Amendments to Ontario’s Municipal Act in July gave municipalities the option to authorize proxy voting for members of council. Enacted as part of a COVID-19 economic bill, the changes would allow councillors to appoint a fellow member to vote on their behalf if they could not attend a municipal meeting.
Champlain Township’s councillors discussed the options at their October 8 meeting, but ultimately voted against considering a bylaw to permit proxy voting locally. Councillors Peter Barton, Sarah Bigelow, and André Roy voted in favour of moving forward with proxy voting, while Gerry Miner, Violaine Tittley, Jacques Lacelle, and Michel Lalonde voted against it. Councillor Troy Carkner was absent.
Tittley said the matter was important, was recommended that proxy voting be discussed further rather than being approved that night. “Voting is an important responsibility for a councillor, and this matter should be discussed at a committee of the whole,” she said.
Mayor Normand Riopel expressed reservations about the proposal. He said new information could be presented about important resolutions during the council meetings that could change a councillor’s mind.
“It might jeopardize the voting process by giving your proxy to somebody else if you don’t hear all the facts,” he said. “Decisions are sometimes made on the spot because there’s new, additional information that comes to a meeting. Therefore, you’re not always prepared.”
While presenting the proposal, clerk Alison Collard noted that few municipalities in the area had yet introduced proxy voting, including the City of Ottawa.
But Barton, speaking in favour of the change, said proxy voting was a matter of accessibility. He encouraged the council to act as a leader on the issue.
“I think society’s becoming more accessible, we’re trying to create situations or ways where people can participate. We’re not trying to find reasons to exclude people,” he said. “This evening, we’re short a councillor who may have strong opinions on some of the subjects and he could have his vote heard should we put this process in place.”