38th Parliament, 2nd Session

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO

ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO

Monday 4 June 2007 Lundi 4 juin 2007

ORDERS OF THE DAY

ELECTION STATUTE LAW
AMENDMENT ACT, 2007 /
LOI DE 2007 MODIFIANT DES LOIS
EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS


   

The House met at 1845.

ORDERS OF THE DAY

ELECTION STATUTE LAW
AMENDMENT ACT, 2007 /
LOI DE 2007 MODIFIANT DES LOIS
EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS

Mrs. Bountrogianni moved third reading of the following bill:

Bill 218, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act and make related amendments to other Acts / Projet de loi 218, Loi modifiant la Loi électorale et la Loi sur le financement des élections et apportant des modifications connexes à d'autres lois.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Michael Prue): Mrs. Bountrogianni.

Hon. Marie Bountrogianni (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, minister responsible for democratic renewal): I'm pleased to lead off third reading debate on Bill 218, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2007.

I would like to thank, first of all, my colleague and parliamentary assistant the member from Brampton Centre, Linda Jeffrey, for all her work on the democratic renewal file and particularly her work on all the legislation that has been introduced and debated in the Legislature.

As minister responsible for democratic renewal, I'm proud of this bill because it is about one of our most fundamental rights, the right to vote. This legislation, if passed, would make amendments to the Election Act that would make it more convenient for Ontarians to exercise their right to vote. At the same time, it would enhance the integrity of the electoral process.

Nos élections ne sont pas restées au diapason de la réalité de la vie des citoyens. Les initiatives de renouveau démocratique entreprises par le gouvernement McGuinty sont conçues pour assurer que les processus électoraux répondent aux besoins des Ontariens et Ontariennes. C'est justement le but qu'atteindra cette loi proposée si elle est adoptée.

A number of the voting improvements in the legislation were recommended to Mr. John Hollins, Ontario's Chief Election Officer. In fact, the CEO endorsed these changes at the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly on May 17. He said, "If I use the three pillars of a fair election–accessibility, integrity and participation—I believe this bill is a step in the right direction."

We are committed to providing public services that are easy to access, as well as improving our current democratic system. The passage of this legislation would represent real progress in making it easier than ever for all Ontarians to exercise their democratic right to vote by providing new, flexible voting options.

I'm confident that all members on all sides of the House would support initiatives that would help encourage more Ontarians to vote. That is one of the driving forces behind this legislation.

The changes proposed in Bill 218 include practical, cost-efficient steps to modernize elections in Ontario. If passed, they would be in place for the October 10, 2007, election.

We understand that Ontarians lead very busy lives. That's why this legislation, if passed, would extend polling hours by one hour at the end of polling day. Polls that regularly close at 8 p.m. would now close at 9 p.m. so that people have more time to vote on election day. Due to the time zone difference, polls in northwestern Ontario that close at 7 p.m. would close at 8 p.m. To clarify any misconceptions in this House, voters in northwestern Ontario would also get that additional hour to vote.

At committee, the CEO said, "Anything that increases opportunity and ease for the elector is a good thing ... the longer hours will help prevent lineups in the evening."

Le projet de loi 218 permettrait aussi plus facilement aux citoyens de l'Ontario de voter lors d'une élection générale ordinaire, en augmentant le nombre de jours de vote par anticipation de six à  13 aux bureaux du directeur du scrutin et de six à  10 à  d'autres endroits.

Comme l'a dit le directeur général des élections, « En quelques mots, cela signifie plus d'options pour nos électeurs. »

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The accuracy of the permanent register of electors would be improved if this legislation is passed. The legislation would require Elections Ontario to undertake new targeted registration to update the permanent register of electors, thereby improving the voters' list. A number of criteria are provided for targeting these efforts at people who will most likely be left off the list. These include mobile populations, first-time voters and electors who are new citizens. The CEO said that this delivers on Elections Ontario's pre-existing mandate to maintain and update the permanent register of electors.

Le directeur général des élections serait désormais autorisé à  mettre à  l'essai de nouvelles technologies lors d'élections partielles futures. La loi, si elle est adoptée, éliminerait l'exigence actuelle que le directeur général des élections obtienne la permission des principaux partis politiques pour mettre à  l'essai une nouvelle technologie. C'est une façon raisonnable et mesurée d'assurer que nos élections se déroulent dans un environnement aussi sà»r et accessible que possible.

The CEO said at the standing committee that this proposed authority "does not come lightly. As we continue to introduce pilot projects into by-elections to test new electoral processes, this will enable us to introduce emerging technologies and alternative voting methods, which will hopefully lead us into cost-saving partnerships with municipalities. Further, this will position us to provide first-hand information to the Legislature on these emerging technologies and alternative voting methods while providing much-needed experience for our staff."

If this legislation is passed, this bill would also eliminate confusion at the ballot box. Party names would appear on ballots in the next election. Candidates' names on ballots would be followed by their political affiliation where the candidate has been endorsed by the party. Independent candidates' names would be identified as independents if requested by the candidate. This would help voters make more informed choices. The CEO said that this measure will be "well-received by electors." He said that Elections Ontario receives "constant questions about why party names are not on the ballot."

This legislation would establish additional accessibility criteria for selecting polling locations. Criteria for selecting polling locations would include convenience, capacity, familiarity and lack of geographic barriers. This ensures that all possible steps are taken to make polling places as accessible as possible for all Ontarians.

If this bill passes, the CEO would be required to consult on administration of the Election Act with an advisory committee representing all of Ontario's registered political parties. While the CEO is independent of any political party, he would benefit from the advice and insight of the parties. The CEO describes the advisory committee as "an essential means to educate and brainstorm with parties between events or elections with political stakeholders of this process. The consultation is and will continue to be a non-partisan forum in which all registered parties can contribute to the strength of the electoral process."

Nous serons plus à  même de protéger l'intégrité des élections si la loi est adoptée. Tous les électeurs seraient tenus de présenter une preuve d'identité et, dans certains cas, une preuve de résidence. Le directeur général des élections aurait le pouvoir de déterminer les types d'identification acceptables.

"The electorate is looking for assurance that only qualified electors vote and that they only vote once," said the CEO at the hearing on Bill 218. "This can only help the integrity of the electoral process, and that's a win." Although this is a change that the CEO requested, he told the committee that he will proceed with caution if the legislation is passed. He will ensure that the requirement of identification "does not make it difficult or disenfranchise eligible electors. This includes electors who, because of their situations, such as disability or lack of a permanent residence, do not have or cannot provide the ID needed to be able to receive a ballot." The CEO also said that he will conduct a thorough consultation with stakeholders representing Ontario's diverse communities to ensure inclusiveness in his determination of the documents or class of documents that will be accepted as proof of identity and residence.

Cette loi est une première étape mesurée vers d'autres initiatives potentielles de réforme à  long terme du fonctionnement des élections dans la province.

This legislation strikes a balance between real improvements to the process and preventing any disruption of the upcoming election. This legislation would do more than just modernize Ontario's electoral process. On May 15, the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform submitted its report, One Ballot, Two Votes: A New Way to Vote in Ontario, recommending that Ontario adopt a new mixed member proportional system. A referendum on this recommendation will be held in conjunction with the next general election on October 10, 2007.

If passed, this bill would require the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct a neutral public education campaign to provide electors across Ontario with the following information: the date of the referendum, the content of the choices in the referendum, the referendum process and the question electors will be asked to vote on.

Il est essential de mettre en place des activités d'éducation publique pour que les électeurs ontariens obtiennent les renseignements dont ils ont besoin pour faire un choix éclairé lors du référendum sur la réforme électorale. Il est indispensable que ces renseignements soient neutres et impartiaux pour que les Ontariens et Ontariennes puissent se forger leur propre opinion sur cette question importante. Le 10 octobre, chaque électeur de la province aura la possibilité de faire son propre choix dans le cadre d'un référendum.

We believe that Ontarians should be able to exercise their democratic right to vote. We believe that it shouldn't be a chore to get on the voters' list. We believe that busy people should be able to more easily vote in advance polls or at the end of a hard-working day. We also believe that people should have to show identification in order to protect the integrity of the electoral process. Taken together with other key democratic renewal initiatives, including the successful completion of the citizens' assembly process and our recently passed referendum legislation, the provisions to modernize elections in Ontario will contribute significantly to our renewed vision of democracy. This vision is of democracy that is inclusive, participatory, transparent and accountable. I'm proud to stand in support of this bill and urge all members of this House to join me in supporting the bill.

Before I finish, I would like to just take a moment to thank all of the members in this House for the high level of debate that we have heard on this bill as well as the other democratic renewal bills that have made their way through the legislative process. I would particularly like to thank everyone for their reasoned arguments and support on democratic renewal initiatives. I would also like to thank the member from Lanark—Carleton, Mr. Sterling, as the critic for the official opposition, and the member from Beaches—East York, Michael Prue, for all his well-thought-out debates and arguments, and last but certainly but not least, my colleagues on this side of the House for their support.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr. Norm Miller (Parry Sound—Muskoka): It's my pleasure to add some comments today on Bill 218, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act and make related amendments to other Acts. Our critic, Mr. Sterling, the member from Lanark—Carleton, would be here, but I understand he has an important meeting with some Senators at the Scotiabank Place this evening, so he's unable to be here. I'm pleased to add some comments coming largely from him.

As we have said in all previous debates on this bill, we agree with large portions of it. We agree with longer voting hours, more days of advanced polls, the requirement for third party advertisers to register, the addition of party names to ballots, requiring voters to show identification in order to vote. Also, personally, I feel that the public education component of the bill that gives powers to the Chief Electoral Officer to develop programs to educate more people, especially those coming of age to be able to vote, in terms of giving them knowledge about the electoral process, is especially important and hopefully will result in greater participation in the electoral process by more people. We are very relieved to see the minister finally deal with the need for public education regarding the referendum, even if the details are very sketchy. We have concerns about a couple of aspects of the bill and, more importantly, we have serious concerns about the timing of the bill and the lack of due process.

The bill was introduced on April 25, less than six months before the next election. Many parts of this bill are the result of a report released by the Chief Election Officer in September 2004. What took so long?

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As far as the provisions for a public education campaign, we've been calling for this since the beginning of the discussions on a possible referendum. The select committee on electoral reform recognized that poor public education was a problem in the British Columbia referendum and recommended that Elections Ontario be given this responsibility when we reported in November 2005. This should have been included in either the bill which established the citizens' assembly—that was Bill 213—or in Bill 155, which set the referendum. Again, what took so long?

The late introduction of this bill suggests that the government did not want to see much debate or consultation on this bill. That is a concern.

This bill is supposedly about improving our democracy, yet it was introduced in such a way as to avoid democratic debate as much as possible. Time allocating a bill about electoral reform is the ultimate arrogance and disrespect for our democratic system and traditions.

This is not the first time we have seen the McGuinty government obstruct the democratic process around a supposed democratic reform bill. They time allocated Bill 155, which established the rules for the upcoming referendum on electoral reform. Bill 62, which changed the rules for political parties to register, was neatly tucked into schedule 11 of the 200-plus-page budget bill. This shows a complete lack of respect for the Legislature and those of us elected to this Legislature.

Beyond that, we have concerns about the contents of this bill. In the rushed committee process, we tried to improve the bill with what I believe were constructive amendments, but the government barely even considered our suggestions.

First of all, we offered up two alternatives, both of which would limit spending by third party advertisers during an election. Candidates and parties are restricted in how much money they can spend on election advertising. Why shouldn't third party advertisers face similar restrictions? In the last election, we saw groups putting forward campaigns like the "Not this time, Ernie. Not this time" ads, and those groups were rewarded after the election with various pieces of legislation that have passed through this place, and I think the public should, at the very least, be aware of that. That's why I think it's important that third party advertising be disclosed and also why the amendment put forward by the member from Lanark—Carleton to limit the spending should have been approved by the committee. Unfortunately, the government defeated it.

I raise this issue because this government, in the recent budget, decreased their requirements for party registration so that a political party need only run members in two ridings to be allowed to register. They claim they did this to comply with a federal court decision regarding federal party registration rules. The court decision was, in part, based on the fact that third party advertising is restricted during federal elections. Because of that, small political parties successfully argued that their right to freedom of speech was being impeded. In Ontario, however, we do not currently restrict third party advertising, and as such, those smaller political parties could advertise without having to become registered political parties. The precedent didn't apply in Ontario, so why change the rules? Given that the government has changed the rules regarding party registration, we suggested adopting a limit on election ads by third party advertisers similar to that which limits spending during federal elections. We introduced two possible amendments to achieve that and distributed our motions to other members of the Legislative Assembly committee well in advance of the meeting. The member for York South—Weston gave our amendments fair consideration and voiced his support for one, but of course the government members of the committee voted against both.

Another part of this bill that we have some concerns about is the unbridled power being given to the Chief Election Officer to try alternative voting methods in by-elections. I fully respect the Chief Election Officer, but I have concerns about anyone having the authority to make changes to our voting system without any checks and balances. We proposed that any such trials should be approved by a majority of the Chief Election Officer's all-party committee, a very simple suggestion, but of course the government members voted against it. It was a very typical response from this government: If it wasn't their idea, they won't support it. Then they wonder why this Legislature has become so adversarial and why we are desperately in need of parliamentary reform.

I want to point out that these amendments drafted by the member for Lanark—Carleton were drafted and moved in a spirit of constructive criticism. That is the job of the opposition in our system, but this government is very rarely willing to listen.

The McGuinty Liberals talked a lot about democratic reform during the last election. They promised consultation and committee hearings on all major pieces of legislation. This bill was officially sent out for consultation, but let's look at how that was done. One day of committee hearings was mandated, but because of the timing of this bill, that hearing was only advertised on the parliamentary channel and committee website, and presenters were only given approximately a day and a half to let the clerk know if they wanted to present. Is it no wonder that there were no presentations from the public on this bill? We had the Chief Election Officer come about the bill, and the minister. The Chief Election Officer certainly was very frank and gave lots of good insight into what could be done to improve the process for how elections are run in this province. However, I think the point is that if there had been some time and advance warning given, we would have had many members of the public and other people who are interested and experts who could have come before the committee and made some good recommendations.

In this case, they may have followed the letter of their promise but they most certainly broke the spirit of that promise. They promised to give MPPs more independence and power by allowing more free votes. To quote from their campaign platform, "We will make sure all non-cabinet MPPs are free to criticize and vote against government legislation, with the exception of explicit campaign promises and confidence matters." I'm sorry; my reaction to that is, "What a joke," because that has certainly not happened in the last four years. Let's see. I remember one bill on which government members broke ranks and that was on a local issue, Bill 186, the Regional Municipality of Peel Act. The members for Brampton Centre, Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale and Brampton West—Mississauga voted against this legislation. I believe that was the only government bill that government members were free to vote against, if their constituents wished.

I would say that the opposition has demonstrated that John Tory and the PC Party want to change that. Mr. Tory has pointed out that he would like to see substantial parliamentary reform, and he has demonstrated that by allowing the opposition to have free votes. Where there's a difference of opinion or where members wish to represent their constituents, he has allowed that to happen. When he does allow that to happen, the government members ridicule the opposition members. I say, this place would be a much better place if more members represented their constituents and if there were more free votes.

Another example of a broken Liberal promise to improve accountability and transparency in the Ontario government is their promise to open up government contracts to public scrutiny. Not only did they promise to do this in their 2003 election platform, but in her last two annual reports the Information and Privacy Commissioner has called for public access to this information. Yet when opposition parties file freedom of information requests for such contracts, we are stonewalled.

In general, the Liberals talked a lot about democratic reform and about respect for MPPs and for this Legislature, but their actions have spoken louder than their words. I hope that Ontarians remember their actions as they start to hear the next round of election promises.

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In the few minutes I have left, I would like to talk about a couple of aspects of the bill which I do believe are positive and about what the opposition would like to see. First of all, the part of the bill—the new section 114.1—to do with public education, I believe, is very important. It authorizes the Chief Electoral Officer to "implement public education and information programs" and "provide the public with information about" the "electoral process."

Also, the new section 114.2 requires the Chief Electoral Officer to provide "information packages for new electors ... to school boards for distribution to students who have reached voting age or will soon do so."

I believe that we need to increase participation in the electoral process and we need to have more people who vote and are involved in the electoral process. I believe that giving these powers to the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education programs is a positive thing. We need to get people interested at a young age. They need to learn about the electoral process in public school and high school, and be involved. So I'm pleased to see that change.

Before I close, I would also like to just briefly give my opinion with the fact that we need parliamentary reform around this place. I believe we need to enhance the role of the individual MPP. We need to see more free votes around this place. We need to make this place less adversarial and more civil. I know that's the desire of John Tory, the Leader of the Opposition, as well.

I believe we need to see more work for all-party committees. There was the select committee on alternative fuels back in the last PC government that I thought did a very effective job, made up, as I say, of all parties. They came up with many recommendations to do with alternative fuels. A few of the recommendations, like removing the provincial sales tax on, I believe, biodiesel and some other alternative fuels, were acted upon. I think the work of committees like that can really make a difference.

I also believe we need to change the rules, some of the standing orders in this place. For my 25th anniversary trip this past winter with my wife, Chris, I had the privilege of visiting London, England. I dragged her into Westminster for a Monday evening debate. We're still married. At that debate, I was interested to learn some differences between Westminster and this place, including the fact that for question period—which tends to be more about the sound bite for the evening's newscast—there at Westminster, the questions are submitted three days in advance to the minister. I believe the Speaker just stands up and says, "It's question 22." The opposition member doesn't actually get to deliver the question. Hopefully, when the minister has had the question for three days, he may give a more thoughtful answer, and it's not about just gotcha politics where you're trying to surprise the minister. So hopefully you get a more thoughtful answer. In the supplementary, that's where the opposition member can ad lib it a little bit. I think that would make sense. It would make this place less confrontational and less about the sound bite for the evening news and more significant, more real.

I was interested to see in the debate, in that one evening session I was at, that there was an opposition member speaking, and the government minister was able to politely interrupt the opposition member and correct some of the facts right in the middle of the speech, which our rules certainly don't allow—

Interjection.

Mr. Miller: —except in the form of heckling, the government whip is letting me know.

I was surprised in my brief time there. I think we can learn a lot from Westminster, and I believe we could make this place function in a more civilized manner and be less partisan, and probably gain more respect from the general public.

So I would like to see parliamentary reform around this place. I think it would be a very positive addition.

In closing, I'd just like to sum up. There are a number of changes in this bill that I support, that our party supports, like having the party name on the ballot. There were some minor changes to the titling: the title of the Chief Electoral Officer. There's the ability for the Chief Electoral Officer to test alternative voting methods in by-elections. As I say, we wanted that to be balanced with just an all-party committee of one member from each party to agree to that alternative testing method. There's room for additional techniques to update the voters' list, to improve the permanent register of electors, and the Chief Electoral Officer, at committee, did talk at length about that.

The voting time will be lengthened by one hour when the next general election happens. I think that allowing more time is always a positive thing.

This bill also makes more advance polls. There'd be 13 advance polling days, except in by-elections, when the timing of elections doesn't allow for it.

As I mentioned, the Chief Electoral Officer is given the responsibility of doing more public education for people when they come of age to vote, and he's also responsible for public education for the upcoming referendum, and I certainly see that as being very important.

I had the pleasure of sitting on the select committee on electoral reform. We visited British Columbia, and one of the points they made was that there wasn't enough public education leading up to the referendum in British Columbia on the recommendation from their citizens' assembly, which was the single transferable vote system.

I think some of the details of how the Chief Electoral Officer is going to educate the public on both the Yes and No sides are not spelled out, but it is important that that happen for both sides.

As I mentioned, there are also changes to the blackout period leading up to a general election and there are some rules to do with third party advertising in an election, although, as was pointed out, we wanted to see spending limits on that third party advertising. I think we made some very rational amendments, which unfortunately the government, en bloc, voted down.

We will be supporting this bill, even though the government voted down our constructive amendments.

All that being said, we do agree with the majority of this bill; much of it is really just common sense. But we are perplexed as to why the government waited to introduce this bill as late in their term as possible, forcing it to be time-allocated and democratic debate to be cut off.

I'd just like to conclude now and let the Legislature know that the PC Party will be supporting this bill.

Ms. Andrea Horwath (Hamilton East): It's certainly my pleasure to have a few minutes in what appear to be the literal dying days of this government to speak to one of the very last things that they're going to try to deal with in this Legislature, which is Bill 218, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act. I say that because the rumours are fast and furious around here today—and I'm sure everybody around here has heard them—that this is the last debate that will be happening during this government's time in office, right now, as we speak. It's history in the making, if you will.

You might be happy to know or it might be interesting for you to know that it's almost three years to the day—it's a couple of days out—since I was actually sworn into this House, since I was given the opportunity, the pleasure, the honour to represent the people of Hamilton East and to bring the concerns and issues of the people of Hamilton East and the broader community of Hamilton to this Legislature. I hope that I've been able to, at least in some ways, raise the issues and concerns of my community here over those last three years.

I look forward to talking to people—as I do every single day that I'm in my own riding, in my own home community, but certainly over the next couple of months in a much more concentrated way—about the possible opportunity of being able to continue in this honourable role, because it really is a significant opportunity, it's a significant honour, and it's a very positive way for me to give back to my community.

Positive, though, is not how I'm feeling right now in terms of the way that this government has decided to cut and run, when push comes to shove. There are a number of things that this government could still be here to accomplish over the next couple of weeks. In fact, the standing orders—and I'm not quite sure of the exact date in the standing orders; I'm sure my friend from Niagara Centre knows the exact date—require this House to sit until pretty much the end of June. That is not happening now—my understanding is and rumour has it—and we'll find out very shortly. In fact, I'm tense with anticipation and anxiety to see whether those rumours are true.

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There are many things that this government could have kept us here to do. One only needs to look at the order paper to identify not only government bills but particularly private members' bills as well that could have had some attention over these next three weeks. Unlike in the fall—it wasn't in the fall really, it was the beginning of winter, in December, when the government decided to add on eight extra days of time here in the Legislature to give itself a big pay raise. Unlike that time, now the government is cutting and running with that pay raise to try to get a couple of extra weeks of downtime in before the election takes place in the fall. From my perspective, that's problematic. I really think it's a sad state of affairs when the Liberal government—although there are a number of pieces of legislation that are sitting on the order paper waiting to be debated and waiting to make real positive change in this province, they're not going to see the light of day because Liberal members really don't want to be here.

Why don't they want to be here? Well, certainly they wanted to be here long enough to pass Bill 218, which is the bill we're discussing tonight. I'm going to be spending a few minutes on that just briefly, but in terms of the context, they want to be here for this—which is great, and that's fine and the debate is good and it's positive—but they don't want to be here particularly tomorrow. Why not?

Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): Why not?

Ms. Horwath: Why do they not want to be here tomorrow? Well, of all things, tomorrow is an interesting day because there is a particular committee—

Interjection.

Ms. Horwath: "Tomorrow, tomorrow"—I don't sing very well. My friend who represents the riding of Hamilton West actually is the singer in the community. She is sitting here now. She has actually got a very good singing voice and I certainly don't. I cannot carry a tune.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that tomorrow there is a committee being held and it's called the estimates committee. What's happening at that committee? That's the committee where the opposition parties have an opportunity to talk about particular budgets of particular ministries in a very focused, direct way. Intensive questioning goes on. The minister responsible for that particular ministry is brought before the committee with a number of support staff and they are basically grilled. They are put on the hot seat. They're raked over the coals—the Michael Colles, should I say? And that's the crux of the matter. Estimates committee tomorrow was supposed to be about the minister responsible for citizenship and immigration coming to respond to the opposition parties about the slushgate or the Collegate issue that has caused such a stir and that has, I'm sure, many more interesting tidbits that need to be pulled out from underneath the little rocks that they're hiding under. Unfortunately, my understanding is that the government doesn't want to do that so the government is going to pull the plug tonight—this very eve—so that tomorrow we won't be able to undertake that exercise with that minister.

I might be wrong. I could be a cynic. I could be totally miscalculating this and miscalling it. Of course, it's my first time ever that I've gone through this process of the actual winding down of a government—like the day they pull the plug—so I wouldn't recognize it necessarily. But my esteemed colleagues who have been here much longer than I—particularly my House leader, the member for Niagara Centre, Mr. Kormos, knows what the signs are, knows how to read the tea leaves. Okay, maybe he doesn't read tea leaves, maybe he goes to the casino and reads the cards—I don't know. But nonetheless, the bottom line is, there is absolutely no doubt—or very little doubt—in my mind that the government is going to pull the plug.

I think it's fairly sad that on the very night that we're talking about electoral reform, more or less, about a bill that is supposed to change the way Ontarians experience the voting system, experience their right to vote, at the same time that this government is bringing forward a bill for final reading and for approval by this House on the issues that are important to people around the voting system in the context of a government that ran on the issue of transparency, accountability and blah-blah-blah, the bottom line is that this very government is pulling the plug to prevent transparency, to put a veil over the issue of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in regard to that particular scandal, that particular slushgate, Collegate—and I'm not talking about the toothpaste now—that occurred a couple of weeks ago.

It's unfortunate, because the very cynicism that electors in this province have and that the government purports to want to address in bills like 218 and in bills like their proportional representation initiative they undertook—those very precepts are ones that everybody supports. But then they turn around and do things like pull the plug on the transparency and the due process that bring to light what this government's been doing under the cover of lack of scrutiny, and that scrutiny is supposed to take place tomorrow. Unfortunately, this government has decided that they can't take the heat. Whether the minister himself can't take the heat or whether the Premier doesn't want to take the heat in question period tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that for the next three weeks, I don't know. That's for them to answer, and I guess at some point, the people of Ontario are going to have a great opportunity to speak to every one of the MPPs in this Legislature about whether those values they purport to have actually translate into reality, when you see the kinds of shenanigans that go on around here.

Nonetheless, on Bill 218 itself, there were a number of issues I was concerned about, personally. The first one that jumped out at me, and it's still there, was that there was very little change to the bill after it went through the committee process, notwithstanding the fact that there were some good comments and opportunities for changes. One that really makes me concerned is the one around the provision of identification, which is required as of this new bill passing sometime, likely tonight.

The reason I say this is because I hearken back to my by-election and the real attempt that was made by one of our inner-city churches. I believe it's a United Church. It's called the Centenary United Church, right downtown. I'm sure MPPs who represent the Hamilton area know very well the Centenary United Church. It's right on Main Street; it's right in the middle of the commercial—not really so much in the institutional sector of our downtown on Main Street, wedged around city hall and the convention facility. The good people of Centenary United worked very hard during the by-election to spend time talking to and—what's the right word; encouraging, I guess is the right word—encouraging people whom we would typically label to be disenfranchised. These are low-income people. Many of them were living in shelters. Those who weren't living in shelters were very, very low-income people. Many of them had a number of different barriers in terms of their ability to fully participate and engage in all number of community activities the rest of us take for granted, whether those are cultural activities, political activities, employment activities or social activities. The bottom line is, many of these people were and continue to be very much considered the disenfranchised. I don't like putting on labels, but certainly that's how we could consider those people in terms of their ability or opportunity to engage.

What the minister, the volunteers and the activists in that church did was, they went out on purpose and made a huge effort to get those people involved in that by-election—to invite them to come to the church, to invite candidates to have a debate, and walked through the process of what it takes to actually cast a vote with them. Many of those people had not voted in some time; others had been diligent, in terms of their efforts to vote whenever there was an election. But I've got to tell you, what this bill will do—and it's very odd—is make it more difficult for those very people to actually cast a ballot.

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Why do I say that? Because what it does is, it says that the—

Interjections.

Ms. Horwath: I think some of the government members are making fun of people who live in poverty in our community in Hamilton. It's very disheartening and difficult for me to ignore when Liberal members are making fun of people who are living in poverty in my community. But, of course, why would I be surprised, because they've really done nothing for those people anyway?

But the bottom line is, what this particular bill does is that it asks people who don't get the voting card, who don't get the card that you're registered on the voters' list, don't receive that, to bring two pieces of identification to the polls to be able to identify themselves as voters. A lot of people in lower-income communities, particularly the ones I know of, have difficulty in providing that. Many of them don't have a driver's licence. Lots of them don't have their birth certificates. Most of them don't have a social insurance card. Some of them have an OHIP card. Of course, that's one of the things they need the most. In fact, just serving the people in my community at my constituency office, I know very well that many people don't have these official pieces of identification. So all the work that was done by people like Bill McKinnon and the minister there, Wayne Irwin, and others around trying to organize these people would come up with a little bit more of a barrier in terms of providing opportunity for those residents of our communities to be able to vote, and that concerns me.

A government that's saying they want to make it easier for people to vote is perhaps putting up barriers for particular constituencies of people; I think particularly the people in my community and, unfortunately, there are many thousands of them who are not in the same situation as many of us are. So that's my first concern.

But then, on the other hand, if you have the card, if you receive a card or obtain a card in some way, then you can automatically vote. You don't even have to show any ID. You can just go and vote. That's one of the things that really concerns me in terms of the way this bill is written. So you get to wonder a little bit what's really the motivation in terms of this initiative.

I'm a little bit concerned about both on the one side the opportunities for people who are extremely disenfranchised to be able to exercise their vote, to exercise their franchise and then, on the other hand, the extent to which—again, I come from a community where I've seen it happen. I've seen it happen at municipal elections, and I've seen it happen in my by-election and I don't expect it to stop happening. Sometimes it's unfortunate, but sometimes it happens, that that voting card is brought forward to the polls without the people who are really necessary in terms of who it is that owns that ID.

But I have to say that the other issue is proxy voting. Again, this is where people who are bringing forward the—

Hon. David Caplan (Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal, Deputy Government House Leader): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: All Ontarians must show two pieces of ID at the ballot box.

The Acting Speaker: It's not a point of order. Please continue.

Ms. Horwath: The other issue I'm a little bit concerned about is the extent to which some people need to have four pieces of identification to vote. So you'll need not only your own identification, but then you need to bring two pieces of identification from the person you're proxy voting for. From my perspective, that's another barrier for people in terms of the ability to get that vote recorded.

So when we talk about concerns, whether it's from Ontario, whether it's in terms of the country or even internationally in terms of identity theft and in terms of those issues around your own identification and the extent to which that identification could be misused, I get a little concerned about the extent to which you'll really have to explain to people and then convince them that providing not only their signature but then handing over two pieces of ID for you then to take from your relative or friend and go and vote on their behalf in the situation of proxy voting, it's problematic. It's problematic, and I'm a little concerned that the government didn't really think that out very well in terms of asking people to relinquish their ID and have it taken out of their home to the polls in order for the proxy voting to take place.

Although there are a number of other issues in this bill, the one I'm really concerned about is the extent to which the government purports to, in this bill, have a goal of making it easier for people to cast their ballot. But when you look at the detail in the bill, I have real concerns that the exact opposite is what is written down in black and white. I have to say I'm not surprised, though, because there are many pieces of government legislation over my three years here that I've seen where the government talks the talk on the one hand, but when it comes to walking the walk, it certainly doesn't measure up. Similarly, it's the same situation with Bill 218, unfortunately.

But I wanted to end off by saying that notwithstanding the fact that this bill is here and it's likely to be the last bill that is passed by this Legislature, it has certainly been quite a positive experience for me to learn from my colleagues, particularly in the NDP caucus and particularly colleagues that we know are not going to be running again, like Ms. Martel, the member from—how soon we forget—Nickel Belt. I have to say that she has been a very diligent member in this House, and a lot of the work that has been done by her has been followed up by others in our caucus as well.

So as we go through the next couple of months in terms of the pre-election period after tonight, when the government pulls the plug and decides that they're going to cut and run to avoid the questions that are going to come to estimates committee tomorrow, as well as avoid any further question periods, so they can get their early vacation, the bottom line is that there are many, many people who can simply look on the Internet and read the Hansards. If they really want to know what this government has been doing, as opposed to what they say they've been doing, then it's a matter of reading the Hansards, and I would ask the residents of Ontario, if they're really interested in an issue, to make sure they take the time to review not only what the government says it's doing but what the critics, in their very important roles, whether it's government critics or critics from the New Democratic Party caucus—what they reveal, I guess is the best way to say it, about the real activities of the government, as opposed to their spin, as opposed to their ribbon cutting, their photo ops and their enlisting of Hollywood stars to come and get the cameras rolling and give them a big boost.

The bottom line is that the government is going to be judged very, very shortly in the province of Ontario, and I certainly look forward to doing my part in my community to unveil exactly what they haven't done.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mrs. Linda Jeffrey (Brampton Centre): I'm extremely pleased to stand here to talk about the third reading of Bill 218. The changes we propose, although they sounded a little different by the tone of the last speaker, actually include some practical steps to modernize elections in Ontario. These changes are going to make a real difference in addressing some of the barriers that we've identified and the flaws that we believe may have been contributing factors to the decline in voter turnout.

If passed, these changes would be in place for the October 10 election. The legislation would enhance participation in Ontario's elections. Higher voter turnout would be encouraged by giving the Chief Electoral Officer the explicit authority to undertake election-related public education campaigns and communications. The Chief Electoral Officer would be able to make the electoral process better known to the public.

As the honourable Minister Bountrogianni described moments ago, Mr. John Hollins, Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer, spoke about these changes at the May 17 hearing of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly. On the topic of elector education, the CEO said that he would support Elections Ontario's efforts to improve education and deliver the message that voting matters to a broader base of Ontarians. He said that the changes in Bill 218 "would give us the authority to sponsor, through ongoing education, this level of engagement."

This legislation, if passed, would make it easier for Ontarians to vote by doubling the number of advance poll days in regularly scheduled general elections. We're going to increase it from six to 13. There would also be 10 days of advance polls at other locations. We would extend the polling day by another hour at the end of the day so people would have more time to vote on election day. This decision was supported and recommended by Mr. Hollins, the CEO, and he believes this is a great first step toward a future of allowing Ontarians to vote anywhere, any time.

Presently, polling stations need only be centralized and convenient. This legislation will also allow us to expand on the current criteria for selected polling locations, which will include convenience, capacity, familiarity and the lack of geographic barriers. Elections Ontario would continue to be able to locate polling stations in apartment buildings, schools, municipal and provincial buildings. Simply put, this means more options and convenience for electors.

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Another barrier to voter turnout is the voters' list. We want to ensure that eligible voters are on this list. This initiative is time-consuming, but it's paramount to improving confidence in the elections process. The accuracy of the permanent register of electors would be improved if this legislation was passed. Elections Ontario would be required to update the permanent register of electors, and the CEO would have the flexibility to conduct targeted registration programs in the years in which regularly scheduled general elections are to be held. The CEO would also be required to provide new voter information to school boards for distribution to those students approaching that critical voting age.

The permanent register of electors is clearly a list that's constantly in flux. Therefore, we've provided a number of criteria for targeting and capturing those individuals most likely to be left off the register or improperly left on it. This would include transient mobile populations, registering electors who are new citizens and young people approaching the voting age. As stated earlier, Elections Ontario would be required to provide new voter information to school boards, and these packages would give students and their parents a better understanding of our electoral processes. We believe that the participation of young Ontarians is essential to the health of our democracy. A number of techniques will be carried out in a targeted registration program. Enumeration can be used for part or all of a riding. As well, other methods will be available to the CEO so that he or she can determine the most effective way to target populations. The CEO would have the freedom to decide which technique is more likely to achieve our collective goal of improving voter turnout.

This legislation would also require Elections Ontario to conduct a neutral public education campaign for the upcoming referendum on electoral reform. One of the things we learned from the referendum in British Columbia was that many voters weren't quite sure what they were voting for. We want to make sure all Ontarians understand what they're voting for at the polls leading up to our province's first referendum since 1921. That's why this legislation will empower CEO John Hollins with the freedom and the explicit authority to undertake a comprehensive, non-partisan public education and communications program.

In the remaining moments I have, I'd just like to acknowledge a visit by a delegation from the United Kingdom Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from May 29 to May 31. We had Austin Mitchell, Ann Cryer, Jeffrey Ennis, Roger Godsiff and Dennis Rogan visit us. They came to find out about our legislation because they're somewhat jealous of the process that we've gone through. They want to find a way to improve voter turnout and they haven't been successful. So they came here to ask questions, to find out how we did it and how best they could try to introduce legislation into their House in order to find a way to improve voter turnout. They asked some very penetrating questions, they held me to the hot seat and they visited many people in the Legislature. They were very impressed with the thoroughness and the kinds of amendments we made to the legislation that would certainly improve the accessibility, the voters' list. They were actually very interested in a lot of municipal elections. We had a lot in common, and they were very interested in what we had to say about elections. I will be forwarding the bill to them should it receive approval today. I look forward to their comments and seeing if this ground-breaking legislation that was introduced by Minister Bountrogianni will find its way into the English Legislature sometime in the future. This could be the birth of some very serious legislative changes in another chamber.

This legislation lays the groundwork for future changes once the current electoral reform process is complete. It's another example of how this government is working hard to reform and modernize our political institutions and processes. Our government continues to be a leader in advancing our ambitious democratic renewal agenda, and I believe that this bill is a step in the right direction. It promotes Mr. Hollins's three pillars of a fair election: accessibility, integrity and participation. I know that all members in this House are interested in improving voter turnout, voter participation. We wouldn't be here otherwise. Everybody here has experienced that apathy at the door. We all want to change that. We have a lot of young voters who are going to participate on October 10. We want to get them engaged, excited, enthusiastic about government and legislation and the policies that we bring to this House, because we want to build a better province, a stronger province, one that will be strong enough to withstand anything that is thrown at it, whatever comes. I have every confidence that people here in this chamber understand its importance, and I urge them to support this piece of legislation.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate? There being no further debate, and the time having elapsed—there were only a few seconds, but I just thought I'd see if anyone else was interested—it is now incumbent that I call the question.

Mrs. Bountrogianni has moved third reading of Bill 218, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act and make related amendments to other Acts. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour will please say "aye."

All those opposed will please say "nay."

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

Call in the members. There will be a 10-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 1946 to 1956.

The Acting Speaker: All those in favour will please stand and be recorded by the Clerk.

Ayes

Arthurs, Wayne

Balkissoon, Bas

Bentley, Christopher

Bountrogianni, Marie

Brownell, Jim

Caplan, David

Crozier, Bruce

Delaney, Bob

Di Cocco, Caroline

Dombrowsky, Leona

Duguid, Brad

Dunlop, Garfield

Flynn, Kevin Daniel

Gerretsen, John

Gravelle, Michael

Hoy, Pat

Jeffrey, Linda

Lalonde, Jean-Marc

Leal, Jeff

Levac, Dave

Marsales, Judy

Mauro, Bill

McNeely, Phil

Miller, Norm

Milloy, John

Mitchell, Carol

Mossop, Jennifer F.

Orazietti, David

Ouellette, Jerry J.

Parsons, Ernie

Qaadri, Shafiq

Racco, Mario G.

Ramal, Khalil

Ramsay, David

Ruprecht, Tony

Sandals, Liz

Smith, Monique

Smitherman, George

Van Bommel, Maria

Watson, Jim

Wilkinson, John

Zimmer, David

The Acting Speaker: All those opposed will please stand and be recorded by the Clerk.

Nays

Bisson, Gilles

Hampton, Howard

Horwath, Andrea

Kormos, Peter

 

The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The ayes are 42; the nays are 4.

The Acting Speaker: I declare the motion carried.

Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.

Mr. Bob Delaney (Mississauga West): On a point of order, Speaker: I'd like members to join me in welcoming to the east members' gallery teacher Eric Ma and some of the terrific Peel science students who are here for the Sci-Tech fair.

The Acting Speaker: Orders of the day.

Mr. Bruce Crozier (Essex): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: I seek unanimous consent to call orders for second and third reading of Bill 227, An Act to repeal The Jack Miner Migratory Bird Foundation Act, 1936, and for the questions to be put immediately without debate or amendment.

The Acting Speaker: Mr. Crozier has moved a motion for unanimous consent to call the orders for the second and third reading of Bill 227, An Act to repeal The Jack Miner Migratory Bird Foundation Act, 1936, and for the questions to be put immediately without debate or amendment. Is there unanimous consent?

Interjections.

The Acting Speaker: I heard a no. Orders of the day.

Hon. Mr. Caplan: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: I too seek unanimous consent to revert back to motions so that we may deal with a committee motion without debate or amendment as follows: That the following committees be authorized to meet during the summer adjournment, and notwithstanding prorogation, as follows: standing committee on government agencies to consider intended appointments in accordance with standing order 106(e); standing committee on the Legislative Assembly to attend the 2007 annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures by any member of the committee or their designate; standing committee on public accounts to attend the 28th annual conference of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees; and

That the committees be authorized to release reports by depositing a copy of any report with the Clerk of the Assembly during the summer adjournment or between the second and third sessions of the 38th Parliament, as the case may be, and that in any case the Chairs of the committees shall bring any such reports before the House not later than the first sessional day reports from committees may be received when the House next meets.

Speaker, I seek unanimous consent of the House for the following motion.

The Acting Speaker: The deputy government House leader has moved unanimous consent to refer back to motions, and he has moved that the following committees be authorized to meet—

Interjections.

The Acting Speaker: Dispense? Dispensed. Is there unanimous consent? I heard some noes.

Mr. Dave Levac (Brant): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: One of our own, a friend and a colleague, will be leaving this place and not seeking re-election. I'm seeking unanimous consent for one member of each party to pay a short tribute to the member from Prince Edward—Hastings, Ernie Parsons.

The Acting Speaker: The government whip is seeking unanimous consent to have one member from each party speak to the departing member from Prince Edward—Hastings, Mr. Ernie Parsons. Is there unanimous consent? I heard a no.

Hon. Mr. Caplan: I move adjournment of the House.

The Acting Speaker: The deputy government House leader has moved adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.

Interjections.

The Acting Speaker: Sorry, I didn't hear the no. I heard a no.

All those in favour will please say "aye."

All those opposed will please say "nay."

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

Carried.

Interjections.

The Acting Speaker: It was too long. Carried.

This House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.

The House adjourned at 2003.