February 25, 2021, the Ontario government announced the Protecting Ontario Elections Act. If passed, this Act would help “guard against threats” to Ontario’s election process, including those caused as a result of long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Later today, Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, provided an update on COVID-19 modelling for Ontario.
Yesterday, the government announced Frank P. Rochon as the first Chief Executive Officer of Ontario’s new centralized procurement agency, Supply Ontario. The agency was established in November, with the intent of enabling a whole-of-government approach to purchasing goods and services, including critical supplies such as personal protective equipment.
Protecting Ontario Elections Act
Today, the government announced the Protecting Ontario Elections Act, to make it easier and safer to participate in provincial elections, especially in light of challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
If passed, the Protecting Ontario Elections Act would:
- Increase the number of advance polling days from five to ten days, particularly in Ontario’s north and rural areas. This change would make the voting process more convenient for shift workers, and in a COVID-19 environment, would help reduce the number of people in a polling stations.
- Create an advisory committee to advise on guidelines for voting equipment in order to keep pace with technological advances while maintaining accuracy and accountability.
- Simplify the process of reporting infractions, by enabling the Chief Electoral Officer to use monetary penalties to drive compliance.
- Level the playing field for independent MPPs by providing these officials with access to equivalent benefits to political party candidates, including constituency associations.
- Double the amount individuals can donate to a candidate, constituency association, leadership contestant, or party, from $1,650 to $3,300 per year.
- Extend the per-vote subsidies each party typically receives in an election until December 31, 2024, due to the financial impact of COVID-19.
- Require third-party advertising spending limits to begin 12 months before an election instead of six months.
- Define collusion to help guard against third parties coordinating messaging with political parties.
- Require constituency associations to provide their party with financial statements on a quarterly basis.
- Clarify MPPs’ ability to keep individual social media accounts before, during, and after a writ period. Social media activity will be subject to rules established by the Legislative Assembly while ministers will also continue to be subject to the social media guidelines made by the government.
- Amend the Municipal Elections Act to make the process more efficient for local staff, potential candidates, and third-party advertisers.
A full list of proposed reforms can be found here.
Several of the proposed reforms included in this legislation fulfill recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer’s November 2020 report on election administration and the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 Modelling Update
Later, Dr. Brown and Dr. Williams provided an update on COVID-19 modelling for Ontario. Key findings include:
- Public health measures have decreased transmission and slowed the spread of variants, although declines in cases, hospitalization, and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy are slowing.
- Variants, such as B.1.1.7 (first detected in the U.K.) continue to spread across Ontario. Variant cases, as well as corresponding hospitalizations and ICU admissions will likely rise in the near future.
- Evidence-based approaches to key public health measures, such as focusing vaccination where it has the biggest impact on deaths and hospitalizations, are key to controlling the impact of the pandemic.
- The next few weeks are critical to understanding the impact of the variants. There is a period of remaining risk before the pandemic likely recedes in the summer.