• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

We need the power of recall

In Adjala-Tosorontio
Jan 7th, 2014

Councillors can effect massive change between elections. Nothing wrong with that – if that’s the mandate they were given by voters.

But that was not the case in Springwater and Adjala-Tosorontio , two rural municipalities where residents are fighting plans for huge developments that would drastically alter the landscape in Midhurst and Everett.

Not only was there no mandate for this change – the Midhurst plans were not even raised as an issue during the 2010 municipal election, and I am told the same is true for Everett.

So there’s a problem that has to be addressed – the problem of voters having given up control of their municipality’s destiny for an extra year, a problem that has been exacerbated by the amalgamations of the ‘80s and ‘90s which have further distanced local government from residents.

In Ontario, the municipal term of office was two years until 1962, when it was extended to three. The four-year term came in in 2006. The rationale was to save money by reducing the number of elections, allow councillors to gain experience in their positions, and promote long-term planning.

These arguments devalue the essentials of democratic government.

-Saving money: Yes, elections are a cost, but more importantly they are an investment in public involvement and good decision-making. They are the most important investment we make in order to call ourselves a democracy.

-Experienced councillors: Political experience isn’t necessarily the most important kind of experience for councillors. We want them to have experience of life as it is lived at the grass roots by those who work for a living or who carefully measure how far their pension will go. The role of councillors is to represent us – not to fit smoothly into the machinery of government.

-Long-term planning: Good planning requires a perspective that extends decades (even seven generations) down the road – there’s no difference between three- and four-year terms when it comes to that much-needed long-term view.

Politicians who go down the wrong road can be costly – far more costly than the elections that will ensure they are attentive to the interests of electors.

Look at how growth in Midhurst and Everett is projected to raise taxes for residents across the municipalities in which they are located.

Or look at the politician who goes rogue, like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Who knows what he has cost the city in terms of ineffective leadership and tarnished reputation – but the fact is that he has admitted to criminal activity and associations, and Toronto is stuck with him for another year.

It’s my view (this has not been discussed by the AWARE Simcoe organization) that Ontario needs recall legislation to put power back where it belongs, with the electorate.

Various forms of such legislation exists in numerous jurisdictions. In all cases, a recall election is triggered by a petition signed by a certain percentage of electors. Two well-publicized international examples of successful recall petitions involved two very different politicians – Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. In each case, recall elections were held. Both were successful in retaining their positions (and there the similarity ends).

In British Columbia, legislation was introduced at the provincial level in 1996 that allows a proponent 60 days to collect signatures from more than 40 per cent of voters registered in a riding at the last election.

Twenty four applications have been initiated since then, of which 23 failed because not enough signatures were obtained. The twenty-fourth led to the resignation of the MLA in question before the verification of signatures was completed (the petition was launched after the man was found to have written letters to newspapers under assumed names, praising himself and attacking his political opponents).

Longer municipal terms allow councils to have a more lasting impact on their municipality. This makes recall legislation necessary, so there is recourse if councils deviate from what they have promised and citizens cannot stand the decisions that are being made. The fact that a recall election is possible makes it all the more likely that it would not be needed.

2 Responses to “We need the power of recall”

  1. Ann says:

    I completely agree with your comments Kate.
    There’s absolutely no transparency or accountability in politics anymore because there is no recourse for the people to hold the politicians they voted in to account. That’s why they can make all kinds of promises during the elections to get voted in, but then can do what they want once they’re elected. They constantly lie to us and do things in secret behind our backs.
    The electorate needs to have the power of recall to have control over the politicians that we elected to represent us. They are public servants elected to serve the public they represent, but they act more like dictators and puppets for the developers and corporations, allowing them to destroy our valuable farmland and fresh water resources. And our tax dollars are being misspent and we end up with huge deficits and tax increases all the time.
    It just can’t go on like this anymore! Something has to change!

  2. Peter Lomath says:

    This is just the tip of the iceberg, in Clearview our problem is with staff running council and council rubber stamping everything they want and recall is not going to change that. The municipal act needs to have a complete re-write to provide taxpayers with a process to remediate loss of representation from council to to non-elected parties!

    Municipal government is the MOST dangerous level of government within our system. It’s typically run by non-elected staff controlling part-time elected Councillors whose knowledge varies from across a wide spectrum and elected in a ward system that partitions them from the broad electorate and prevents those in one section of a municipality from having any say in the representative from another. The Creemore bridge is a PERFECT example of the Mayor “whipping” Councillors from wards outside of Creemore to KILL the attempts by those within the ward from protecting the bridge and placing the 1million dollar burden of costs on EVERYONE IN SIMCOE COUNTY!

    Municipal government is the ONLY level of government with taxation powers based upon the arbitrary and fictitious value of property determined by an arms-length corporation (MPAC) that tells the provincial government how assessment will be done and the “dreamtime” criteria upon which it will be based!

    The level of its taxation powers are not constrained by any normal reference (costs of living index, inflation index et al) and there is no correlation with either ability to pay nor income levels.

    The current Simcoe budgetary process needs to be changed from a “top down” to “bottom up” process where municipalities tell Simcoe what their taxpayers can afford and Simcoe then produces a budget to suit.

    in addition to recall we need the municipal act to be updated so that Councillors and Mayors who lie to the electorate are AUTOMATICALLY removed (yes I have written proof of this happening!), recorded minutes (Audio records as a minimum) of ALL government business INCLUDING in-camera meetings so that the Ontario Ombudsman (Who should be the ONLY investigator for complaints) has access to the facts.

    Staff members should not be allowed to threaten legal action against taxpayers without the knowledge and recorded vote mandate of council for simply filing a request to a disability committee over the use of the sound systems for council meetings.

    The Freedom of Information Act needs to be re-written so that ANY conversation/email/letter/meeting detail is considered to be a “RECORD” so that it is accessible by request. The Act also needs changing so that a requester does not have to pay for recent (anything within the current 4 year mandate) “records” in the public domain.

    Every municipality should have a public (more members from the public than from council and NO “de-facto” membership by interfering Mayors) “Ethics “, “Complaints ” and a “non-elected official complaints committee” with the power to effect real change and if necessary to “fire” officials who do not follow the INTENT of the municipal act to provide protection of the taxpayer and place the interests of the municipality above personal or perceived business interests.

    In Clearview they are going put of their way to ensure that nothing is recorded (according to the poor definition included in the FOI Act) so nothing is accessible through an FOI request – Look at the way in which your clerk is writing up council minutes and responding to FOI requests to see if this the start of a “trend” across Simcoe to ensure and expand the secrecy of local government.

    The role of the Ontario Ombudsman should be expanded so that office has oversight of ANY and ALL institutions benefiting IN ANY WAY from public funding and that means local organisations getting grants and funding with tax dollars.

    And that’s just a start to holding elected and public officials to account.

    The provincial party in the next election that puts recall, municipal act, the Freedom of Information/Privacy acts and expansion of the role of the Ombudsman will be the party that gets my vote – but I’m not holding my breath for any of the three parties to ever start looking after my interests.

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