Published on GlobalNews.ca on November 6th, 2013
Randy Hillier wants to make all politicians in Ontario more accountable.
The Progressive Conservative MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington tabled a private member’s bill on Oct. 30 that would allow voters in Ontario to recall and replace their MPPs.
“I have always thought that when people aren’t performing their jobs or not performing as expected there should be a way to replace them, ” Hillier told Global News.
Hillier said provincial elections, held approximately every four years, do not provide the practical mechanism to hold politicians accountable for their actions.
Under Hillier’s proposed legislation, voters could recall their MPP if signatures from 25 per cent of people who voted in their riding in the previous election are collected within a 60-day period.
Hillier says the legislation, tailored differently, could work at the municipal level if a councillor or mayor fails to perform their duties.
“If you know there aren’t any immediate consequences to your actions some people might take extra liberties with their position,” said Hillier. “I think recall at the municipal level has just as much merit, perhaps more.”
A day after Mayor Rob Ford’s stunning admission to having smoked crack-cocaine, city councillors have faced the reality that there are few mechanisms for removing a sitting mayor.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has said the province will not intervene in the situation and Minister of Municipal Affairs Linda Jeffrey has said that under the Municipal Act there’s very little that can be done unless a mayor is convicted of a crime and goes to jail.
In Canada, recall legislation only exists in British Columbia, where former Premier Gordon Campbell became the target of a recall over the introduction of the harmonized sales tax.
Campbell resigned before he finished his third term as premier.
Peter Graefe, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, said recall legislation at the municipal level makes sense.
“In a sense when the voter has to vote municipally they are voting for an individual, they aren’t voting for someone who is a party member. They are voting for someone to represent first and foremost their ward,” said Graefe. “Unless we are really following closely we don’t really know what candidate x voted for. At a provincial and federal level we tend to vote based on a party basis. We can vote based on the sense of how the party is or isn’t doing.”
South of the border recall laws exist in over half of the states. In 2003 Arnold Schwarzenegger won the historic California recall election toppling Democrat Gray Davis just 11 months after Davis was elected.
In 2012 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker faced the prospect of getting tossed from office over a controversial move to strip collective bargaining rights from public service unions.
Walker won the recall election with 53 per cent of the vote.
In September 2013, two state senators from Colorado were forced from office following a recall election related to their stance on stricter gun laws.
Graefe said recall legislation can help provide “real accountability at a local level of politics,” as it forces politicians to respond to local issues.
One of the drawbacks to recall legislation is that it can be a time consuming task requiring significant resources, said Andrew Sancton, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario.
“Having a recall referendum in Toronto would be a very big undertaking. If the concern is about mayors who are in the difficulty that Rob Ford is in there could be other sorts of mechanisms that could be made available,” said Sancton. He adds intervention by the premier would be the simplest answer in the case of mayors who abuse their power.
Sancton said the drawback of recall legislation is it’s often favoured by special interest groups that have the resources to petition for a recall vote.
Hillier’s private member’s bill has been introduced in the Ontario legislature but is not scheduled to be debated until next spring.