Lake Simcoe Association promotes voter awareness

By Miriam King, STAFF

Next year is a big year as far as elections go. Not only is there a provincial election in June, the municipal election takes place in October.

It may be provincial politics that get most of the attention, but the Lake Simcoe Association is trying to ensure that residents pay closer attention to what’s happening municipally. It may not be the most “glamorous” level of government, but it is the most immediate.

“It’s the most accessible. It’s in your community. You can call your municipal councillor who is likely to be a neighbour,” said Margaret Prophet, community organizer with the Midhurst Ratepayers Association and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. “This is the most accessible level of politics we have, and the least accessed.”

Prophet was a panelist at a meeting held by the Lake Simcoe Association on Oct. 21, at the Bond Head Community Hall. The session looked at recent changes to the Municipal Elections Act and their impact on advocacy groups, and the importance of getting involved in the election, “whether it’s running as a candidate, or supporting a candidate or just getting out to vote,” said Johanna Powell of Lake Simcoe Living. It’s municipal issues “that affect our daily lives in so many ways.”

Speakers included Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Prophet, Janet Budgell, and Claire Malcolmson of Campaign Fairness, who provided a summary of the Election Act changes.

One key change requires all third party agents to register — not only trade unions, corporations and organizations that might run advertisements supporting a candidate, but also not-for-profits and individuals. There are new spending limits, an attempt at transparency – and new rules that would prevent last minute smear ads from running immediately before an election.

Vaughan Coun. Deb Schultz lost her campaign after a negative ad ran just before the election, Malcolmson said. There wasn’t enough time for Schultz to refute the claims or trace the advertisement before the vote; “The changes now would make that very different.”

Individual donation limits have increased from $750, to $1,200 but must also include in-kind donations and services. If a professional volunteers services for which they are normally paid, the value of their contribution must be recorded both by the volunteer and the campaign.

There is already, Malcolmson pointed out, a ban on corporate and union contributions to campaigns.

Topics covered at the meeting included how to make local politics more citizen-driven, how to assess the candidates and support the candidate of your choice, and how to make sure important issues become election issues.

The importance of all-candidates meetings and face-to-face contact with the candidates was emphasized. “I changed my mind when I went to a candidates’ night, and heard people speak,” said Prophet, urging voters to attend “and ask lots of questions.”