STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
COMITÉ PERMANENT DE L’ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE
Wednesday 21 April 2010 Mercredi 21 avril 2010
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): We’ll call the meeting of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly to order today, Wednesday, April 21. We’re here to deal with Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act, the continuation of clause-by-clause consideration.
Mr. Michael Prue: If I could, now that legislative counsel has arrived, I do know that my caucus was preparing a number of amendments to motions that we were given from the government yesterday and that legislative counsel was working on. Are those now available? I know you’ve just arrived. Are they available?
Mr. Michael Prue: Because if there are amendments—and I’m not sure exactly which motions they impact—the amendments may have to go before the motion. So I would like to at least see the numbers of them and where they fit before proceeding.
Mr. Michael Prue: I think we have no alternative but to wait till they arrive, because I think they may have to be dealt with if they’re amendments to the motion. I would make them at the time that you read the motion in, and then they would be dealt with first.
“45.2.1(1) Each day during the period that begins on the 28th day before polling day and ends at 6 p.m. on the last day before polling day, the special ballot officer in the returning office shall notify the returning officer of the names, addresses and polling division numbers of all electors whose applications to vote by special ballot are approved on that day.
“(2) On receiving notice under subparagraph 4 i of subsection 45.2(6) that an elector is voting by special ballot, the returning officer shall record the elector’s name, address and polling division number.
“(3) On request, the returning officer shall provide to every candidate who has been nominated a list of electors with respect to whom the returning officer has received notice under subsection (1) or (2) up to the time the request is made.”
Mr. Michael Prue: Yes. I have some considerable difficulty with the third part of this, that on request, the returning officer shall provide a list to every candidate. Now, I’m not upset—I mean, currently what happens is that with someone who votes in the advance poll, that list is made available to the candidates. But what you are doing here, or what you’re purporting to do here, is to give the candidates a list of people who have self-identified or have come to the electoral officer to say that they have a disability that requires them to have a special ballot. Now, some people may not want that information to be known.
I’m just wondering why this section is in here. Why can’t they just be included in people who have voted in the advance poll? Surely that would be enough. I don’t understand why you are identifying people with a disability. What difference does it make to the candidates whether or not the person has a disability or voted in the advance poll? That’s why I don’t understand what you’re doing.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Well, Mr. Chair, this is simply to ensure that accurate information about special ballot electors is provided to candidates. I don’t think my friend should be as troubled as he is about it. It indeed arose from submissions by Jack Siegel to our committee some weeks ago.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: I don’t know to what end—the candidates have received a list of electors, as they should. But to segregate the list of electors, I think, is a slippery slope. I don’t think that is where Ontario should be going. I mean, what’s next to identify? We could identify any number of different subsections of people who are going to vote. I think you’re headed down the wrong road here. As long as the candidates have a list of electors, I don’t think we need any electors with asterisks attached to them.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Well, again, let’s be very clear that special ballots are available to all people. We expect that people with disabilities will be the primary users. But that is not the case. This is a voting method available to all voters and it simply provides information to candidates as to who receives those, so that in the normal course of campaigning a different approach can be taken.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: I just wanted to talk more about why we would separate the special ballots from people who have voted, for example, in an advance poll. It comes back, for me, to: Why would you need to have that information designated in a separate way? I cannot imagine why a candidate would need to know anything more than whether the person has voted or hasn’t voted. So, I agree with the NDP member and Mr. Chudleigh. I don’t see the purpose of that section.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: I understand your concerns. I think we’ve dealt with those concerns as a practical matter. This will not give rise to problems. In fact, it will allow expeditious undertaking of the campaign. I am reminded by my colleague that the AODAA is fully accepting of this provision. In an advance poll, a voter votes and that person’s name is checked off. That’s one way of identifying whether someone has voted. On voting day, voters’ names are checked off, and that’s another way of getting a list of voters. So, you’re able to know who has voted. You can go and try to urge out those who haven’t voted. With special ballots, there is not that indication. All you know is that a person has applied for a special ballot. So that’s other information—I think, good, fair information—available to all candidates. So we’re going to stick with our amendment.
“(a) it may be impossible or unreasonably difficult for the elector to attend at a returning office and the elector needs assistance with making an application to vote by special ballot, because of a disability or because of inability to read or write; or
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: This motion just expands the eligibility for home visits, recognizing that some voters with disabilities should be entitled to a home visit to ensure their opportunity to vote in an election.
Mr. Michael Prue: Yes. This is, as was said earlier, very similar to the one that I just moved and that was defeated by the government, but I think really all it does is, it expands the rights of people who are probably in the most difficult of circumstances being unable to vote. It allows for a home visit. It allows for the vote to be recorded and assistance to be given. This would be extremely limited, in my view. It would involve most probably people within the disability community but those who are the most severely disabled, without which help they would never be able to cast a ballot. I think it’s a reasonable thing to do, and I would ask for a recorded vote.
“(3.1) On determining that an elector does not qualify for a home visit, the returning officer shall immediately give the elector notice of the determination, with reasons; the elector is entitled to appeal the determination to the Chief Electoral Officer, and the following rules govern the appeal:
“2. The Chief Electoral Officer shall deal with the appeal and shall, within three business days after receiving the notice of appeal, give notice of the decision, with reasons, to the elector and to the returning officer.”
“(3.2) The Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that every special ballot officer who is assigned to home visits undergoes a police background check with satisfactory results before conducting his or her first home visit.
“(6) If the elector is unable to sign the declaration on the sealed outer envelope as mentioned in clause 45.7(d), one of the special ballot officers shall make a note on the envelope indicating that the elector voted at a home visit.
“(7) An elector to whom subsection 15(1.3) applies may make a request for a home visit to the returning officer in the electoral district where the elector is temporarily living, whether the elector wishes to vote in that electoral district or in the electoral district where his or her residence is located, and subsections (1) to (6) apply with necessary modifications.”
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Currently, as the bill is worded, an elector who is unable to sign the declaration on the outer envelope during a home visit could have his or her ballot set aside, despite subsection (2) of section 47.1, because there is no authority for the special ballot officer to indicate that the elector marked his or her ballot during a home visit—just a verification that the ballot was taken.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: This is just yet another one of the many instances where the PC caucus has done very high-quality research on the provisions of this bill. We confirm the wisdom of the research and we have every intention of supporting this amendment.
“(7) If a returning officer refuses a request for a home visit, he or she shall promptly provide the elector with reasons for the refusal and the elector who made the request may appeal the refusal in the manner prescribed by the regulations.”
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Not to be critical of the great research by the NDP folk, we feel that this motion is not necessary and, indeed, that an appeal process during an election period would be difficult to administer. We do not believe that this situation will arise and require an appeal, so we won’t be supporting it.
Mr. Michael Prue: I think, again, this is self-explanatory. A great deal was said by all of the people who came from the disabled community talking about privacy of the ballot and that it’s not good enough to simply have someone else mark your ballot, somebody else know what your ballot said, but in fact that they have to be able to have the ability, like every other elector, to mark their ballot in privacy and verify their own choice to make sure that it was correct before it goes in the ballot box.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Again, although we support the overall policy and intention of the amendment, there are implementation aspects of this which would make it irresponsible to support, so we’ll not be supporting it.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: What you’re saying here is that, notwithstanding whatever the disability is, the elector shall have the right to independently mark the ballot in privacy and verify the choice. It just goes beyond that which is practically implementable, given the wide variety of disabilities.
While we understand the principle and agree with you on the principle, we think the provisions for special ballots will meet the needs of the part of the electing community that will require special ballots, and we’re not going to support the amendment.
Mr. Michael Prue: I understand that you don’t want to separate out other electoral districts, but what if there is a concurrent plebiscite, as there was in the last election? This would seem to me not to allow that, because the only thing that could be contained would be this. Is that not what this says?
Mr. Greg Sorbara: No, I don’t think that’s the case. The fact is that in the event of a concurrent plebiscite, it may well be that the plebiscite has special rules applying to it, in any event, as to who can vote and how the vote can take place. I think we’ve looked at that.
Mr. Michael Prue: With the greatest respect, I don’t think that is what this says. This should be precise. I’ll vote for it, in spite of the fact that I’m not sure of the reasoning behind the plebiscite part, but this shows the candidates and their respective parties for the elector’s electoral district. It seems logical to me that if that is on an ordinary ballot, by law the same information should be on a ballot for a person with a disability.
Just as a practical problem, Michael, as you know, there is often a fairly long list of candidates who have no party affiliation whatsoever. The way that the act deals with that is just to state “candidates,” and in other places where candidates are affiliated with political parties, the political parties shall be there. This does not prohibit inclusion of political party affiliation where there is one.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: I hate to disagree, but I believe that independents are actually listed with their name and the word “independent,” so by extension, if there is no party affiliation, they are noted as independent.
By way of explanation, this subsection provides notice to absentee electors of the rule under subsection (7). It does so because we recognize that electors living outside of Ontario may not be located in one location for long periods of time, and we want to help ensure that those electors who do move are advised ahead of time that in the case of an election, they should have their mail forwarded if they wish to receive their ballot and vote, and also to help avoid the chance that non-eligible electors are provided with a ballot.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: I move that subsection 45.12(6) of the Election Act, as set out in section 25 of the bill, be amended by striking out “within the time specified” and substituting “within the reasonable time specified”.
“‘55.0.1 Before the first advance poll in every election, every returning officer shall ensure that all electoral officers in the electoral district receive training in understanding the needs of electors with disabilities.’”
By way of explanation, during committee, we heard a number of stories about how electors were mistreated. Knowledge of the needs of electors with disabilities can help to avoid these situations and provide a basis for creating workable solutions to problems if and when they may arise.
Mr. Michael Prue: I think this is very reasonable. We did hear a couple of horror stories of electoral personnel saying—I think the one that stands out best in my mind is, “Why should I hold the door open and have my people cold just so you can vote?” I think that attitude needs to be driven out of people before election day.
“‘(i) feedback received on the manner in which services are provided under this act to persons with disabilities in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and the regulations made under that act; and
I just want to put on the record that in my time around this place, I’ve seen legislation go through fairly substantial transformation, going from, in the case of this bill, a select committee process which I had the honour of chairing through introduction of the bill and second reading, then public hearings and now final consideration. But I think that this bill is very significant in the extent to which issues relating to accessibility have come to be the major headline when it comes to the rewriting of our Election Act and the Election Finances Act. I think we’re all very happy about that.
I’m going to take a moment to congratulate, through my dear friend and former student colleague David Lepofsky, the work of the AODAA in bringing, over and over again, these issues to our attention, to make the bill a better bill. We’ve got a very limited amount of time now to wrap this up. I could go through section by section where we have made advances. When it’s all done, I think the disability community might say, “It’s not everything we wanted, but the process worked. This is a very different bill, given the fact that opposition and government members, and the government minister responsible, did us the courtesy of listening to our concerns.” That process has been ongoing, really, ever since we announced the select committee and right up until when I walked into this room just about an hour ago.
This particular section: It’s clear on its face what it does. Its purpose is to enhance transparency and accountability. I think all members are going to support it. I hope they will. But even if they don’t, I want to say to all members that I personally, as someone who has been involved in this process from day one, am very appreciative of the work on all sides of the House in listening and making sure that we get this thing right.
We probably revisit our Election Act with every Parliament. This is a substantial exercise, and I think we can be proud of the progress that we’ve made in all the other areas where this bill addresses amendments, but in particular with the way in which elections will be deployed in the future, with special attention to making sure that the needs of the disabled community are met in poll place after poll place, in riding after riding and across the province.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: You talked about the amending process and how this bill is a much better bill than it was when it first came to the House, and I would agree with you, although I would have to point out that there are seven amendments that particularly made a huge difference to this bill, and those are the seven PC motions that you’ve seen fit to support.
Mr. Michael Prue: If I could, because I can’t let this opportunity go by, I have to say, to this point, I cannot concur with my learned colleague on the other side, because I think every single step that has been taken by the government in every government motion is a grudging motion. It is only partially going towards meeting what the disability community wants.
The motions that we have made—and you voted against every one to date, and I think by the time we’re finished, you’re going to vote against every single one of them in total—all came from the disability community: every single one of them, what they wanted. All you are willing to give them is partial answers, a hope for the years to come, saying that, “We’re listening to you,” but in reality, the next election is not going to be disability-free, as they want and as you should want as well.
“‘55.0.2 Any website on the Internet where the Chief Electoral Officer publishes information for the purposes of this act shall meet the accessibility standard of W3C WCAG 2.0 level AA format or higher.’”
“‘55.3 No later than four months after a general election is held, the Chief Electoral Officer shall make public a report by publishing it on a website on the Internet and by such other means as he or she considers advisable, regarding the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities, including the following:
“‘3. A summary of any complaints or feedback received from electors or candidates with disabilities during the election regarding the accessibility of the election and a summary of steps taken to address any complaints.
If I may, by way of discussion: This again came directly from the disabled community. This will be the ultimate insurance that any difficulties that are met at the election in question will not be repeated in the following one because it will give an opportunity for each and every person, be they an elector or a candidate, to come forward and say what kind of barriers there were to them having full participation, and will require the Chief Electoral Officer to answer that within a four-month period, and will require the Chief Electoral Officer to say what steps, if any, are being taken to remove them.
In a nub, this is the whole thing that the disability committee has gotten together for this time: to enunciate and to articulate what has gone wrong in the past. This would ensure that following every election, there would be an opportunity, and I’m sure, over time, a diminished set of things that have gone wrong to articulate so that people with disabilities have full electoral rights with those who do not have a disability.
Mr. Michael Prue: If I can, I don’t think the same principles are there. This is a much stronger resolution than the one you put forward. This mandates and makes it, “He shall do all of the following,” and, “It shall be on the Internet and such other means as possible.” Yours doesn’t contain this. This is much stronger and much better than the one that you put forward.
“‘(4) The Chief Electoral Officer shall review the report, consult with electors and with the leader of each registered party, and prepare a plan explaining how the barriers identified in the report will be addressed in future elections.
I think a lot of the stimulant for a review of this particular act was due to various newspaper stories, anecdotal evidence and information that came in from a lot of different areas which stimulated the government to do a comprehensive review. I think if this amendment were in place, it would take it out of the hands of anecdotal evidence and formalize it in the form of a report by the Chief Electoral Officer to the Attorney General, whereby a logical and consistent process would be put in place to ensure that future elections continue to improve the process.
“‘55.4(1) No later than four months after each of the 2011 general election and the 2015 general election, the Attorney General shall appoint a person to perform an independent review of the effectiveness of legislation in Ontario and any actions taken under that legislation to ensure that elections are accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities.
“‘(2) The person performing the independent review under subsection (1) shall consult with the public and in particular with persons with disabilities and shall make public a report on the results of the review within 9 months after his or her appointment.’”
Just by way of argument, we are setting this out for simply the next two general elections. There will not be time, of course, with the government’s motion and what they have put forward and have voted on today, for much to take place in time for the 2011 election.
But this allows for a person to be appointed by the Attorney General to report on what has happened during that election and to make recommendations to the House. We think that nine months is sufficient time for the person performing the independent review to report.
This motion inserts the word “knowingly” into the paragraph. As the paragraph is currently written, a person who accidentally attempts to vote otherwise than by special ballot may be imprisoned, which seems a little strong for someone who may be making an honest mistake.
“‘114.3.1 Every report, direction or notice that this act requires the Chief Electoral Officer to publish shall be made available to persons with disabilities in a manner that takes their disabilities into account, in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and the regulations made under that act.’”
“(1.1) For the purposes of conducting a study mentioned in subsection (1), the Chief Electoral Officer shall investigate options for facilitating voting by persons with disabilities that have been undertaken in other jurisdictions, including the United States of America.”
If I may, by way of explanation, we know that when the Americans instituted the reform of their election process following the debacle of the hanging chads in Florida, they made sure that the disability community was widely consulted and used a lot of technology. Much of what is being requested by the AODAA is coming from and has already been used in the United States, to some considerable effect. We are simply asking that the Chief Electoral Officer, when investigating options, look at other examples around the world, most notably from our neighbour to the south, which, over the last 10 years and a couple of elections, has had some considerable success. A recorded vote.
Mr. Michael Prue: If I may, somebody has to pay for it. It seems logical that the money come from the Legislature by way of budget rather than being taken out of the budgets of government departments or others. We very clearly have to say that this is a legislative initiative.
It removes the repeal of this section in 2015. Currently, this section does not require the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct a study, but this motion leaves the option open for him or her to do so. It responds to our rapidly changing environment and the possibilities of what may be required in the future. It replaces the existing subsection (3) with new subsections (3) and (4), which, like previous PC motions, require public consultation and improved accessibility by requiring that the study is published on Election Ontario’s website.
“(3) The chief financial officer of a registered constituency association is responsible for ensuring that all contributions received by the association are recorded in the party’s electronic database.
“(4) The chief financial officer of a registered candidate who is not an independent candidate is responsible for ensuring that all contributions received by the candidate are recorded in the party’s electronic database.
“(5) The chief financial officer of a registered party is responsible for ensuring that receipts generated from the electronic database, whether in paper form or electronic form, are issued for all contributions received by the party and by its registered constituency associations and registered candidates.
“(6) The chief financial officers of registered constituency associations and registered candidates shall not issue receipts for contributions, and subsection 25(1) and clause 33(4)(c) do not apply to them.
“(5) The Chief Electoral Officer shall assess each electronic database that is maintained for the purposes of section 25.1 and, if satisfied that the electronic database complies with the guidelines and with this act, shall approve it.
“25.3 If a political party is registered under this act on June 1, 2011 or becomes registered under this act on or before May 31, 2012, the chief financial officer of the party may opt for early compliance at any time during the period that begins on June 1, 2011 and ends on May 31, 2012, in accordance with the following rules:
“ii. on and after the effective date set out in the notice, the chief financial officer shall ensure that any material changes to the party’s electronic database receive the Chief Electoral Officer’s approval before being launched.
“i. paragraph 1 of subsection 25.1(8) applies on and after the effective date set out in the notice, except that the party’s electronic database need not allow the chief financial officers of registered candidates to record contributions,
“iii. the chief financial officer must comply with subsection 25.1(5) in relation to contributions received by the party and by its registered constituency associations on or after the effective date.
“i. paragraph 1 of subsection 25.1(8) applies on and after the effective date set out in the notice, except that the party’s electronic database need not allow the chief financial officers of registered constituency associations to record contributions,
“i. paragraph 1 of subsection 25.1(8) applies on and after the effective date set out in the notice, except that the party’s electronic database need not allow the chief financial officers of registered constituency associations and registered candidates to record contributions,
“25.4(1) Subsections (2) and (3) apply to a registered political party that has not, in the 2007 general election or in any subsequent general election, had official candidates in 50 per cent or more of Ontario’s electoral districts.
“(3) The chief financial officer of the party may, at any time from June 1, 2012 onwards, opt for compliance by giving the Chief Electoral Officer written notice that the party will comply with section 25.1.
“25.5 On and after the first anniversary of polling day in any general election in which a registered political party has official candidates in 50 per cent or more of Ontario’s electoral districts for the first time,
Mr. Greg Sorbara: This is perhaps an historic amendment that we are considering here today and hope to pass and approve and make part of our election financing system. Simply stated, we are moving out of the 19th century of receipting in the way in which we have for decades and decades in our political parties, with those official forms that come out of Elections Ontario and need to be numbered and catalogued and sent out before income tax time, to a modern system of centralized electronic receipting.
In the select committee’s work and in discussions, the view has been that it’s high time that we catch up to most charitable organizations, who are able to receive donations online and provide virtually instantly a receipt for the donation made. That’s where we’re moving, finally, in Ontario amongst our political parties.
While the amendment itself is complicated and contains lengthy provisions, the framework is being put into place so that each political party can move in that direction, beginning on June 1, 2011, and there is an expectation that all political parties of size will comply by 2012. This has been not without a little bit of controversy, but as someone who has been involved in political parties for perhaps too long, I think this is a wonderful advancement. Those of us who are concerned about the machinery of our parties will have much better machinery once this provision is implemented and political parties begin to comply with it.
“118. The Lieutenant Governor in Council shall make regulations on or before January 1, 2013 in respect of anything referred to in this act that is in respect of accessibility for persons with disabilities and that is referred to as being prescribed or as otherwise dealt with in the regulations.”
By way of explanation, the important date is January 1, 2013, to ensure that the subsequent election—not this one coming up, but the subsequent one—is well understood and that the regulations are in place well in advance so that people have an opportunity to understand them and to ensure that they are going to help, in the greatest possible way, the disability community.
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Questions, comments? There being none, just a small correction in the voting procedure. My sheets here had a slight error. I need to take a vote on section 39. Shall section 39 carry? Carried.
Mr. Michael Prue: This may be a little open-ended in terms of when a bill comes into force, on the day it receives royal assent. Royal assent, as we all know, is signed by the Lieutenant Governor, but it’s done on the advice of the government, and many bills pass and wait sometimes years before they actually get royal assent. Is there some kind of commitment for the government that this will happen on or before the other two dates that are mentioned in the bill, January 1, 2012, and/or July 1, 2011? Just when can we expect this? I’m just nervous that we pass it and the government never brings it forward for royal assent.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Mr. Chair, I think my friend raises a technically valid issue. The fact is that we do not anticipate any undue delay in the proclamation of royal assent for this bill. So although I cannot give you a specific time frame, suffice it to say that the government, this party, our caucus, your party and the Conservative Party have all worked very hard on this bill and we would expect royal assent within a very reasonable time.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh: Given the passing of the last amendment, this one is redundant, so we would withdraw it, other than to pass on a thank you for all those who attended and made deputations to the committee.
“(9.1) When accessible voting equipment and related vote counting equipment are used in an election under this section, the Chief Electoral Officer shall consult with persons with disabilities after the election and make public the nature of the comments received and any proposed changes to be made with respect to the equipment as a result of the consultation.”
If I may, by way of discussion, this, I think, is self-explanatory. But also, this mandates that the Chief Electoral Officer shall—it’s not promissory; it is mandatory—consult with persons with disabilities about the nature of the machines and how the machines worked, and shall make the proposed changes to the equipment—not necessarily to the laws but to the equipment—so that it can be better utilized in the future.
We think that this is something that the disabilities committee has recommended, and certainly, all persons who came forward who have had any difficulties with machines asked that we revisit the issue of those machines and how they might be made to work better, or better, cheaper, or more effective machines might be utilized. That’s what this is intending to do.
“‘44.2(1) The Chief Electoral Officer shall conduct a review of two or more alternative voting technologies, prepare a report of the review and, on or before June 30, 2012, submit the report to the Speaker of the assembly.
“‘(3) The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly shall hold public hearings into the report and shall, on or before December 31, 2012, determine whether any of the alternative voting technologies are appropriate for use in Ontario elections.
“‘(4) If the committee determines that an alternative voting technology is appropriate for use in Ontario elections, the Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that it is made available at all elections during 2013 and 2014.
If I could, by way of explanation: The motion is put forward after consultation with the AODAA. We are mindful of the government’s motion which will follow, which is 7.1.1, but feel that it is very much restrictive.
A couple of major things that we think make this better than the government motion: It involves the review. It sets out the review date, by June 30, 2012, which the government motion does not do; and it empowers the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly to hold public hearings and the standing committee, not the Chief Electoral Officer, to determine whether any of the alternative voting technologies are appropriate. You will see, in the government motion that follows, the standing committee can only adopt the Chief Electoral Officer’s report without modification, so we would be virtually a rubber stamp. This would ensure that the standing committee would do the work we have been doing over these last few weeks, and that we are, after all, answerable to the public, to the people and to the electors, whereas the Chief Electoral Officer, with all respect to him, is not.
The third thing I think that it does is that it allows the committee to determine whether or not an alternative voting technology is appropriate, which the government prefers to leave to one person; we think that this should be an all-party recommendation.
We are moving the motion upon the advice of many of the people here in this room that this is a better solution in the long term to their past grievances. Certainly, their accessibility into this committee is legions ahead of what their accessibility has been through the bureaucracy of Elections Ontario.
I know that my friend has worked very hard on this, and he has come a long way in preparation for this, in preparation for these considerations. I’m advised about his comments in the springtime, back in 2007, about the foolhardiness of Internet voting. I’ve had some concerns as well. This act, right from the beginning of the select committee, has seen its mission as modernization and a little bit of housecleaning as well.
The fact is that, as I said earlier, we’ve made terrific progress together in accommodating a community that we all acknowledge has not been served all that well in the past, so we’re making these advances.
My friend is going to ask for a brief recess. I want to consult with my friends on the other side about one final little friendly amendment. While we will not be supporting Mr. Prue’s amendment, I want to say that I understand his firm dedication to the constituency on whose behalf he’s arguing.
Mr. David Zimmer: Following “to a standard that is,” strike out “equal,” replace with the word “equivalent,” and then it continues to read “to,” and strike out “or better than,” and it picks up at “the protection afforded by section 44.1.”
The Clerk of the Committee (Ms. Tonia Grannum): Sure. “‘The Chief Electoral Officer is satisfied that the alternative voting method protects the security and integrity of the election to a standard that is equivalent to the protection afforded by section 44.1.’”
“‘3. The Chief Electoral Officer has consulted, with registered parties, with electors and with experts on the subject of voting methods, about the alternative voting method, the test under section 4.1 and its results.
“‘5. The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly or another standing or select committee of the assembly has held public hearings into the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendation and approved it without modification.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: Just one comment: Because there is no reference in this amendment to accessibility, it is possible that these alternative voting methods would do nothing in terms of making the alternative voting method more accessible. I’m just wondering why the word “accessible” was left out.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: I think the place of the amendment and the way in which it comes into operation under the act makes it perfectly clear that this is all about dealing with allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to explore other means of accessible voting and to do so in a way that does not at this point commit, to be frank, the government to a form of Internet voting but allows that to be investigated and then come before a committee of the Legislature for approval or rejection. While I understand my colleague’s concern, the whole thrust of this is about capacity to develop technologies that enhance the accessibility of voting for the disabled community.
Mr. Michael Prue: Just to speak on this, I cannot help but respond to what my friend said, that I have come such a long way in terms of Internet voting. The fact of the matter is that I have not come a long way, but the technology has. That’s the fundamental difference.
When I spoke in 2007, that was very soon after I was the victim of identity fraud. I will tell you, the people who can hack into a computer can find out a lot about you and can take some considerable advantage with it. You don’t have to be the victim of such fraud to understand how much a person who knows how to use a computer effectively for illegal purposes can hack in, find out, substitute themselves for you and do things that the whole world thinks you are doing.
I am satisfied, over the last three or four years since I was a victim, that the technology has come such a long way that I no longer am afraid to go on the computer and to have personal details put on there, because I am satisfied that banks, government institutions and the like, with whom I trust that kind of information, are now much more careful with it and have the ways to safeguard against its abuse.
If you want to know what I said in 2007 and try to hold this up that I have moved my position—not really. I am still very mindful that people, improperly motivated, can do this kind of thing. But I am also much more mindful and support the fact that those who are involved in the making of technology and keeping it honest have come even further so that I am willing to take that kind of step.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: Well, I think my friend’s comments ironically argue for the wisdom of the provisions that we’ve put forward here today, and let me tell you why: You’re right about—and I remember you talking about the humiliating, awful experience of identity theft.
The fact is that with each advance in security and technology and communications link-ups, there is that small, crazy crowd out there that is always trying to break the code, no matter what you do. I mean, we just recently heard about the supposedly most secure systems in a number of sovereign nations being hacked and the information that was stolen being marketed around the world. As our security measures advance, the sophistication and the intelligence of the hacker advances as well. What we’re doing here is saying that we need to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to do the investigation.
But because this is voting and because we have a very strong tradition of secure voting in Ontario, we need to be satisfied, in a world where hackers will hack, that the security systems are—not any more equal to or better than, but equivalent, and that really means that you, sir, and the rest of us in this Legislature responsible for this legislation are satisfied that if the CEO is proposing that we move in that direction, he is telling us at the same time that he is satisfied that the security of the system will not be compromised. That’s what this debate has been from the beginning.
I think that we’ve come to a reasonable landing. I actually believe that in the future, we will see systems develop that will be welcomed by and satisfactory to the communities that have been asking for this for quite some time. I think probably we’ll see that by 2015. That may lead to a very different world in how we elect people over the course of the next general elections four, eight, 12 and 16 years from now. But our responsibility in government is—not to usurp the position of my friends opposite—to be conservative, to make sure in this area not only that we allow for the development of the new technologies but also that that principle of security of the vote is not compromised in any way.
We’ve been working on this section for the past several weeks, coming right up to today’s clause-by-clause analysis, where my friend David Lepofsky said, “Could we just change this a little bit?” The concern was “equal or better than” and maybe that’s too high a threshold. On the government side, we said, “Maybe you have a point.” So I’m happy that my friends on the other side agree to the friendly amendment.
Just to cut this speech short, I think that the work that has been done with the other parties, with the AODAA and all of their representatives has been just an absolute model for the consideration of legislation in this parliament and in this province.
What I still find problematic with these two pages are the words in section 5. “The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly or other standing or select committee of the assembly has held public hearings into the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendation and approved it without modification.”
There are two problems with this. Number one is that people who come to make deputations generally do not have the same kind of access to the Chief Electoral Officer or, indeed, anyone in the bureaucracy as they do to parliamentary, standing or select committees. Every single standing committee to which I have been a party in the last eight years goes on at least the Internet; the television, on the parliamentary channel; usually to the newspapers; and sometimes in other forms of advertisement to key stakeholder groups and tells them to come out and make comment. This does not happen and probably will not happen to the Chief Electoral Officer. He is under no such obligation to do that. Therefore, the people who have come here in great numbers have come here by a process which the standing committee allows. We hear much greater input than any bureaucrat will ever hear.
I mean no umbrage to Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Essensa. I was on the board that hired him. I’m proud I hired him. He’s doing a good job. I hired him at Toronto before here. The same guy, I hired him twice. He’s doing a good job. No umbrage on him, but it’s not the same as coming before a parliamentary legislative committee.
The second thing is that the committee itself will be rendered nearly powerless. We can either say “yea” or “nay,” but we cannot make a modification. I think that that is an affront to the parliamentary process. We are elected as parliamentarians to reflect the views of the people of Ontario and particularly our own constituents. We are supposed to have free rein to make the laws, to make the recommendations and to have those recommendations go back before the Legislature. That ought not to be given to a single individual that we merely agree with or don’t.
We sat here today, and a number of amendments, albeit it only one terribly minor one of mine, were accepted by the government. Some seven or eight of the Conservative ones were accepted. That is the role of the opposition: to point out to you, to the government, why these amendments are necessary and how they’re going to improve the bill. It is not up to Mr. Essensa, any other bureaucrat or any other person to say what ought to happen and what ought to go before the Legislature.
For you and the government to truncate a committee, to truncate the future responsibilities of a committee of duly elected people, I think is terribly inappropriate and wrong. We then give up the responsibility we have to make the laws to someone else, and all we become are mere rubber stamps to say yes or not.
I don’t understand why the government is doing this. I honestly do not understand. We are doing a disservice to the disabled community and to all electors, and we are doing a disservice to this Legislature and to ourselves. I don’t understand. I can’t be party to that.
I just want to close, because my friend did as well, to say how very proud I am of Mr. Lepofsky and all the others who have come forward from the AODA Alliance and all the other organizations. It seems to me that when we started out, there was very little in here about disability issues. When we finished, the whole thing, almost, was about disability issues. Inasmuch as you’ve been heard, I guess, things are good. Inasmuch as you got your wishes, I’m not sure they’re as good as my friend is pretending. I think we had an obligation to go further than where it appears the government is willing to go.
I, for one, believe that in the 21st century, people with disabilities ought to be treated the same as everyone else. The time has come and gone, and is long past, thankfully, when a person with disability doesn’t have the same rights. We could have, and should have, extended every single right that a sighted, a non-hearing-impaired, a mobile person who doesn’t use a scooter, or any other disability you can think of—we should have come to the point in acknowledging that whatever assistive device is necessary has to be given. That should have been in this legislation. I would tell you I’d be much prouder if I was going into the 2011 election having that in place than waiting for another four years.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: No long speech, I promise, but I do support fully what my NDP colleague is saying about the fact that we’re going through the public process of putting it to a Legislative Assembly committee or a select committee, and public hearings, yet not allowing them to make recommendations based on the input they receive. It seems to me a very unusual section to be put into legislation. I’ve never seen it done in other circumstances. I don’t see the value in going through a public process where you ask for input and then you don’t have the ability to actually input it.
Many presenters and people around the table have talked about how different Bill 231 is now than when it was introduced initially. To me, that is as a result of the public input and consultation that occurred. And yet, by point 5 in this amendment, we would not be allowed to have that same access for input, and improvement, quite frankly.
I was also going to tell the story about running into John Rae outside Massey Hall. We were both on our way in to the Canadian Songbook. I see him here today. He has been such a strong advocate. We had a great laugh then. I don’t think either of us realized that a year later we would still be working on this bill. He has made a real contribution to its amendments.
I need to speak to section 5. This in no way constrains the ability of Parliament and the ability of government to make laws and regulations. This is a simple, neat, effective process that has the CEO, the Chief Electoral Officer, investigate, test, and develop electronic systems and then bring them before a committee for consideration.
I think that is actually great wisdom, rather than turning it into a kind of a political battle, just to have a committee say, “Yes, we like it,” or, “No, we don’t like it.” It may well be that at that time, the government says, “Well, we want to have that, and we want to have it in an amended form.” That would give rise to a bill introduced in Parliament, and it would go through the process. But rather than elongating this committee process just on this one section, I think the wisdom here is for all of the work to be done.
Frankly, sir, you know how this happens. There’s a great deal of consultation before those public hearings as to whether or not this is the right process, an effective process. And rather than giving it over to a long and protracted political debate, we have an opportunity to look at it in this Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly and say, “Yes, we want to go forward with that,” or, “No, frankly, we don’t want to go forward with that.”
I reject the notion that somehow Parliament, in its ability to make laws and rules, is constrained. I think there is great wisdom in this section, and I hope my friends would reconsider their opposition to it.
“‘(a) make public, by publishing on a website on the Internet and by other means, not less than six months before the date fixed for an election, the proposed locations for polling places and specific steps taken to ensure accessibility;
“‘(c) establish and widely publicize an elections accessibility telephone hotline during the six month period before and during voting day for electors and candidates with disabilities to comment on the proposed locations and to comment on any accessibility problems;
“‘(2) If the Chief Electoral Officer decides not to change the location of a proposed polling place despite objections to it having been received on grounds of accessibility, he or she shall forthwith make public the reasons for refusing to alter the location by publishing the reasons on a website on the Internet and by other means.
“‘(3) A person who objects to the location of a proposed polling place on the grounds of accessibility concerns and who lodges a timely complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer about the proposed location may appeal the refusal to alter the location in the manner prescribed by the regulations.’”
By way of argument, I think that it’s mostly self-explanatory. This is an opportunity for those who particularly are constrained in mobility—who are required to attend in a wheelchair, a scooter or by some other means where it is difficult to go down flights of stairs or the like—to have a look and to see whether or not the polling place is accessible. A casual walk by it—many times, to the trained eye, one who is wheelchair- or otherwise dependent can often see things that many people who are not mobility-dependent would simply miss: a lip, a step, the inaccessibility of an elevator during certain periods, all kinds of things. I think this was amply illustrated by some of the people who were here before us, including the gentleman who had to be carried down stairs to vote in the by-election in Toronto Centre, and others who talked about being unable to vote and unable to access unless they did so with great duress, a lot of waiting outside in the cold and everything else.
This would allow for those persons to have comment into places that have been chosen that are not right. It will not cost the government a great deal of money or, I’m sure, the Chief Electoral Officer a great deal of time to hear people out when the list is established. I know it is established six months before, because politicians and political parties in ridings are often given lists of the proposed polling places well in advance of the election date.
“‘44.3 The Chief Electoral Officer shall conduct a review of alternative voting technologies, prepare a report of the review and, on or before June 30, 2013, submit the report to the Speaker of the assembly.’”
Mr. Greg Sorbara: I think the answer is that the report must be submitted, at the latest, on the date in the motion. We believe that the full intention here—you have to have a cut-off date: “We want it no later than.” One expects that what will happen, in practice, is—you know, we have an election to conduct at the end of 2011. In the six months after that, for Elections Ontario, there is a great deal of work ensuring the analysis, not just on accessibility, but so many other things in the election are reviewed and then a report is made to Parliament. Now you’re into the beginning of 2012. So basically, there’s a year there in which to do the analysis, the review, the testing and the experimentation with alternative voting methods. We put a “you must report to Parliament or the Speaker” before the date that’s in the motion.
Mr. Michael Prue: I’m also worried about the date. I understand what my friend has just said, and I understand the work that everyone has, but surely we can move that up a bit. We have had a long history—and certainly the Canadian federal government has had an even longer history—of minority parliaments. We don’t always have a four-year cycle. As a matter of fact, the last couple have been rather amazing, to have so many four-year cycles—
Mr. Michael Prue: No, I didn’t. I invite you to use your historical wisdom of the fact that we went through a whole string of time, and are likely to go through it again in short order, of minority Parliaments. I’m just worried that the election that follows this one, because of the long date—if there is an election in 2013 or 2014 rather than the next cycle in 2015, then there will be no amelioration for the disabled.
Mr. Greg Sorbara: That’s a good comment. Who knows when we will have another minority Parliament and if that minority Parliament might last a full four years? Those are the vagaries of our electoral system. What we’re saying here is, “Chief Electoral Officer, you’ve got to do this work, and no matter what the situation is in Parliament, your essay has to be in by this date. Get the work done.”
Now, if it turns out that within two months of that, Parliament falls and there is a general election, well, there’s going to be a little bit of chaos. And I agree with you: The changes contemplated won’t be in place for what comes out of that kind of review. But as a practical matter, one would expect that the Chief Electoral Officer will be reporting to Parliament much before the date set out here, which is the final date, and one would expect that the voters of Ontario would have the wisdom to once again elect a majority government in Ontario—at least, that’s what I’m praying for, sir.
By way of explanation, I think it’s self-evident, but we will have approximately 107 such offices across this province, one in each electoral district. All this motion is asking is that when those offices are set up, they be accessible and that a telephone be put in so that persons with hearing loss can be able to talk to the Chief Electoral Officer. I am asking for support on this absolutely minor matter.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: I don’t believe they are in the legislation. I think they are standards that the Chief Electoral Officer of the day has chosen to implement. They are not in the statutes. I think it’s a great amendment and I think we should support it.
Mr. David Zimmer: If I may just have the committee’s indulgence for a second. We’ve been here now for two days. There has been a lot of fast conversation and, in some cases, very, very long technical amendments. I want to say, on behalf of the committee and, indeed, everybody here, our special thanks to our sign interpreters, Pamela Burchell and Lesley Kennedy McMillan from the Southern Ontario Sign Language Interpreters. I’ve watched you for two days, as my colleagues have, and it is surely a most remarkable piece of work.
I would ask my colleagues to join me in that congratulations and ask the clerk of the committee, when you get a copy of Hansard, if you’d send a copy of these remarks to the two sign interpreters. Thank you.
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Before we adjourn, committee, I have a little bit of committee business to do. I know some of you are not on this committee, but the clerk has received the invitation to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and I need your concurrence that the clerk prepare the letter that goes to the House leader to allow the members of the committee to travel to this conference and also to give the subcommittee of the committee the authority to prepare a budget for the committee and submit it back to the committee.