Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, committee members, and other members of the public, thank you very much for the invitation to appear before your committee today. As mentioned, my name is John Leslie Hollins. I was the Chief Electoral Officer for the Province of Ontario from 2001 to 2008, and to that end conducted Ontario's first referendum in over 80 years at the same time as the 39th provincial general election in 2007.
My comments today will address five subjects: my mandate, the statutory framework of the referendum, election and referendum administration, registered campaign organizations, and the public education program.
On the mandate, in 2007 I was given three mandates in connection with the 2007 referendum. These were to conduct a referendum at the same time as and in general accord with the rules and procedures for the 39th provincial general election; to provide for the registration and associated reporting for registered referendum campaign organizers; and to conduct a program of public education to ensure that electors throughout Ontario received clear and impartial information about the referendum process, the date of the referendum, the referendum question, and the content of the choices in the referendum.
Since there was no legislation in Ontario governing referenda at the provincial level--except the Taxpayer Protection Act, 1999, and it dealt specifically with changes in taxing matters--specific statutory authority was required to enable a referendum on electoral system reform to be held. The statutory framework for the referendum was established through legislation introduced some six months after the publication of the regulation that led to the creation of the citizens assembly in March 2006.
The key provisions of the bill: if the citizens assembly recommended the adoption of a system different from Ontario's current electoral system, a referendum on the recommended system would be held; if required, the referendum would be held in conjunction with the 2007 general election; the referendum question was to be defined by cabinet.
To be considered binding, the recommended electoral system had to be selected in at least 60% of all the valid referendum ballots cast, and in more than 50% of the valid referendum ballots cast in each of at least 64 electoral districts.
The legislation also defined the operational framework for the referendum, essentially paralleling the provisions of the Election Act. It also established the concept of registered referendum campaign organizers and the regulatory framework for referendum campaign finances. The referendum campaign finance rules were later established by Ontario regulation 211/07.
Administering a referendum in parallel with a general election proved to be a positive experience, particularly from an event management viewpoint. Modifications to poll procedures and training, additional ballot production, and adjustments to staffing and support were readily accommodated during preparatory activities and during the event. As a result, when electors went to the polls, they were greeted with an effective and efficient process. Voters received two ballots, one to elect a member of the Legislative Assembly and one to determine the results of the referendum on electoral reform. They were able to cast both ballots in a supportive environment.
Since differences between election and referendum calendars and poll administration procedures were not significant, shared initiatives and budgetary efficiencies were achieved that would not have been possible in a separate referendum event. For example, by pairing voter information mailings and notice of registration cards with referendum education materials, Elections Ontario was able to inform voters about both events at a significantly lower cost than would have been required if they had been separate activities. The successful delivery of the event depended on integrated planning and delivery of many separate but related activities, including staffing, training, communications, procurement, technology, supplies, and logistical support.
The total cost of the 39th provincial general election, referendum, and referendum education program was $94.56 million. To each eligible elector in Ontario, that was $11.14. The administration of the general election itself was $85.6 million, or $9.99 per eligible elector. The add-on referendum administration was $1 million, approximately 13¢ for every elector. The referendum education program was approximately $8 million, a cost of 92¢ per eligible elector in the province of Ontario.
In addition to operational responsibility for the referendum, the Chief Electoral Officer had to ensure that the regulation of referendum advertising was fair, transparent, and accessible to all Ontarians who wanted to participate directly in the referendum debate. Persons or entities known as referendum campaign organizers were required to register with the Chief Electoral Officer if they were spending $500 or more on referendum advertising promoting a particular outcome. Once registered, they were required to report on the contributions they received and the expenses they incurred to support their advertising.
As part of the registration process, the Chief Electoral Officer was required to review and approve the name of each referendum campaign organization to ensure that there would be no confusion with the referendum campaign organizers registered under the act; with a third party for the purpose of the election under the Election Finances Act; or with a candidate, political party, or political organization active anywhere in Canada. The legislation prevented registered parties and their constituency associations from registering as a referendum campaign organizer with the intention of conducting advertising to promote a particular result.
To this end, a guideline was developed to give clear direction to parties, constituency associations, and candidates on the limits to their participation in the referendum debate. To ensure that all potential referendum campaign organizations knew that there were referendum advertising requirements, newspaper advertisements were placed throughout the province.
Each registered referendum campaign organization was required to file a report with Elections Ontario detailing income and referendum advertising campaign expenses together with the name and address of anyone who contributed $100 or more for the purpose of referendum advertising. I might add that the rules were fashioned after the leadership rules in the Elections Finances Act in the province of Ontario. There were no limits on donations or expenditures. A total of ten referendum campaign organizers were registered for the 2007 electoral system referendum. Nine of the ten raised and spent funds. In total they spent $495,942.
The public education mandate was somewhat extensive, and there were key lessons to be learned. The question on the referendum ballot addressed a significant issue in the lives of Ontario electors by asking them to consider the fundamental aspects of the democratic process by which they are governed. Once they became aware of the issue, electors showed that they were interested and concerned, but they also wanted to evaluate the alternatives with experts on the proposed systems. Elections Ontario was not mandated to fill this role and could not develop a framework that would have allowed it to provide forums for the proponents to carry their messages to electors in all areas of the province. The provincial nature of the campaign meant that the opportunities to access prime-time television, for example, for anything beyond paid advertising was severely limited.
A neutral education program was difficult to craft, as would be the case under any circumstances. It had to rely on partners to share in the message delivery, whether for proponents of the status quo, changed choices, or representatives of the media. The former groups did not readily come to the fore during the campaign. In particular, the media was trapped between competing interests, and the election campaign took up most of their time. Post-event surveys of eligible electors confirmed that 50% of eligible electors thought they knew more than enough to vote at referendum time. Of course, this is in direct contrast to the 52.1% turnout that we actually received. It would be remiss of me not to point out the number of rejected, declined, and unmarked ballots during this process.
I will do this on a comparative scale. In Ontario 20,000 ballots were rejected in the 2003 election. In the 2007 election in Ontario there were 19,000. In the referendum there were 28,000. In the 2003 election in Ontario 2,600 ballots were decli ned. In the 2007 election there were 3,400 and in the referendum, 21,000. In unmarked ballots, in 2003 in Ontario there were 7,000. In 2007 there were 10,000. In the referendum, there were 111,000.
I thank you for your time here today, Mr. Chair.