We need to de-politicize the appointment of Hamilton’s Elections Compliance Audit Committee to create public confidence in the process of municipal electoral oversight.
To call Hamilton’s current Elections Compliance Audit Committee a farce would be generous.
Our compliance committee, presented with clear violations of the Municipal Act by two candidates who failed to complete audit returns, choose to ignore the violations.
Week’s later, after outside intervention, Hamilton’s City Clerk was forced to act on the violations and the two candidates who failed to submit audits were banned from seeking municipal office in 2018. (To my knowledge. neither of them appealed the decision)
Hamilton’s committee chair, Ross Anderson, could barely coordinate a meeting, was dismissive of complaints, apologetic towards candidates facing review, and numerous times declared the committee’s role isn’t to be the sheriff of election compliance.
Anderson, for whom a biography is not available on the City website or any past Council report, was appointed by City Councillors in 2004 and been renewed by Council ever since.
Why Mr. Anderson had difficulties with his role is not known, as per Hamilton’s Council’s standard operating practice, we don’t know what if any training is provided to the members or why Council’s choose the current members as none of their qualifications are included in any public Council minutes.
The committee’s poor performance, dismissal of two clear violations, and appointment by Council in an unclear political process all result in an election oversight committee which fails to meet the appearances needed for public confidence in our local election process.
This doesn’t serve anyone, least of all the candidates “cleared” of any violations by the committee. Being elected in a democracy is about more than just getting the most ballots into the box, there is the need for legitimacy in addition – hence why we have rules in our elections and strive for independent oversight of those rules.
Ottawa’s Qualified Committee
Let’s compare to Ottawa.
In Ottawa, the Election Compliance Audit Committee is proceeding with prosecution of a sitting City Councillor.
I can’t imagine any circumstance in which Hamilton’s committee would prosecute any potential violation of the Act.
We should pause on the fact there is a prosecution to not only stress the need for due process, but also the fact that the Municipal Elections Act is in desperate need of updating and revision to both reflect changes to campaigning in the past decade and the ambiguity of numerous sections of the act.
Here’s what’s really interesting about Ottawa’s committee, the people on it are fully qualified and the chair is likely the most qualified candidate for electoral oversight of any possible person.
Composition of Ottawa Committee Appointed by Staff
The Ottawa committee is chaired by Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the former head of Elections Canada. The other members include:
- Retired Commissioner of Finance and Treasurer, Region of York
- Retired Chief Administrative Officer, City of Clarence-Rockland, and retired Superintendent of Business, French Public School Board of Eastern Ontario. (Among highlights of this person’s resume)
- Retired Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal government, and retired Chief Financial Officer, Elections Canada
- Retired City Solicitor, Ottawa, and retired Director of Legal and Constitutional Law, Nunavut Territorial Government
Even the alternate member’s qualifications are impressive as the former City Clerk for Cumberland.
Hamilton’s Council Appointment Process vs. Ottawa
Hamilton City Council’s interpretation of the Municipal Act is often unique among Ontario’s 444 municipalities, especially on the accountability and transparency clauses of the Act.
Most of these municipalities go out of their way to de-politicize oversight processes and to ensure a professional de-politicized civil service.
In Hamilton, the Election Compliance Audit Committee is chosen directly by City Councillors on the Selection Committee and then rubber stamped by Council.
In Ottawa, the selection process to a three person staff committee consisting of the City Clerk and Solicitor (one person), the Auditor General (an independent officer of Council), and the Deputy City Clerk.
This non-political panel then advises Council of the appointments in a report which includes the qualifications of committee appointees.
Changing Hamilton’s Appointment Process to Get Better Committee Candidates
We need to fix our committee appointment process to ensure public confidence.
Ottawa’s process ensures the process is depoliticized. That should be the first step here in Hamilton.
In terms of the quality of candidates, Ottawa benefits from being the seat of the federal government. Hamilton is in the Golden Horseshoe and enjoys a much larger pool of potential candidates.
What is clear, we need to have a discussion of how to improve Hamilton’s committee before the 2018 election.