Canada: Municipal Election Reform: Important Changes to Know Before You Contribute

Last Updated: November 10 2010
Article by Jason Park

This article originally appeared in Focus on Real Estate - November 2010

On October 25, 2010, Ontarians went to the polls to elect their civic officials, including Councillors, School Trustees and Mayors. Although the elections are now over, fundraising activities can still continue well into 2011.

Bill 212, entitled the Good Government Act, came into force and effect on December 15, 2009. Bill 212 made some important changes to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, which are discussed in this article.

The first major changes relate to the dates of Nomination Day and Voting Day:

  • Prior to the amendments, Voting Day was the 2nd Monday in November. Now, Voting Day has been moved up by a few weeks, to the 4th Monday in October (i.e. this year, October 25th). The biggest impact of this change is the significant hiatus of Council and Committee meetings. For instance, in the City of Toronto, the last Council meeting prior to the election was on August 25th‐ 27th (for the previous election, the last Council meeting was September 25‐28, 2006). The next Council meeting won't take place until early December.
  • Nomination Day changed from the 45th day before Voting Day to the 2nd Friday in September (this year, the last day to file a nomination for all candidates was September 10th).

There are maximum contribution limits to candidates set out in the Municipal Elections Act, 1996. The maximum contribution that can be made by an individual to any one candidate in an election is $750. The one exception to this rule is that, for candidates running for the Office of Mayor of the City of Toronto, there is a maximum contribution limit of $2,500 by any one individual (Section 70.1(5) of the Municipal Elections Act, 1996).

Bill 212 also included a new provision establishing a maximum contribution limit by any one individual of $5,000 overall, for two or more candidates for office on the same Council or Local Board. For some municipalities, this could be a significant issue. For instance, in the City of Toronto, there are 44 Ward Councillors plus the Mayor.

Under Bill 212, the City of Toronto is also allowed to pass a by‐law prohibiting contributions from trade unions and business corporations. The City is the only municipality to which the Province has granted this authority. The City did adopt such a by‐law, No. 1177‐2009 and, therefore, donations by trade unions and business corporations to election campaigns in the City of Toronto are prohibited. The maximum fine for contravening this by‐law is $50,000. Some candidate councillors are taking this prohibition even further by refusing contributions from individuals registered as lobbyists on the City's Registry.

One final revision which should be highlighted relates to the maximum amount candidates can spend on their campaigns. Prior to Bill 212, Mayoral candidates could spend $7,500 plus 70 cents for each elector entitled to vote as of Nomination Day. The maximum amount for all other candidates was $5,000 plus 70 cents for each elector. Bill 212 adjusted the amounts for maximum campaign expense limits by increasing the per‐elector amount from 70 cents to 85 cents per elector. Also, it set the maximum expense limit to the greater of:

  • the number of eligible voters on the previous election voting list; and
  • the number of eligible voters on the current election voting list.

This is an important change as many campaigns start well in advance of Nomination Day and, therefore, allows these campaigns to have some certainty that if they spend no more than the expense limit for the previous election, they will not be found to be in breach of the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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