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Law set for review

Controversial elections act to be revisited

It’s routine, predictable and even mundane, but “thank God” it’s happening, Regional Councillor Joyce Frustaglio says.

The province has begun its standard review of the Municipal Elections Act – the law that governs how candidates can raise and spend money – two years ahead of Ontarians’ next trip to the polls.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing evaluates the effectiveness of the act and determines if reforms are needed after every municipal election, said Adam Grachnik, press secretary to Minister Jim Watson.

“I welcome the review,” Frustaglio said Monday. “I think it is absolutely necessary, particularly given what some members of Vaughan council have experienced in the past couple of years with all of these compliance audit requests.”

More than half of council and a former mayor have found themselves targets of campaign finance audit requests since the 2006 election: Frustaglio, Mayor Linda Jackson, Councillors Bernie DiVona and Tony Carella, Regional Councillor Gino Rosati, and former mayor Michael DiBiase.

The problem, Frustaglio said, is the vagueness of the act, which opens the door to differing interpretations.

“Who’s right?” she asked rhetorically. “Is it the auditor because he interprets it one way? Is it the candidate?

“There’s no question that the loopholes must be absolutely closed up.”

Carella, whose campaign books weren’t audited, said those loopholes have allowed the act to be used as a campaign tactic.

“I get the feeling that people are replaying the election via the compliance audit thing,” he said Monday. “Quite conceivably, next time everybody will ask for an audit on everybody.

“It’s just such a lot of time and money.”

Carella said he’d like to see the establishment of a provincial body that would take responsibility for dealing with audit requests away from municipal councillors.

The current elections act does give individual councils the authority to create their own independent committee, but that system is flawed, he said.

“That just ties up other people’s time and in the end the city still has to pay all the bills,” Carella said. “That’s not the solution because then those people get accused of playing politics just like we do, so I don’t know what you’ve solved.

“Unless you get maybe a committee of priests, rabbis and ministers,” he added with a laugh.

Still, Carella and Frustaglio both said an independent committee is a certainty in the next election.

The Municipal Affairs Ministry will consider feedback on the act and the 2006 campaign from residents and others, Grachnik said.

Vaughan Today
In print: November 14, 2008, page 2
Online: November 16, 2008 [link]
Byline: Philip Alves