Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fixed Elections

Er, Fixed Election Dates, that is. You know you've been blogging too long when, before you write about something, you have to google your own archives because you can't remember if you've written about this topic before and you don't want to contradict yourself (or at least, you want to acknowledge it if you do).

Anyway, I am pretty indifferent to the whole idea, and I don't have much to add to this excellent and clearly written essay by Don Desserud from the University of New Brunswick (via Vues D'ici).

Basically, it is easy to fix things so that a governing party can't stay in power past a certain point. For example, our constitution already specifies a 5 year limit.

It is more difficult, however, to keep the government from having an election before that point. If the government gets defeated on a confidence vote then you need to have a new election, because you can't have a government that lacks confidence (not in our system of responsible government, anyway). And if a party doesn't want to govern, you can't really make them. The best a law can do is make it clear that, barring something important happening, the government really should stick it out until their term is up. It's really more of a moral suasion kind of deal than anything fixed in stone.

In practical terms, we will likely trade endless speculation about when the PM will call an election for a longer period of election buildup - at least that's what will happen if we ever have a majority government in Ottawa again. A minority government seems like a strange time to introduce fixed election dates, at least from a policy perspective. From a political perspective, I guess, it makes perfect sense. Either way, it doesn't seem very important.

One thing I dug up in my archives while trying to avoid self-contradiction was this old CBC article from when Harper was made leader of the Conservative party. Under the heading 'Tories abandon Alliance planks', "Delegates also abandoned party platform planks that called for:
* Referendums on constitutional amendments and on issues of national importance.
* The creation of a citizens assembly to adopt proportional representation.
* Holding elections on fixed dates.
* Allowing members of Parliament to be recalled.

I wonder if they are going to backtrack on their backtracking on any of those other points.

The same article also noted that, "Delegates voted three-to-one on Saturday in favour of a policy that would see a Conservative government introduce legislation to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman." I guess a year is a long time in Conservative policy-making.


  • I only scanned the essay you linked, but I don't think it brought up one of my major misgivings about a system of fixed election dates: Pre-emptive, excessive campaigning.

    To bring up the obvious example of the US electoral process, candidates in that system seem to spend more time campaigning than they do governing, expending vast amounts of resources and leaving the whole system vulnerable to corruption and influence peddling. I wouldn't assume that fixed elections are the only cause of this trouble, but uncertain election dates make bloated campaigns impractical and difficult to plan. Just imagine if political parties in the US only had one month's notice to select a presidential candidate!

    An obvious counter-argument is that fixed elections are not a necessary condition of excessive campaigning. It certainly seems like all federal politicians have been in campaign mode since 2003, with no end in sight.

    Furthermore, the campaign finance reforms that Chretien pushed through at the end of his government, and which the Conservatives have promised to extend, should serve to insulate from overt excessive campaigning.

    So perhaps my concerns are outdated. I'm just concerned that with a system of predictable elections, politicians worry less about governing well, and more about campaigning well.

    By Anonymous famousringo, at 2:35 PM  

  • From the Montreal Policy Convention:
    10. Electoral Reform

    i) A Conservative Government will consider changes to electoral systems, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, fixed election dates, and the use of referendums.

    By Blogger BBS, at 7:30 PM  

  • We're seeing what this idea will do for the future right now: no one in politics dares say anything concrete in fear of Harper calling an election or being voted down in a non-confidence vote.
    Do Canadians want to see their governance in perpetual election mode rather than actually doing things to make this Country work?
    The last 4 months have been hell as far as cohesiveness goes. Our troops have been subjected to a partisan vote which failed miserably in it's purported intentions, instead Canada has been and been seen to be divided on the issue of how long our troops should be devoted to a mission with no parameters.
    Fixed election dates are undemocratic in my mind. I say, let the people decide. You know, the Parliamentary system Canada uses has stood its adherents in good stead for many centuries and have given its opponets many opportunities to overthrow it. Does this really seem like the time to call our Constitution into question, revamp our Parliamentary functions, and change the way Canada deals with the world beyond our borders?
    I think not.
    Canada should be solidifying our international stance, not getting all wishy-washy on the mechanics of how we get things done, per the electorate.
    We certainly should be learning the lessons our neighbour south of the border has spent a few hundred years learning, rather than mimicking them and hoping for the best.
    Time for the people to Stand Up for Canada, the real Canada, the one that is recognized world over for being fair, multi-cultural and not inclined to be pushy, until pushed.
    Fixed elections take away from Canadian freedom and stand in the way of democracy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:03 PM  

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