Even some veteran politicians were a little surprised at the rule changes that are in force with the coming municipal election.
Ministry of Municipal Affairs advisors Tim Ryall and Maureen Beatty were speakers at a special meeting arranged by six municipal clerks for all candidates in Wellington County on Aug. 12 at the county council chambers in Guelph. Over 30 candidates attended.
They began with the role of a councillor, noting candidates are all civic minded, with a desire to help the community. The job is to represent the public and consider the well being and interest of the municipality.
Ryall emphasized several points for those seeking a council seat. First, if elected by ward, the candidate has to represent the entire municipality, and not just that ward. Ryall pointed out that, for special interest candidates, once their issue is completed, there is still a four year term to complete – a big commitment.
Finally, he warned, councillors will face “huge expectations with limited resources.”
Councillors develop and evaluate policies and programs the municipality offers, and staff implements them. He warned each councillor is only “part of a group that makes decisions.”
Councillors determine what services the municipality provides, and it is their job to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality. They will have to carry out the duties of council under all other acts, such as from the province. Another duty is to ensure administrative and controllership policies, practices, and procedures are in place to implement decisions of council.
Councillors must also ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management.
The mayor has the same duties as a councillor, and others, too. First, the mayor acts as the chief executive officer.
Ryall said that is new, a change in the Municipal Act. The mayor presides over council meetings so business is done efficiently and effectively. He (or she) provides leadership to council, provides information and recommendations to council on policies, practices, procedures, to ensure accountability and transparency.
The mayor also represents the municipality at official functions and carries out duties of the head of council under all acts. That includes upholding and promoting the purposes of the municipality.
It also includes promoting public involvement in local government, acting as a representative and promoting the municipality locally and elsewhere, participating in and fostering activities that enhance the economic, social, and environmental well being of the municipality and its residents.
Ryall said the mayor is the CEO only in the context of the legislation that created the position. He added something that many candidates were not aware of – the mayor must vote on all issues. Any non-vote is considered a negative vote. In the past, the mayor often voted only to break a tied vote, but that is now changed.
Together, the mayor and council conduct meetings, pass bylaws, develop policies – all together. The policies can include transparency, notice, delegation, and hiring.
Ryall said it is the role of staff to implement council decisions, and he noted that the definition and duties of the clerk are much longer and more detailed in legislation than those of a councillor. He urged if candidates have questions about running, they should contact their clerk.
In comparing the roles of council and staff, Ryall said council’s job is governing, policy decisions, other decisions, financial work, and evaluation of policies, and choosing what must be done. It is the duty of staff to research and provide good information, advice, implement council decisions, and administrative practices. Their role is delivering what council wants.
Ryall said the role of a school board trustee is similar. Trustees are members of a team, the community’s advocate for public education, responsible for establishing policy, and participating in making decisions that benefit the whole board, while representing the interests of constituents.
There is no formal definition of a school board chairman.
Election rule changes
Nomination day’s deadline is Sept. 10, at 2pm. Ryall noted many municipal offices close at 4:30pm, so it was impractical to continue with a 5pm deadline.
The filing fee is $200 for mayor, and $100 for all other offices. The clerk will provide an estimate of how much candidates can spend for their campaigns.
Ryall said even candidates who are not planning to raise funds for their campaign, must have any expenditures run through their official campaign bank account. Several candidates noted they had trouble setting those up at one bank, and Ryall guessed (correctly) it was TD Canada Trust. He said someone at that head office was having difficulties distinguishing provincial and municipal campaigns. He said the account must specifically state “in the name of the campaign.”
Several candidates said they had difficulty with that bank.
Ryall warned that candidates cannot use credit cards or money from other accounts for campaign expenses. “You can’t buy on PayPal,” he added. He also urged to “Get receipts.”
He said the deadline for withdrawing a candidacy is the same as the deadline for filing. He explained with the campaign starting in January, candidates know soon enough if they want to withdraw. Further, he highly recommended candidates go personally to the municipal office is they wish to withdraw.
Each candidate’s campaign period begins when he files, and ends on Dec. 31. That gives opportunities to cover deficits.
The deadline for filing financial statements is on March 25 at 2pm in 2011, and Ryall said he can practically guarantee some veteran councillors will be late or make errors that will cause them grief – and headlines.
“Every candidate [even those who lost] has to file on March 25. Anyone with over $10,000 in expenditures has to provide an audited statement.”
“Don’t be late,” he warned. “Penalties are severe.”
Ryall also warned that filing statements in this election is “very detailed.” Finally, all candidates must hold their financial records until 2014.
Ryall said all campaign contributions must be noted, and the limits on them respected, including the value of goods and services donated. All expenses except the nomination filing fee must be paid from the election bank account.
Receipts must be issued for every contribution and every expense. Candidates must keep those receipts, plus state if a contribution is in the form of money, goods, or services, the contributor’s name and address, and every expense, including receipts obtained for each expense.
Those running for mayor are allowed to spend $7,500 plus $0.85 cents for every elector. All other offices have the limit of $5,000 plus $0.85 per elector. There is a limit of $750 that anyone, including a union, business, or person can make to any one candidate, and a total limit of $5,000 on campaign contributions.
Campaign expenses include any costs incurred for goods and services in relation to the election. That includes replacement value of any goods held in inventory from a previous election.
Ryall warned candidates, “Don’t put more into your account if you don’t intend to spend it.” That is because any excess campaign funds no longer stay with the campaigner, but must be turned over to the municipality and put into its general revenues. Surpluses can also be used for recount costs or court challenges.
Candidates who obtain two per cent of the total vote receive their filing fees back.
When it comes to exemptions for campaigning expenses, those include fundraising parties where the sole purpose is to raise money for a campaign, and any parties for volunteers would not qualify.
When it comes to campaign contributions, candidates can accept cash up to $25. Anything over that must come in the form of a cheque or money order, and candidates must obtain the name and address of donors. The ticket price of a fundraiser is considered a contribution.
Ryall said no anonymous contributions are allowed except for the pass-the-hat collections and the maximum given must be $10. He said any $100 bills would go directly to the municipality – or the candidate will face audit problems.
Other exemptions include court actions for a contested election, recounts, a compliance audit, and, new this year, expenses incurred by a candidate with a disability that are directly related to the disability.
Finally, audit and accounting fees are exempt.
There are also provisions for borrowing. Loan guarantees can be made only by a candidate or spouse, and the load come only from a bank or other recognized lending institution in Ontario. Those who can contribute to a campaign include people living in Ontario, corporations that do business in Ontario, unions that hold bargaining rights for employees in the province, and a candidate or his spouse.
Those can’t contribute include a federal or provincial party, constituency association or a registered candidate in a federal or provincial election, or a registered provincial leadership candidate.
Others include a federal or provincial government, a municipality or a school board.
Ryall said that last group might seem obvious, but “It comes up all the time” when municipalities pay for mailouts for councillors. It is perceived as a contribution and is covered by the Elections Act.
The campaign officially closes on Dec. 31, but candidates can ask for an extension to continue fundraising by contacting the municipal clerk. He recommended doing that well before Christmas – because most municipal offices are closed over Christmas.
The financial filing forms are prescribed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, and such statements exceeding $10,000 must be audited. All contributors over $100 must be reported on the financial statements.
Councils must appoint a compliance audit committee of between three and seven members that are not employees or officers of the municipality or local board or any candidates.
Each candidate is entitled to one municipal voters’ list, and it can be used only for campaigning, and not for such things as business lists. Further, the candidates must ask in writing to the clerk for the list.
The clerk is permitted to revise the list, upon application.
Councils decided how people would vote before June 1.
In Wellington County, the municipalities are voting by the following methods:
– Guelph-Eramosa, traditional paper ballots
– Puslinch, paper ballots;;
– Erin, mail in ballot;
– Centre Wellington, mail in ballot;
– Mapleton, mail in ballot;
– Minto, mail in ballot; and
– Wellington North, traditional paper ballots.
There are no age restrictions for scrutineers. Candidates must provide written authorization for scrutineers, and their oath of secrecy is optional. During the election process, only one candidate or scrutineer is allowed per ballot box.
There is absolutely no campaigning within the voting place, and that includes carrying campaign literature. Ministry representative Maureen Beatty said some clerks actually declare an entire property the election place so people cannot drive up to the polling station with advertising on the vehicle.
She urged all candidates “to respect the process.”