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Council strikes panel to review voting system in St. John’s

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Tomblin, Bittner, Reid and White examining electoral reform options

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The 2021 municipal election in St. John’s could look very different from the 2017 election — and the provincial government should take note.

At Wednesday’s committee of the whole meeting, councillors agreed to appoint four people to review recommendations coming from the Citizens Assembly for Strong Elections NL (CASE-NL).

The panel will include Ross Reid, former MP and chief of staff to Kathy Dunderdale; former St. John’s councillor Marie White; political scientist Amanda Bittner; and retired political science professor Stephen Tomblin. The four will have 60 days to make their recommendations to council, at which point an official vote will take place.

The CASE-NL report was first submitted to council in January 2018, with some recommendations accepted, while others — like recommendations surrounding corporate and union donations in municipal elections — were passed to the now-struck committee.  

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen.
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen.

Mayor Danny Breen says the recommendations were passed to the panel to avoid a situation where current politicians are solely deciding how future politicians get elected.

With the provincial government set to open the election laws at that level of government with the all-party committee on democratic reform, Breen says the province should take note.

“I think they should. Municipalities are often a great barometer of what the public requires because it is the level of government that’s closest to the population,” he said.

“I think they would be wise to keep an eye on this, and perhaps to look at any recommendations that come out of this as something that they could do provincewide for other municipalities.”

Rob Nolan, co-editor of the CASE-NL report, says the group is glad to see motion on their recommendations.

“CASE-NL is pleased that city council is striking a panel on electoral reform, especially given the strong expertise of the panelists,” Nolan wrote in a statement.

“This is an opportunity for St. John’s to be a leader in the province and country in the area of electoral reform, and we look forward to engaging in the conversation over the coming months.”

In terms of what is being reviewed, there are five main areas for the panel to examine.

Campaign finance is front and centre in the CASE-NL recommendations, calling for reduced expense caps in elections, an outright ban on corporate and union donations at the municipal level, quicker reporting of campaign expenses, and greater transparency of who donates to campaigns.

The report also calls for a review of the council structure in terms of how many ward and at-large councillors there are, as well as other ways of selecting the mayor and deputy mayor in St. John’s.

The third pillar of the report calls for adopting a ranked ballot system at the municipal level.

As well, the panel will review whether the mail-in ballot system has worked to increase accessibility of voters on election day.

Finally, the report calls on the city to lobby the provincial government to change municipal election day away from the fall, to allow students an easier time of year to cast their ballots.

Breen says public consultations will follow the recommendations from the panel to ensure the public has its say before election rules in St. John’s are changed.

Twitter: @DavidMaherNL


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