about his experience, which I think a lot of us can relate to because most of us probably went to university or college away from our homes, and there was always that battle: "Where do I vote? Do I vote at my university or do I vote at home?" I'm sure we lose a lot of young people because of that. I'm sure we lose a lot of young people who probably don't go out and vote because they don't know whether they are on the elections list at their post-secondary institution or if they are in their hometown. I have the honour of representing Carleton University, which is located in Ottawa Centre. There are a lot of students-I'm trying to remember the number, how many live in the residences. It's a large number. I've knocked on their doors during the campaign. That question always comes up: "I don't know. I think I vote in Toronto, where my mom and dad live," or, "I vote in Sault Ste. Marie, where I was living before." This bill, through a provision, speaks to that. It allows for students to choose whether they want to vote in the electoral district where they reside temporarily or where they live permanently, giving students an opportunity to make that decision. It's a very, very important point to make sure that our students have the opportunity to vote.
This is an important point because we also know the level of apathy that exists in our elections right now. That is becoming a serious issue, as I alluded to earlier. A high proportion of people who don't vote happen to be young people. You are often reminded that there are two kinds of people who vote-and you can go a polling station and see this. Our senior citizens vote, and why do they vote? This is my speculation: They vote because they remember what it was like. They fought for many of the freedoms we enjoy so much, so they don't take their vote for granted. Thanks to all the seniors who go out and make sure that they cast their ballot. That's why you've always got to listen to seniors and their point of view. It's extremely important because-you know what?-they have voted and they will vote again.
The other people I've also noticed who vote a lot proportionately are new Canadians. They go out and vote, and I think they go out and vote for the reasons I was talking about earlier: In many instances, they have lived in countries where they did not have the right to vote. For them, this is a blessing. This is why they came to live in Ontario or Canada. It's incredible to see them go and vote.
Unfortunately, somehow our young people are not as inclined to vote. We need to make sure that we make our system as accessible and easy as possible for them so that they can exercise the right to vote, so that they don't run away-and I will use the words "run away"-from that right, that obligation they have, come election time.
I'm confident that a provision like this is a good step, when we allow our students who are either at university or college, away from home, to choose whether they want to vote where their post-secondary institution is located-for example, in my case, Carleton University in Ottawa Centre-or in their home riding, where they lived before, whether it be with mom and dad or by themselves. This is an important issue.
I'm mindful of the time, but I wanted to talk about a couple of other things which are very important in this legislation, and speak more to the modernization of the whole Election Act and Election Finances Act.
One of the issues is around election finances: receipting when donations are made. In this day and age, with the Internet and the capacity to give money securely on the Internet, one of the things we're getting very used to is-I often do this. If there's a breast cancer run or the Terry Fox run and a friend of yours is participating in it, they send you an e-mail saying, "Give me a pledge." You just go online and put your credit card number in and voilà, you just made a donation, but what I also find very convenient is that my tax receipt is immediately e-mailed to me. I have that, right there, and I can print it out and use it. I don't have to wait until it arrives in the mail, and it comes closer to election time.
I believe that this legislation, as I read it, will allow for that provision to take place, that if political parties choose to have e-receipting when people make donations, either to a riding association or a campaign or political party, they will be able to get those receipts right away, electronically. That is a step in the 21st-century direction. I think we should not shy away from that. It is the right thing to do. We need to continue to adapt to technologies. Of course, we need to make sure that the integrity of the system is always maintained, but we need to make sure that those mechanisms are fully utilized so that we are making it easier for people to exercise their democratic rights, even when they are making donations to political parties.
Lastly, another point which has been made quite a few times is about de-politicizing poll workers and returning officers. I think this is a step in the right direction. I don't think that MPPs or candidates need to give names of individuals to be poll clerks and returning officers. It's better that the chief returning officer for the riding is the one who gets those people and appoints them. I think it makes the system far cleaner and makes sure that voting procedures are followed accurately.
Anyway, I look at the clock. Almost 20 minutes are gone. This is what happens when you speak after Mr. Kormos.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: No, I'm not done yet. Wait for my big wrap-up.
I think this is an important piece of legislation. I think, as I said earlier, we need to look at this in a broader context. I think we need to appreciate the democracy we live in. We need to appreciate the kinds of opportunities we have as Ontarians in terms of the way we conduct our elections every four years. We are extremely lucky to have that opportunity.
In my context, in my life story, this is a very important part of who I am, because that's how I landed in this great country and this incredible province. I feel very honoured and privileged that, through the same system, the same mechanism, people had faith in me and were able to give me the opportunity to be their voice here in this great Parliament of ours. So the system works, the system is great, and we are far, far better for it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Questions and comments?
Mr. Toby Barrett: The member for Ottawa Centre has put things in perspective with respect to his opening remarks and his childhood memories in the country of Pakistan during the 1980s, I think he indicated.
I spent some time there briefly in the late 1960s, and I can't remember the political situation then. I wasn't too concerned with things like that at the time. But it is a little chilling to realize, as the member from Ottawa Centre explained, that one was not permitted to vote or to participate in democratic processes in a free and open and transparent manner. He went on to describe the hand of the state coming down on his father for doing such things as inciting people to vote and for doing such things as inciting people to speak out.
That certainly puts things in perspective and makes us realize something that I so often overlook, something that is exemplified in the closing phrase of the Speaker's prayer, or what was referred to as the Speaker's prayer up until quite recently, where we live in a society, if I can recall the quote, "where freedom prevails and justice rules." For many, many years we would commence our working day with that expression in our mind. There's no argument that justice and the rule of law really underpin our democratic process, something that was not seen in Pakistan during the member's childhood.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further questions and comments?
Mr. Peter Kormos: I, for one, enjoyed the comments and contribution to the debate by the member for Ottawa Centre: very well put, and I am pleased that I was here in the Legislature listening carefully.
He raises an issue around encouraging people to vote, ensuring that people vote. In conversations with members of other caucuses around the committee work that Mr. Sorbara led, the prospect of, I believe, Australian models of making it compulsory for people to vote was discussed. One of the observations I made is that it should be-because the whole trend is, "Let's make it easier for people to vote. Let's let people vote from the luxury of their armchair while they're sitting there in their underwear with a remote control in one hand and a beer in the other."
I say: To the contrary, it shouldn't be too easy to vote, because then a vote could simply be cast carelessly. I don't think there's anything at all wrong with people having to take the initiative to get out there and go to a polling area and cast their ballot. I think the comments from the member for Ottawa Centre reflecting on places in the world where people struggle for the right to vote should compel us to take that tack rather than simply open the doors and let people vote willy-nilly by a click of their computer button.
Let's get around to what is going to happen next. I'm sure all three caucuses-I know the New Democrats-are going to vote for this bill on second reading. The bill is inoffensive in and of itself. It's a modest proposal, as I indicated earlier. It's far from a major overhaul or reformation, never mind transformation, of our electoral system, and it's far from all that could be implemented. But I'm looking forward to committee. I hope this government is committed to the committee process, and a healthy committee process, so that members of the public can comment on this bill, just as members of this Legislature have.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further questions and comments?
Mr. Mike Colle: It was a very compelling debate by the member from Ottawa Centre. It just makes us stop and reflect on how critically important and vital it is to our democracy in allowing people to participate in our elections. He certainly made that very clear, especially in light of his own family and his father.
I was remembering, in terms of our own piece of legislation-and the member from Welland makes a good point. I hope there are some amendments to this bill.
I know I've been pushing for one amendment, but I get deaf ears on it all the time. The stupid thing is that when we do the audit of our election statement, we have to get a CA to do it, and the CAs don't want to do it.
Mr. Mike Colle: Why can't we get the CGAs to do the audit? They're willing to, and they've got the time. That's one simple amendment I've asked for, and I don't know why it's not in there.
The other thing is, I remember in the by-election in St. Paul's, there was a lady in a wheelchair who I have known for years in the Doug Saunders building. She had to go in her wheelchair to the next building to vote. There should have been a polling station in that building. There are about 400 people in the building. The worst thing of all was when she went to the building to vote, they wouldn't let her vote. They said, "Where's your stupid card?" She said, "Well, listen, I got that card, but I get so much junk mail, I lost the card." But she had her ID with her picture around her neck. They said, "No, you can't vote." This lady has been voting for 50 years. They wouldn't let a disabled person vote who had a card around her neck because she didn't have that stupid card that gets mailed and that everybody loses.
Mr. Peter Kormos: It's not that stupid.
Mr. Mike Colle: Anyways, they lose the card because they get so many cards that come in junk mail.
I think we've got to make a few amendments in this bill and make an even better bill if we can.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further questions and comments?
Mr. Peter Shurman: I listened with interest to the presentation of my friend from Ottawa Centre, which I probably can summarize-and I don't mean this in any tongue-in-cheek way-as an ode to democracy. He spent a considerable amount of time talking about how lucky we are here in the province of Ontario and how lucky we are in Canada to have the kind of freedom that allows us the elections that we enjoy, and a bill like this does nothing but enhance him.
On that I agree with him, but his comments are also not unlike the bill for this reason: The bill is a good bill that contains an awful lot of improvement in how we go to the polls, but is conspicuous by the absence from within it of things that we need. You were conspicuous, I should say to my friend, in the speech that you made by not alluding to those aspects.
I'm talking particularly of, while you're talking about other jurisdictions, the other jurisdictions in Canada that have addressed the issue of third party financing quite well, while we have left this alone. In comments that I've heard this afternoon, both the ones that you missed and the ones that had been made by other members, the comment is consistent: We'll go to committee with this bill, we'll talk about ways to improve this bill and we'll talk about things that we can use to enhance this bill. I would hope that that would be one of them.
I think, on the positive side, that it's good to know that one of the things that has been addressed-and you talked about being part of a university environment-is the fact that we can get the vote to people where they are, as opposed to making them come to vote somewhere else. That applies very much to our university community, a community with which I find myself very involved. I think that anything that we can do to increase voter turnout would be a positive, and this bill does begin to address that very well.
We'll be supportive of it, but we'll equally try to bring amendments at committee.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): The honourable member for Ottawa Centre has up to two minutes for his response.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: I want to thank my colleagues the member from Haldimand-Norfolk, the member from Welland, the member from Eglinton-Lawrence and the member from Thornhill for their very constructive views on the comments I was making.
I'll probably start in reverse order with the member from Thornhill. I agree: Part of this process, again, is that we go through three readings and we go to the committee process so that we try to improve the bill, and we debate that. I hope that some of the suggestions you're making-and the member from Eglinton-Lawrence was talking about a very specific suggestion-that there's an opportunity to consider all that, absolutely.
This is, again, part and parcel of the system we have in place in this Legislature. It is historic in nature. It comes from convention. It has been practised for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it has worked.
I wanted to come to the comment made by the member from Welland. I'm not sure where I am on the point about whether or not we should make it easy for Ontarians to vote. I think there has to be a balance somewhere; there probably has to be a line somewhere. I agree that it should not be as easy as sitting at home, having a remote control-
Mr. Peter Kormos: In your underwear.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: In your underpants-see, I said it for the first time, and probably, hopefully for the last time, in Hansard-and be able to vote. But who knows? We don't know where the technology will lie 10, 15 or 20 years from now, where that may be considered a norm. We have to adapt with time. We need to make sure that the opportunities exist for people to vote, just like we're doing in terms of accessibility issues. There was a time that that was not considered a priority. You'd show up and if you had to climb 10 flights to vote and you were in a wheelchair, nobody cared. But times have changed. Now we accept and recognize it's our responsibility to make sure that our polling stations are fully accessible for those who are disabled.
There is a fine line, and we need to make sure that we are always evolving and adapting to ensure that our system of democracy remains strong and healthy and that it allows for Ontarians and Canadians, broadly speaking, the opportunity to vote in an effective manner.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): It being 6 of the clock, the question that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made.