Presentation to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
Thursday May 5, 2016
From: Mike Cluett Local & Regional Councillor
Town of Milton / Halton Region
Good afternoon and thank you for allowing me to speak on Bill 181, the Municipal Elections Modernization Act, 2016.
I first off want to acknowledge that I am not speaking on behalf of the Town of Milton or Halton Region, but I am speaking to you based on my own opinions and experience as a municipal councillor since 2010. I understand our counterparts in the Town of Oakville have already endorsed the potential changes and ranked balloting, but Milton Town Council hasn’t predetermined what the best choice is without first consulting the public.
This is an important discussion. A discussion worthy of debate and engagement with Ontarians as we look for opportunities and evaluate our current systems and processes. Given the limited time that I have available I want to focus the committees attention a number of concerns that I have with the proposed legislation.
My main concern with Bill 181 is that it allows individual municipal councils in the province of Ontario to make changes to the way we elect our representatives with little or no public input from the voters.
The fact that these decisions can be made without holding a binding referendum at the bare minimum is concerning.
I can’t stress enough of the importance of seeking comprehensive public input and holding a referendum before any changes are made. Direct voter input about how we vote in elections is critical and I personally can’t support a bill that takes democracy away by allowing a government to change the way they are elected without appropriate consultation. As elected officials we have a responsibility to consult the voters in the province of Ontario.
Elections belong to the people, not members of the government in Canada, the province of Ontario or members of municipal councils.
The electorate must have a say on how that system is determined.
Ensuring that we protect the democratic process from being manipulated by the political process is non-negotiable.
Through this legislation, the provincial government has already decided that there are two choices and two choices only. We are aware that there are more than two electoral methods available, but they are not up for discussion apparently.
Ontarians must have the choice via a referendum before we embark on changing our voting system. Failure to do so is a slap in the face of voters and is counter to everything we stand for as a democracy.
Back in 2007, a referendum was held with the decision by voters to stay with the first past the post system.
While I agree that times do change and that governments should evolve, I do not agree with the government’s proposal to punt the issue to local municipalities. This circumvents the voters and does not take into account their desire, or lack thereof, for change.
This legislation does not mandate any public consultation whatsoever, including a referendum, before making changes. Municipal councils as small as 7 can quietly change the voting system in their municipality.
During the last municipal election campaign in 2014, I can not recall one area or municipality or candidate speaking on the issue of electoral reform and changes to the voting systems we now know.
So how can this legislation propose that municipal councils as small as 7 decide how people elect them without a mandate from voters?
Even the most recent polls after the last federal election listed electoral reform at or near the bottom of voter’s issues of concern. Electoral reform is also being discussed at the federal level of government where there continue to be loud calls for a referendum on the issue.
Another concern that I would like to raise with you is that by allowing municipal councils the ability to make these changes, you open the risk of self-serving decision making for personal and political survival.
Allow me to give you a brief history of my political career in Milton. I first ran for Milton Town Council in 2006 and came 92 votes short of being elected. Now, if ranked ballots were the desired voting system at the time, chances are that I probably would have been elected.
In 2010 I ran again and was successful. There were only 2 candidates in my ward and I garnered 80% of the vote, so ranked balloting wouldn’t have been an issue. Then again recently in 2014, out of field of 4 candidates I won with roughly 46% of the vote with my two closest opponents 20% behind me so in a ranked balloting system, chances are I would have still been successful.
So given my own personal experiences, I could chose ranked ballots and have no issues.
Conversely, I could also look at other members of my council and point to a councillor who was elected out of field of 7 or 8 candidates with 25% of the vote. This person could look at this opportunity and realize if there was ranked ballots, they probably wouldn’t be there so they’ll choose to stay with the first past the post system.
I bring this up to illustrate a point. By giving the authority to municipal councils to change their electoral system opens it up to self interest and self preservation over the merits of each individual system.
We have seen in recent by elections in the City of Hamilton and Town of Oakville, there can be a high number of candidates running for these positions…over 20 in Hamilton and 11 in Oakville vying for a spot around the council table.
Municipal councillors can now sit back and say I wouldn’t have been here if this particular voting system was in place so they make their decision based on their own self interests. That is a conflict of interest. Period.
Should any changes be made I the voting systems we have, those changes should be made across the board: federally, provincially and municipally.
The intent of this bill has been described as attempting at making it easer for people to vote. In many areas in this legislation, the opposite can happen and could lead to further confusion and voter fatigue.
Voting systems should be uniform instead of peace meal with one system for one level of government and another system for the other.
I can draw an example from my own area, the Region of Halton. Halton is an upper tier municipality comprised of four municipalities, the City of Burlington, the Town of Oakville, The Town of Halton Hills and the Town of Milton.
In Halton we elect our regional chair as opposed to other jurisdictions who appoint their regional chair. If the changes are made through this legislation, we could have the following scenario.
Out of the four municipalities we could have two choosing the route of ranked ballots and the other two staying with first past the post. That means residents in the ranked balloted municipalities can choose their local and regional councillors through ranking their choices and having to vote for the regional chair via first past the post.
This can and will lead to confusion with how we vote and can result with voters giving up and the opposite effect happening, declining voter turnout.
In summary, I feel that if the provincial government wants to go down the route to changing the way we elect our politicians in Ontario we must first start by getting a mandate from voters via a referendum. The group Defend Democracy has stated that our electoral system is the “basis of our democracy” and that no government or political party has the authority to alter our democratic system as “it is up to the people of Canada to decide directly through a referendum.”
No method of voting is the perfect and there are many views on which system is more representative of the people. But a government shouldn’t make these decisions. That decision belongs to the people themselves.
As an elected municipal official, I do support giving municipalities the authority to make decisions. Whether or not to allow wind mills within their jurisdiction, more flexibility on making planning decisions for high growth municipalities like Milton and Halton Region would be welcome changes, but those powers aren’t on the table today with Bill 181.
If we are going to look at making changes to our voting systems we need to start at the top…with the voters in the province of Ontario…as it should be.
Much has been talked about recently with the proposal for a condominium development in downtown Milton. Recently the Town had held a Public Information Centre (PIC) to discuss it as well as get feedback directly from Milton residents.
I, along with a number of town councillors, attended both sessions which had over 80 people come out both times. The Milton Canadian Champion has done a good story on the development today, so please have a read.
There will be public meetings held at Milton Town Council in the future, so stay tuned to my social media feeds to find out the details. We want to hear from residents not only in the downtown core, but from all over Milton. One of the biggest issues we face as a municipality is the development and improvement of our downtown core. Recently Milton Town Council has also finally launched our Downtown Improvement Study to address these very concerns. What will our downtown look like in the future? How can we improve the quality of life in downtown? We need to address a number of concerns to help breath life into our downtown core and public input is vital towards that process.
I think we can agree that something needs to be done in our downtown core. Where the challenges lie is in the details. Opinions range from total opposition to any kind of development in the downtown core to those who would like to see these kinds of changes made. This is where we as a community need to come forward and have our say.
When council approved the recent downtown study several weeks ago, I remarked that we have to go about this with an open mind. We all agree something needs to be done. Business owners tell me that downtown Milton needs “feet on the street” to become vibrant. We as a town and as a community need to come to a compromise and set a plan and move forward. This will be very challenging and decisions wont be made hastily. But we need to do something so I hope that everyone in Milton will take part in these discussions.
The downtown Milton skyline may soon look very different if plans for a twin tower condo are given the green light.
A group of numbered companies has put forward its plans for a condominium development consisting of an 18-storey west tower and 13-storey east tower with a combined 190 units on lands that front onto Mill and Main streets, west of Martin Street. The proposal also calls for almost 570 square metres of space for businesses that would be accessed from Main Street.
In order for the development to proceed, a number of approvals are needed, including one from Conservation Halton, as the lands fall within a regulatory floodplain.
The proposal was recently the subject of two public open houses, with each drawing about 80 people, said Town Director of Planning and Development Barb Koopmans.
“They were very well-attended,” she said, noting, “The purpose of the open houses was to make sure clear information is available on the proposal, not gauge public sentiment.”
Residents will soon have a chance to make their voices heard at a Town public meeting on the plans. A date has yet to be set, but it’s expected to take place this spring (details will be posted at www.milton.ca, and those who attended the open houses will be notified).
Following that, Town staff will complete its evaluation of the plans and comments received. They will bring a report to council with a recommendation to approve or deny the proposal.
The developer will also need to receive a permit and approval from Conservation Halton to proceed in a regulatory floodplain. The application will be subject to the Province’s “One Zone” concept, which treats an entire floodplain as one unit and restricts or prohibits development.
With two levels of above ground parking proposed for the base of each building, plus a mechanical penthouse on top of the structures to house equipment, the west tower will actually appear equivalent to a 20-storey building, while the east tower will look like a 15-storey structure.
To make way for the development, two Main Street and four Mill Street buildings would have to be demolished, including the Mill Street Coin Laundry, Bumpr’s Restaurant and the building located immediately west of the eatery, which is currently on the Town’s Heritage List.
The proposal comes at a time when the Town is undertaking a Downtown Study that’s examining the current state of Milton’s core and identifying opportunities for revitalization and redevelopment. Town staff is currently conducting a market analysis and anticipates bringing an interim report to council this spring.
“The completion of the study will be critical for the technical review of the (condominium) applications,” according to a fact sheet from the Town’s Planning and Development department.
The plans call for 190 parking spaces for those who live in the buildings, including 164 resident spots and 29 visitor spaces, spread over two storeys of above-ground parking that would be accessed from Main Street.
But the Town’s zoning bylaw currently requires a ratio of 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit, plus an additional 0.5 spaces for designated visitor parking. Based on this, the buildings would require 285 parking spots to service the residents, plus an additional 48 visitor spaces.
Public parking with access points on Mill Street and a total of 132 spaces has also been proposed.
The town must approve Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments before the project is given the green light. Current zoning of the lands permits a maximum building height of four storeys.
Along with its application, the developer has submitted a variety of studies to the Town, including reports on air quality, heritage impact, noise feasibility and traffic impact. The municipality is awaiting the submission of an urban design brief, shadow impact study and tree preservation plan.
For more information, including copies of the studies, visit www.milton.ca/en/Build/DMOldMilton.asp#MillStreet.
I have been a victim of this a few years ago. The best advice is to have all valuables hidden from view and better yet not in the vehicle at all. Make sure your windows are rolled up and all doors locked. This wont guarantee that you wont have your car broken into, but it will make it very difficult for thieves to take advantage of you.
Make sure you also keep an eye out in your neighbourhoods for suspicious behaviour and report it immediately to the police department.
Well maybe not frightful, but over the weekend we were reminded that winter is on its way with the light dusting of snow we received.
I think with that its a good time to remind residents of Milton about the Town’s snow removal policies.
Here is the link to the Town of Milton’s page that will give you all the information you’ll need with the upcoming winter season. This will be the time of year myself, along with other council colleagues, will be getting the most calls and emails throughout the year. When will our street be plowed? How long after the snow starts will plowing begin? Why are some streets done first and mine last?
This should help you answer these and many more questions you might have. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed as during these storms I will be posting updates provided to us from our staff as to when things will begin when the real snow hits us.
One of the main issues I’ll highlight here is allowing the plow. I know its hard for many of us with busy lives, picking up kids, heading to hockey, going out shopping and getting back and forth to work daily but we have to keep in mind parking on our streets. When the big snow comes its imperative that we do our best to keep our cars off the street and allow for the snow plows to go through. Many unfavourable situations can be avoided by allowing the snow plows access to the street to keep them on time and our roads as clear as possible.
The Town will announce via the website and social media instances where parking considerations will be suspended so that we can keep the plows moving through the night. Again, follow me on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with those announcements.
Winter storms are not fun and we all want to ensure people can get in and out of their homes and have all the streets plowed as quickly as possible so if we keep some of the rules in mind, this will happen.