There’s been much speculation of late about when Canadians will next cast their federal ballots, with some pundits predicting that Prime Minster Stephen Harper may opt for a spring election.
This is supremely strange because, according to legislation passed by Harper’s own Conservatives, we’re supposed to know exactly when the next federal vote will take place – Oct. 19.
Canada has fixed election dates, doesn’t it? Sure.
Well, not really. Not like the United States does.
The truth of the matter is that the legislation – at both the federal and provincial level – has been ignored more than it’s been observed.
In theory, having fixed election dates was supposed to eliminate the political advantage the governing party in our parliamentary democracy has to dissolve the legislature when it chooses, sending politicians out on the campaign trail and voters to the polls.
That was the theory. In the real world, it hasn’t worked out that way. Prime ministers and premiers from coast to coast still pretty much call elections when they see fit.
So it’s time to do away with this charade.
What we know for sure is that politics in this country is pretty much the same as it was before this experiment in Americanization was launched.
If we had real fixed-date elections, there wouldn’t be any rumblings about Harper pulling the plug on the House of Commons early. If we had real fixed-date elections, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wouldn’t have been able to call a snap election last year.
The truth is that the legislation is toothless. There’s no penalty for not following it.
In fact, there’s a very strong argument to be made that our traditional mechanism for setting election dates – letting the leader of the governing party choose the timing as he or she sees fit – allows for a much stiffer penalty: banishment to the political hinterland.
Readers with long memories will recall how, long before the fixing of election dates became fashionable, former Ontario premier David Peterson called a snap election in 1990, not even three years into the Liberal mandate.
The thinking was that Peterson knew the economy was about to go into the tank, and he wanted to renew his hold on the legislature before the coming recession hit. What happened next was that Ontario voters punished him for the cynical ploy by tossing the Liberals out in favour of Bob Rae’s New Democrats.
Peterson and the provincial Grits paid a very real price for inflicting an unwanted election on the province’s voters.
I think we can all agree that having fixed election dates was an interesting experiment, but it’s been a failure.
Speaking as someone who has an affection for the quirks of the Canadian parliamentary system, I don’t want an American style of government. What works for our neighbours to the south obviously isn’t working for us, as the last few years demonstrate.
When a law gets broken regularly by the same people who brought it in, it’s time for another solution.
Let’s do something truly conservative and turn back the clock, so we don’t have to pretend anymore that this legislation means something. It doesn’t.
All it has done is provide more proof to the public that politicians from all sides of the ideological spectrum are equally opportunistic.