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Toronto mayoral by-election undemocratic and unfair in many key ways

Changes needed to effectively require everyone in politics to be honest, ethical, open, representative and waste-preventing

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

OTTAWA – Today, with Toronto’s mayoral by-election voting day coming up on June 26th, and advance voting starting June 8th, Democracy Watch called on all candidates to make key disclosures of information voters have a right to know before they vote, and to pledge to resign if they break any of their election promises, and to pledge to make key changes to make Toronto’s elections actually democratic and fair.

“Toronto’s mayoral election is undemocratic and unfair because candidates are allowed to mislead voters with false election promises and statements, the system favours wealthy candidates who have wealthy supporters as donating huge amounts of money to your own campaign or third-party advertising blitz is allowed, and voters are denied the right to know, before they vote, who is bankrolling and fundraising and campaigning for candidates,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Voters are also forced to choose only one out of a dizzying number of candidates instead of being allowed to rank them and have the candidate who is supported the most by the most voters win.”

“Voters and the media should be asking key questions of all the candidates before advanced voting begins so that voters have key information they need to make an informed vote,” said Conacher.

Toronto’s election is undemocratic and unfair in the following key ways:

I. Misleading voters is legal

  1. Candidates and third parties (interest groups and individuals who are trying to affect the election results) are allowed to lie to voters with the election promises and statements about candidates or anything else;

Key questions for voters and media to ask candidates: Will you resign if you break any of your promises? Do you support a by-law requiring candidates in Toronto elections, and everyone in Toronto politics, to tell the truth, with a high fine for misleaders?

II. Tilted in favour of wealthy candidates who have wealthy supporters

  1. A mayoral candidate and their spouse are allowed, together, to donate $25,000 to the candidate’s campaign, which is much more than most candidates can afford;
  2. Donors are allowed to donate up to $2,500, which is much more than an average voter can afford;
  3. There is no limit to how much an individual can donate to their own third-party advertising, and a $1,200 limit on other donations to third parties, much more than an average voter can afford;
  4. The same spending limit ($25,000) applies to an individual who is a third party and a third-party group with thousands of members, which allows a wealthy individual to spend as much as thousands of voters;

Key questions for voters and media to ask candidates: Did you and/or your spouse donate to your campaign? Are you refusing big donations and, if so, what is the maximum donation you are accepting?

III. No disclosure of who is fundraising, campaigning or donating

  1. Candidates are not required to disclose who is raising money for them, and people raising money are not required to disclose they are doing it nor how much they raised;
  2. Candidates are not required to disclose who is campaigning for them, not even top level people, even if they are lobbyists;
  3. Candidates are not required to disclose donations before voters vote (donor disclosure is only required months after voting day);
  4. Third parties are not required to disclose how much they spent, nor who funded them, before voters vote;
  5. Third parties are not even required to register if they are only doing ads about issues (only third parties who do ads promoting or opposing candidates are required to register);

Key questions for voters and media to ask candidates and third parties: Will you, before voters start voting on June 8th, and then regularly after that up to election day June 26th, disclose your donors, disclose who is fundraising for you and how much each person has raised, and disclose who is working on your campaign?

IV. Voting system allows candidate to win with 1.1% of vote

  1. Because of the lack of a ranked ballot or run-off voting system, theoretically one of the 102 candidates could win the election with the support of only 1.1% of Toronto voters;

Key questions for voters and media to ask candidates: Do you support a ranked ballot or runoff voting system for Toronto elections?

“Like federal, provincial and territorial elections, and politics, Toronto’s elections and politics need to be cleaned up in many key ways to make elections democratic and fair, and to ensure everyone is required to be honest, ethical, transparent and waste-preventing, and to make representative decisions,” said Conacher.

The top 10 key needed changes to make Toronto a leading democracy are as follows:

  1. Enact an honesty-in-politics bylaw that allows for complaints to a fully independent commissioner about broken promises, and about dishonest statements made anywhere (including at council, and during elections) by anyone involved in politics, with mandatory high fines as the penalty;
  2. Require all Toronto Hydro and water utilities, and the City of Toronto when sending out property tax bills, to include a notice in their mailings and emails to households inviting them to join and fund citizen watchdog groups for hydro/water service, and for watching over government spending and ethics (as an umbrella group for ratepayer associations);
  3. Establish a Public Appointments Commission whose members are not connected to any councillor, and require the Commission to conduct public, merit-based searches and choose a short list of a maximum of 3 candidates for all Council appointments (especially watchdogs), with the Council required to choose from the short list;
  4. Enact a meaningful public consultation law that requires broad, in-depth public consultation with voters before any council or City of Toronto institution makes a significant decision;
  5. Limit individual political donations to $100 (as in Quebec) and establish donation-matching public funding, and limit advertising spending (including on issue-related ads) to a low amount per voter that the third -party represents;
  6. Prohibit everyone in politics from participating in any way in any decision-making process if they have even the appearance of a conflict of interest (even if the decision applies generally), and ban anyone who leaves politics from communicating with anyone involved in politics (or advising others who to communicate with) about their decisions for 5 years, and establish high penalties for violators;
  7. Require everyone in politics to disclose through an online registry any communication they have with anyone with regard to decisions they are making (to close the secret lobbying loopholes that now exist) and prohibit lobbyists from helping with political campaigns or fundraising (or, if they do, from lobbying until after then next election), and establish high penalties for violations;
  8. Change the voting system to a ranked ballot system with a runoff for the top candidates, to ensure that everyone who is elected is supported the most by the most voters;
  9. Strengthen the access-to-information law by reducing loopholes, applying it to all government and government-funded institutions, requiring that records of all decisions and actions be disclosed regularly, and to establish high penalties for violators, and ensure effective whistleblower protection; and
  10. Reduce waste by empowering the city’s Auditor General to: audit projected spending to ensure truth-in-budgetting; order changes to clean up the financial management of any institution, and; penalize violators of spending or procurement rules.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Honesty in Politics Campaign, Money in Politics Campaign, Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Democratic Voting Systems Campaign