Should we have the right to recall politicians?

By MPP Toby Barrett

On March 22nd 2004, I introduced The Recall Act, 2004, to enshrine a right for people to retain or remove elected representatives at times other than election day. During debate, I felt I was about as popular as a snake at a garden party as this present government used its majority to kill the bill.

With The Recall Act, 2004, any elected member could be recalled for conduct unbecoming a member after a year in office My proposed legislation called for, first a petition, and second a vote by electors. If more than 50 per cent of the votes cast are in favour of recall, the member would cease to hold office and his or her seat would become vacant. A Premier would be subject to a province-wide recall in which all qualified voters in the province may participate.

Now six years on, a debt-ridden government’s attempts to raise taxes to unprecedented levels has reiterated the need for democratic reform.

A half dozen years after the Liberals thought they had closed the books on recall, I am heartened that Opposition Leader Tim Hudak will be consulting with people in Ontario about the tools they need to hold future Ontario governments to account.

As a first step in this process, Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark has been appointed as the Opposition Critic for Democratic Reform. In his new role, Clark will engage in a broad-based consultation about potential democratic reforms such as referenda, recall and other citizen initiatives. Clark will study best practices in other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world – including travelling to B.C. to investigate the tools being used by HST opponents in that province.

In British Columbia, because of the HST, the Opposition has raised the spectre of recall in an attempt to stop the tax in its tracks. In B.C. for an MLA to be recalled, the petition must be signed by more than 40 per cent of the voters.

While the B.C. recall rules echo some of the parameters of my private members bill, there are differences. For instance, my bill called for a writ to be issued for a recall vote by referendum if the number of qualified signatures on a petition is more than 25 per cent of the total votes cast in the last preceding election. This minimum requirement sets a higher bar for recall referenda than California. In that state, signatures of only 12 per cent of votes cast were required for the referendum that recalled former Governor Gray Davis – making way for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In Ontario, over the past 20 years, there have been recall provisions brought forward by members of both the Conservative and Liberal parties. In 1993, Liberal MPP Carman McClelland introduced a private member’s bill titled the Recall Election Request Act, supported by a number of Liberal MPPs — Monte Kwinter and Gerry Phillips, to name a few — who then later rejected their support for recall.

Today, as we brace for the taxman to deliver his 13 per cent HST, many are questioning the wisdom of a system that offers no tools to address government seemingly bent on ignoring the will of the people. Over 70 per cent of Ontarians oppose the HST.

Given the history of recall, I look forward to the possibilities of pursuing this and other opportunities for democratic reform.