McGuinty Government Strengthens Democratic Rights for Ontarians Travelling Abroad

Spring 2010 CSANews Issue 74  |  Posted date : May 27, 2010.Back to list

In 2002, the Canadian Snowbird Association issued its inaugural edition of The Canadian Travellers Report Card. The report card, as most of you know, is an evaluation of government policy and practice for Canadians who travel. One of the biggest concerns identified in the Ontario section was the fact that Ontario was the only jurisdiction in North America that did not allow mail-in voting during provincial elections. Now think about that for a second. Mail-in voting was permissible in EVERY other Canadian province and territory, all 50 American states, and in Mexico, but not in the province of Ontario.

In Ontario, your only options if you were planning to travel during a provincial election campaign were to vote in the advance polls or by casting a proxy vote. Advance polls are typically not available until a few weeks before the election, and they certainly don't do you any good if you have already embarked on your travels. Proxy voting is a complicated and time-consuming process that requires the appointment of another person in the electoral district to vote on behalf of the individual travelling abroad. The traveller must sign the application to vote by proxy in the presence of a third party, who is not the designated party. Upon completion, the designated proxy must take the application to the returning officer and be issued a certificate to vote. The certificate to vote must then be presented by the proxy at an advance poll or on election day in order to cast a ballot on behalf of the voter.

In addition to being such a burdensome process, voting by proxy also compromises the absolute secrecy of the ballot because the designated proxy must be instructed as to how the voter wishes to vote. In our view, this is a bad process and we couldn't understand why Ontario seemed to be so reluctant to change. We spoke with officials at Elections Ontario who informed us that they were "reviewing its policies." Well, it must have been a fairly comprehensive review because by the time we released our 2006 edition of the report card, nothing had changed.

After many fruitless attempts to get the Ontario government to move on this front, then-CSA president Gerry Brissenden approached a member of the opposition, Tim Hudak, the Conservative MPP for the then-Niagara-area riding of Erie-Lincoln. When Gerry informed Mr. Hudak that Ontario was the only jurisdiction in North America that did not permit absentee voting, Hudak was genuinely surprised. The view of the CSA was that not only does this hurt your average Ontario traveller, but that many seniors had fought overseas or supported war efforts to protect our democratic rights and many others had helped build Ontario and kept it strong. To deny them the right to vote when they were enjoying some well-deserved time out of the country was simply wrong. The existing legislation also made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the men and women currently serving our country in the military to vote in Ontario elections. Mr. Hudak agreed with our view.

In May of 2007, Hudak introduced Bill 231, a private member's bill in the legislative assembly of Ontario entitled "An Act to Provide Fair Access to Vote for Snowbirds, Students, Military Personnel and Other Ontarians Abroad" that would have finally given Ontario travellers the right to cast an absentee ballot. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation died on the order paper when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the Ontario legislature. The good news was that this issue had at least made it to the floor of the legislature and politicians of all political stripes were finally starting to take notice.

Over the course of the next year, the CSA was joined in its efforts to right this electoral wrong by other groups and associations that represented the disabled, post-secondary students and our brave men and women in the military. In June of 2008, the legislative assembly of Ontario, with the support of the government of Ontario, appointed the bi-partisan Select Committee on Elections chaired by Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara. The committee was comprised of two government members, one member of the official Opposition and one member of the third party. The committee's mandate was to consider Ontario's current electoral legislation, assess its effectiveness and report back. In June of 2009, the committee tabled its report in the legislative assembly of Ontario. One of its key recommendations was that Ontario scrap the proxy system of voting and replace it with one that would permit any eligible Ontario elector to apply to vote by a special mail-in ballot. This would potentially address the concerns of travellers, military personnel, persons who are housebound, post-secondary students living away from home or just about anyone temporarily residing outside of the province.

In December of 2009, Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley introduced Bill 231, "An Act to Amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act" and on May 3, 2010, it passed with the support of both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative members of the legislature. Eight years after we first formally approached the Ontario government with this proposal, snowbirds will now be able to vote by mail in provincial elections.

The CSA would like to thank Premier McGuinty and Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley for getting this done; without their support, it would not have happened. We would also like to thank Ontario Opposition leader Tim Hudak for being an early champion of this cause. Thanks also to the members of the Select Committee on Elections, MPPs Greg Sorbara, David Zimmer, Norm Sterling and Peter Kormos.

Last but not least, we would like to thank you our members. Because of your continued support and generous donations to our Special Action Fund, we are able to continue these sorts of important advocacy efforts on your behalf. 

It was a long, hard fight, but guess what? We won! We'll savour it for a few days and then we'll get back at it - there's lots more that needs to be done!

Related links
The Canadian Travellers Report Card