Bencher Election Reforms Moving Forward

Ontario, Canada

Ontario, Canada

Convocation approved a call for consultation on a proposal to modify the regional bencher election scheme, June 27, along with other reforms affecting the bencher election process.

Since 2011, a Bencher Election Process Working Group has addressed concerns including: the nomination process; the length of the election and voting periods; campaign spending, materials, and methods; and accommodation issues related to online voting.

The current regional bencher election scheme ensures that at least one bencher will be elected in each of the eight regions in the province. The candidate in each region who receives the largest number of votes becomes that region’s bencher. Eight of the 40 benchers are regional benchers. The remaining 32 benchers are the 13 candidates from outside Toronto who received the most votes from all voters and the 19 candidates from inside Toronto who received the most votes from all voters.

This leads to situations in which a candidate with broad support across all regions, whose votes from all regions outnumbered those of a regional bencher, may not be elected. In most elections, the working group found, the majority of regional benchers are elected from the general vote.

One suggestion is that the bencher election results be based on votes from all regions for all candidates, and that if a region did not have an elected bencher in that way, then the regional scheme should apply. Several benchers raised concerns that voters in Toronto region could be seen as having too much ability to influence the election of benchers elsewhere in the province.

A proposal is to be developed and presented this fall, for consultation with both classes of licensee, and a recommendation made to Convocation.

The next lawyer bencher election is in 2015. The next Paralegal Standing Committee election is in 2014.

(For more on paralegal benchers and changes Convocation approved in April, see the SCOPE article, “Elected Paralegals Should be Benchers“)

On the issue of campaign spending, the working group reached consensus that a spending limit should not be imposed. They cited: the problem with defining an appropriate limit; the lack of any real mischief; and the cost of ensuring compliance. The working group recommendations accepted June 27 included: reducing the maximum number of words in a candidate’s election statement, from 700 to 350 words; electronic distribution of election materials; and mandating that nomination form biographical information include an e-mail address for the candidate.

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