10/27/2014 12:47 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST

Ontario may shorten 10-month municipal campaigns in time for 2018 vote

TORONTO - Ontario's 10-month municipal election campaigns are "for far too long," Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin said Monday as voters across the province went to the polls to elect new local councils and school boards.

The Liberal government may dramatically shorten the campaign period for municipal elections in time for the next round of voting in 2018, said McMeekin.

"It's the kind of thing that I think we need to reflect on and move on because the existing period now just drags on for far too long," he said.

Federal and provincial election campaigns are four to five weeks long, and municipalities probably don't need 10 full months of campaigning, added McMeekin.

The province will be looking at suggestions from some councillors in Toronto and elsewhere to cut the campaigns about in half, he said, but the province could even shorten them further by having them officially start the day after Labour Day with voting still on the last Monday in October.

"That might be where we go," McMeekin told reporters. "We're going to have to review that and talk obviously with AMO (the Association of Municipalities of Ontario), but that is certainly one area we're looking at."

AMO said it has been pushing for shorter campaign periods since 2009, but still wants them long enough to give new candidates time to become better known and more competitive against incumbents.

"We had suggested moving the opening of nominations to June 1, so that's a four-plus months campaign," said AMO executive director Pat Vanini. "Shorter campaign periods do have an impact on new candidates as opposed to incumbents."

The Progressive Conservatives want to make sure new election rules allow people running for municipal councils and school boards to raise funds before a campaign starts, which they currently cannot do until they register as candidates.

"They can be registered Jan. 1 of the election year, so as soon as they register they start campaigning and you have a campaign that long," said PC municipal affairs critic Ernie Hardeman. "They need to look at some way to be able to raise funds to pay for campaigns without it actually starting the campaign."

The New Democrats agreed 10 months makes for long campaigns in cities like Toronto, but said candidates may need that long period in smaller municipalities where councillor or school trustee are part-time jobs.

"So those campaigns are not as intense, and there's not as much money being spent, so people use that time to actually knock on doors and talk to people, as opposed to mounting high-energy, short, expensive campaigns," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "It would be a matter, I think, of making sure we hear from municipalities across the province in terms of any changes."

AMO said the province should also shorten the 39-day period between election day and Dec. 1, when new councils officially take office, back to the 18 days it used to be when municipal elections were held on the second Monday in November.

The province is also looking at other changes to the Municipal Act in time for the 2018 elections, including ranked ballots that would allow people to chose their first, second and third choices for elected offices, added McMeekin.

"Ranked ballots is something we're certainly going to move on," he said. "And there are some other related concerns about how elections are co-ordinated and how the voters' lists come together."

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