Thursday, July 02, 2015

New column day

Here, following up on these posts about the possibility the Cons might decide to ignore their own fixed election date and delay the election expected for October 19. 

For further reading...

- The Canada Elections Act is here. And for an interesting comparison, see Saskatchewan's fixed election date provision from the Legislative Assembly Act, 2007:
8.1(1) Unless a general election has been held earlier because of the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, the first general election after the coming into force of this section must be held on Monday, November 7, 2011.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), general elections following the general election held in accordance with subsection (1) must be held on the first Monday of November in the fourth calendar year after the last general election.
(3) If the writ period for a general election to be held in accordance with subsection (2) overlaps with the writ period for a general election to be held pursuant to subsection 56.1(2) or section 56.2 of the Canada Elections Act, the general election must be held on the first Monday of April in the calendar year following the calendar year mentioned in subsection (2).
(4) In this section, “writ period” means the period commencing on the day that a writ is issued for an election and ending on polling day for that election.
Which gives rise to a couple of noteworthy points. First, unlike the federal legislation, Saskatchewan's doesn't explicitly leave room for any discretion to alter the date. And second, Saskatchewan's own election date will be in flux until the moment the writ drops (or doesn't drop) federally.

- The Federal Court of Appeal's decision on the limited effect of the federal fixed election date is here. Amy Minsky explained here why we shouldn't take the federal law too seriously. And Andrew Coyne rightly recognized here that we should consider it a serious problem that we need to plan for the readily foreseeable prospect that Stephen Harper would ignore his own law.

- Finally, Alice nicely summarizes some of the more dysfunctional aspects of the federal electoral system, and suggests that fixing our electoral machinery should be an important priority for the next Parliament:
And I'm not saying it's job one for a new government to kick off a better process to fix this all, but it's surely in the top 100. Because the constant gaming of the system, the constant ramming of bills through Parliament without consideration of their constitutionality or practicality, is what's responsible for the current completely farcical mess.

If you support a fixed election date, think through what ALL the implications of that are. If you want pro-rated expense limits for longer writs, consider whether there should be any limits to them or the writ length at all. If you want to control political party, government, and third party advertising and promote transparency in the pre-election period, think that through as well. There is also a looming crisis in political finance after the next election, since most parties have been unable to fully replace the per-vote subsidy in their fundraising efforts, but could now face election campaigns with unknown and unknowable expense ceilings, given the new pro-rating of the spending limits. It would not surprise me at all if that was in part the motivation for a group like Engage Canada to intercede and try to prevent the re-election of a Conservative majority government, which would soon have no adequately-financed opposition at all.

If it were not a third rail in politics these days to suggest another Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Finance, I would say it might almost be called for: to maintain our distinctive Canadian democracy, and avoid the worst pitfalls of the US permanent campaign. At the very least, amendments to the Elections Act should receive far more attention and study from Parliamentarians than they are now.

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