by Tyler Fish
On June 7, Ontarians will head to the polls to elect a new premier. As political parties vie for votes and pitch their visions for the future of the province, it is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of our provincial and municipal governments.
The wide range of provincial responsibilities, in many cases, originate with the Constitution Act of 1867. These include education, health care, labour standards, prisons, liquor sales, public utilities, control of certain natural resources, and road regulations. In recent months, provincial policies with regards to healthcare, electricity generation, carbon taxes, and the regulation of marijuana sales have been prominent in the news. These could look a lot different depending on which party wins the election.
With regards to taxation, provinces control the provincial portion of personal income tax, corporate taxes, and sales tax. When combined with other revenue streams such as tobacco and fuel taxes, profits from crown corporations and transfers from the federal government, the province had a total revenue of $140.7 billion last year.
In contrast, municipal governments manage the city or local region. Their responsibilities include parks, libraries, water treatment systems, waste management, local police and fire departments, local by-laws, local transportation, roadways, and land zoning. Decisions made by municipal governments can dramatically shape local neighbourhoods, illustrated recently by the Pier 8 Redevelopment project.
However, municipal governments are limited in how they can raise funds. Largely relying on property taxes, supplemented by user fees for certain services, municipalities in Canada are not allowed to run operating deficits. This generally prevents cities from entering a debt spiral such as the one that forced Detroit to declare bankruptcy in 2013. This does mean, however, that for large-scale projects cities must rely on provincial or federal investment, such as the $1 billion earmarked for Hamilton’s LRT system.
Despite the multitude of ways that the provincial government can affect our everyday lives, voter turnout in Ontario’s recent elections is at all-time low. The 2014 election saw only 52.1% turnout among the province’s 9.2 million eligible voters. Although this was higher than the 48.2% turnout in 2011, both numbers are far below the 64.4% turnout in 1990. Municipal elections are even worse, with only 34% of eligible voters casting a ballot in the last municipal election. Whether due to general apathy or cynicism for our democratic institutions, these low rates are not only cause for concern among many political commentators, they are also blamed for the rising political polarization as parties cater to special-interest groups with hopes to draw voters to the polls.
There are many parties and candidates represented in the Hamilton Centre and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek ridings. By taking the time to cast your vote, even if it is just to spoil your ballot, you can ensure your voice is represented in Ontario’s next legislature.
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