POLITICS

Ontario To Add 15 MPPs For 2018 Vote, Limit 3rd-Party Election Ads

06/04/2015 09:28 EDT | Updated 06/04/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario plans to move its fixed elections from October to June and could even hold them on Saturdays to increase voter turnout, but Premier Kathleen Wynne isn't ready to try online voting just yet.

"I am not opposed personally to using technology in the election process, not in any way," Wynne said as she announced a series of electoral changes. "Are there uses for online (voting), is there a way of integrating it? I just think jury is still out on that."

Elections Ontario recommended moving elections from the fall to June to avoid overlap with federal and municipal elections and potential voter fatigue, and to take advantage of longer daylight and better weather. However, Wynne wasn't convinced by another recommendation to hold elections on Saturdays or school holidays.

"I'm not sure about weekend elections, the notion that somehow there would be more people around to vote," she said.

Last year's Ontario election was in June, but it was triggered after the opposition parties vowed to vote against the budget, which would have defeated the then-minority Liberal government.

Wynne offered no details on her promise to "strengthen rules" around election-related third-party advertising, which has more than tripled since the 2007 election to $8.7 million in 2014, more than any of the political parties spent on ads. But she all but rejected the idea of imposing caps on political donations by unions and corporations.

"I believe that individuals and organizations should have the ability to take part in the democratic process," Wynne said. "We need to look at the role that third parties play and third party advertising is an important part of that discussion."

The Progressive Conservatives were the target of much of that third-party advertising, mainly from a coalition of unions calling themselves "Working Families" that spent heavily in recent elections attacking former PC leaders.

New Tory Leader Patrick Brown said he hoped the Liberals "were not being cute" about third-party advertising and will introduce real reforms to stop massive spending that he called "an abuse" of the democratic process.

"Third parties spent more than all the political parties combined, and that's not right," said Brown. "My worry is it's all going to be talk and no action."

The NDP complained Wynne didn't consult the opposition parties or the public before announcing changes to the way elections are held.

Ontario also plans to register 16- and 17-year-olds but keep the voting age at 18, which Wynne said would be a good way to engage young people in the democratic process and expand on the civics lessons they get in Grades 5 and 10.

"Right now, it's an abstract conversation, and I think it would be helpful for it to be more concrete," she said.

If the reforms are approved, Elections Ontario would work with schools and the driver's licence program so teens are registered and ready to vote when they turn 18.

Ontario will also match federal riding boundary changes, increasing the number of seats in the legislature from 107 to 122, one more northern seat than at the federal level to ensure the "unique needs of the north" are protected.

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