POLITICS

Elections Ontario should set byelection dates, not premier: NDP

07/05/2013 12:05 EDT | Updated 09/04/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The power to set byelections dates should be in the hands of Elections Ontario, not the premier, the New Democrats said Friday.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has taken a lot of heat for calling five byelections for Aug. 1, just before a long weekend. The opposition parties, as well as watchdog Democracy Watch, have decried the move as an attempt to suppress voting.

The Tories and NDP claim Wynne wants a lower voter turnout to help the governing Liberals hang on to their seats.

Byelections shouldn't be timed to make it easier for the Liberals to win, said NDP critic Michael Prue.

"It ought not to be up simply to one person to use it to their political advantage, but it should be at arm's length, perhaps done by Elections Ontario," he said.

Prue said he plans to introduce a private member's bill in the fall that would allow Elections Ontario to schedule byelections to maximize voter turnout.

He said he'd leave it up to the chief elections officer to determine the length of time by which Elections Ontario would have to set a date. Traditionally, the premier calls a byelection within six months of a seat being vacated.

"To set a window, to set a time frame from six months might cause some difficulties if someone, say, were to resign in October and the time frame took it during the Christmas holidays," Prue said.

"I think we need to leave that up to dispassionate individuals to set the time frame. But definitely, six months is far too long for a riding, like either Windsor or London, to be without an MPP."

But the Liberals say the current standard works just fine.

There are also fixed election dates for majority governments, said Eric Hoskins, minister for economic development, trade and employment.

"In a minority situation, it can be a little bit different," he acknowledged.

With minority governments, an election can be triggered if a confidence motion — such as the budget — is defeated in the legislature.

"We're open to acting on good suggestions to make government more accountable, more transparent, fair," Hoskins said.

The byelections will be held in Windsor, London, Ottawa and in two Toronto ridings to replace four prominent Liberals — including former premier Dalton McGuinty — who resigned since Wynne was sworn in as premier in February.

The Tories also criticized the timing of the byelections, saying Wynne is trying to squeeze them in before the auditor general delivers a report on the costs of cancelling a gas plant in Oakville in 2010.