Province to keep 11 northern ridings

The provincial government announced Monday new legislation for electoral reform, including the preservation of 11 ridings in Northern Ontario.
The legislation also would increase the number of ridings in southern Ontario from 92 to 96, provide timely public disclosure of political donations, and re-introduce fixed election dates every four years.
“The McGuinty government is continuing its efforts to strengthen Ontario’s democracy,” said Michael Bryant, the minister responsible for democratic renewal.
“Moving ahead on electoral reform, preserving our 11 northern ridings, and real-time disclosure of donations will mean a stronger democracy,” he added.
Currently, the Representation Act, 1996, makes Ontario’s provincial ridings identical to those used in federal elections.
Federal electoral district boundaries changed in 2003, when Rainy River District was joined with the former Thunder Bay-Atikokan riding to produce Thunder Bay-Rainy River.
Kenora was left to stand as a riding alone.
While the number of federal seats in Ontario increased from 103 to 106, the number of Northern Ontario ridings decreased from 11 to 10.
Dalton McGuinty and the provincial Liberals had campaigned on the promise of preserving 11 northern ridings rather than reducing them to 10 as the federal government had done.
The party reiterated that promise in the throne speech following the October, 2003 election.
NDP leader and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton brought forward a resolution at Queen’s Park last December to ensure that promise was kept.
“I’m bringing this forward because, as we’ve already seen, this government has a habit of forgetting its promises,” he noted in the legislature.
The resolution was passed, but it remained for the government to bring forward a bill to make it law. The Liberals did that Monday.
If the legislation passes, Ontarians will elect 107 MPPs to Queen’s Park in the next general provincial election.
“I’m happy the 11 ridings across Northern Ontario will continue,” Hampton said yesterday in a phone interview. “The constituencies are already too big.”
While Hampton said he was pleased with that part of the legislation, other elements of The Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005 are less positive, he said.
“The government itself should not be setting riding or constituency boundaries. That should be left to an independent electoral commission,” Hampton noted.
“This legislation will set a bad precedent.”
Another aspect of the legislation is the “real-time disclosure” of political donations.
“Real-time disclosure of donations would apply to political parties and leadership candidates in election and non-election periods, and will allow the public to track contributions on the Internet,” the government noted in a press release.
“Within five business days from the time a donation is deposited in the bank, registered political parties must report it to the Chief Election Officer at Elections Ontario.
“The Chief Election Officer then would post this information on the Elections Ontario website within five business days,” it added.
“This legislation would make Ontario a world leader in transparency for political party donations,” Bryant said.
But Hampton denied the legislation would prove effective. The proposed legislation applies only to donations made to political parties and leadership candidates.
“Big development corporations and others who have a lot of money can continue to make very large contributions to riding associations and to political candidates. and the public will not learn about it until much later,” he argued.
“There are major loopholes here.”
In addition, it’s unlikely the information would be posted in a timely manner.
“Elections Ontario is so short-staffed and short-funded that they would not be able to post this information,” said Hampton. “In fact, they haven’t even posted the information from the 2003 election and that happened 18 months ago.
“So the legislation promises something it can’t deliver,” he charged.
The proposed legislation also re-introduces the concept of fixed election dates, first announced last June.
“With these measures, we’re taking the next step in the most ambitious democratic renewal initiative in this province’s history,” Bryant said.
“We’re poised to give Ontarians a stronger voice than ever before by improving the quality of our democracy and modernizing our political institutions.”
“If you read the legislation carefully, it doesn’t do that,” Hampton countered. “The premier of the day can go to the Lieutenant Governor after three years or three-and-a-half years and say ‘I want the legislature dissolved and I want an election now.’
“This legislation does not set a fixed election date every four years.”
Another element of the legislation involved the selection of volunteers to sit on a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform and a Citizens’ Jury on Political Finance.
Volunteers will be chosen by Elections Ontario.
The Citizens’ Assembly will be charged with examining how MPPs are elected in Ontario and exploring alternatives. Should the assembly recommend a different system, Ontarians will decide their preference in a province-wide referendum.
The Citizen’s Jury will examine possible changes to political spending and contribution limits in Ontario, with the aim of reducing the influence of money in politics.
“Electoral reform through the Citizens’ Assembly process may result in changes to how MPPs are elected and how many are elected,” the government noted in a press release.
“If a new electoral system is adopted, Ontario’s electoral boundaries and the redistribution process may change,” it added.