Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Fix is in

Although I've been critical of a lot of Conservative policies (OK...all Conservative policies), this is one idea which I really do like.

Obviously it doesn't make a lot of sense in a minority government situation, but there's no reason not to have fixed election dates when majority governments have been elected. Just from an internal party perspective it makes things a lot easier with respect to timing conventions and nomination meetings. The guessing game parties have to go through for candidate nominations is hell, and having a real timeline as to when the next election is would be a huge benefit.

It would also eliminate the asinine media "will they or won't they" media speculation as to when the election call is coming. And it would remove a major benefit of incumbency and prevent the five year stretch terms when the current government is floundering in the polls (*cough*MulroneyCampbell*cough*).

So good on the Tories for proposing this. Hopefully the other parties will be supportive.


  • I think non-fixed dates add flexibility and a dynamicism not seen in other systems.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:34 a.m.  

  • Good post, CG. It should be interesting to see which parties support this. I would think that any party that doesn't, is more interested in manipulation than stability.

    By Blogger Joanne (True Blue), at 11:41 a.m.  

  • I'm mixed. I like the idea of fixed terms because of exactly what you described. It eliminates the cajoleing, the 'calculated timing' aspect of it.

    But I don't like it for the same reasons. For example, it is pretty widely known that Ontario could have balanced their budget this year. Had fixed terms not been in place, You bet your farm Dalton McGuinty would have balanced it now and ran on it to secure 4-5 more years.

    Instead, he decided to wait and do it next year. So now we have an artificial defecit, and the interest that will accrue on it is a loss that the taxpayer has to pay becuase of fixed election dates.

    I realize majority governments adjust their budgets to make themselves electable anyways, but in this (rare?) case, fixed dates actually hurt rather than helped.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:49 a.m.  

  • "No reason"? There's actually a very good reason to keep the status quo on this issue: containing campaigns. As an immigrant from the U.S., I'm not interested in seeing our politicians' campaigns stretch out for so long that they have less time for governing, and that seems inevitable with fixed election dates. Now, the benefits of fixed election dates might outweigh that--I actually go back and forth on where I stand on this--but saying that there's no reason at all to maintain the status quo isn't exactly true.

    (Ah, yes, the blogosphere: an NDPer arguing against fixed election dates, and a Grit arguing for them. Ain't it grand?)

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 11:50 a.m.  

  • I prefer the current system, although I grant that your reasons are fairly convincing. However, the parliamentary system as evolved from Britain selected this process, where the governing power has the ability to pick the timing of the election, at their peril, sometimes.
    As mentioned above, there would be limited pre-election drag-out, where lame-duckness especially leaves a gov't and its leader in limbo-like readiness. Instead of governing the country, they tend to govern 'the ballots'... We have that to some degree but it would overtake the whole process under the 'American' ideal. There is some extra drama gained with the current system, while admittedly some solidity lost. But it is what evolved from our founding empire, and while Australia may have moved to fixed dates (and B.C. - phaat!), I think we could use a reason to be different than the elephant downstairs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:08 p.m.  

  • The thing I would like to add is that they should institute a law that states that the party in power cannot promise huge spending increases in the 6 months leading up to the election. If they can't get their platform implimented in 3 1/2 years, the last 6 months shouldn't be a vote-buying spree.

    By Blogger Prairie Kid, at 12:21 p.m.  

  • "American-style"

    Bam. Now it's dead.

    By Blogger Stephen Taylor, at 12:37 p.m.  

  • "So good on the Tories for proposing this. Hopefully the other parties will be supportive."

    Uhm, this was part of Ed Broadbent's 7 point ethics plan from last October and a cornerstone of the NDP election platform. So the NDP proposed this a long time ago.

    So, yeah a least one party will support it. And to quell the issues that Roby, prairie kid and IP raise, I think if this was coupled with PR (I like MMP) it would solve the problems.

    We would then have a situation where stable coalitions (as opposed to minorities) were the norm and moajorities rare. Elections dates would be fixed, but the government could still be brought down on a vote of non-confidence at anytime. The idea of a coalition would mitigate the whole 'spending spree before the election' issue and a government could not simply call an election whenever it wanted (like Chretien did when Day dared him to).

    By Blogger Mike, at 12:53 p.m.  

  • Prairie Kid, that's a good point. It relates to Roby's discussion about McGuinty.

    You can be sure Dalton will have all kinds of pre-election goodies up his sleeve. Heck, he might even start funding eye exams again!

    By Blogger Joanne (True Blue), at 12:55 p.m.  

  • Two weaknesses with the proposal. (Keep in mind that I'm not completely enamoured with the current system either, but think the weaknesses of fixed dates should be talked about openly and honestly.)

    1. Fixed dates are useless when it comes to minority parliaments. Would provisions waiving fixed dates come into play upon the election of a minority parliament, or would everyone simply ignore the next fixed date altogether?

    2. With dates and timelines projected four years into the future, campaigning seasons are very likely to become drawn out -- and accordingly, become a helluva lot more expensive, a la the current American system.

    Conversely, the main (albeit indirect) strength of the current prerogative system is that its uncertainty helps contain costs.

    Here's the question I'd like to leave you with: is the certainty of election timelines worth the additional costs (doubling? tripling?), especially since at least in the short term, the bill would be footed by the taxpayer?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:05 p.m.  

  • As a Canadian now living in the States, I'm really not a fan of this idea. I understand the down-sides to an election cycle which can be determined by the governing party, but the risk for a fixed date system to turn into big business is just too great. So many of the problems I see in American politics can be attributed to there being just too much money in the political system.

    By Blogger The Pegster, at 1:05 p.m.  

  • The Pegster has it right. "Elections" are a multi-billion dollare industry in the U.S. complete with conventions where all manner of communication services, dialing systems, computer software are hawked and sold.
    It is an industry, with unfailingly predictive cycles, unto itself.

    By Blogger Don, at 1:14 p.m.  

  • Oh -- and I'm not sure I agree with Roby's speculation about McGuinty. What I think he means to say is that governments will probably work within whatever electoral date system is in place to their own political advantage. And certain liberties taken with the current system may simply be replaced by liberties taken with another. That's just politics, folks.

    Accordingly, is replacing one imperfect system with another really worth the price?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:16 p.m.  

  • Personally, I am more worried about American-style year-long campaigns than I am about ruling parties getting too wily with scheduling elections. Voters tend to punish such things anyways, whereas a year-long-campaign that seems to result from fixed election dates is nightmarishly worse than our month-long ones.

    By Blogger LeoPetr, at 1:27 p.m.  

  • "it would remove a major benefit of incumbency"

    Well except governments could still spend like CRAZY right before the election *cough Paul Martin *cough. :D

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:36 p.m.  

  • Not much to add: fixed elections mean that election campaigns last for two years, instead of six weeks. I doubt Canadians want that that badly.

    Besides, there's nothing stopping the PM from calling it early anyway; that would require constitutional change to force. A future majority PM could simply say "this law is undemocratic and unnecessary", kill it, and then call an election based on some popular issue.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:59 p.m.  

  • Two key differences between the Canadian fixed election dates and the US fixed election date system is
    The Canadian system can always have a snap election if the government is defeated.
    The Election cycle will never get as long ad the US because of the money caps in Canada – election speding kicks in when the election is called
    But no party is going to over spend in the preelection period if it means there is no more money left in the kitty when the writ is dropped.
    The changes to party financing change dramatically the nature of money and politics in Canada.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:51 p.m.  

  • The reason U.S. election campaigns last a year is the primary system, not fixed dates.

    We have fixed dates in BC and the year-long campaign the critics were forecasting failed to materialize. We did get a bombardment of government advertising telling us how great the province was doing up to a pre-set date after which government spending on advertising was prohibited (this was part of the original act which set the fixed dates). So did Campbell campaign on our dime for a three-month period up to the cut-off date? Sure, but that's a hallowed tradition out here anyway (at least we didn't get rebate cheques from BC Hydro and ICBC showing up just before the vote this time).

    As for year-long elections, we're in the middle of two of them right now. The Liberal leadership race will be almost a year long by the time it's done, and minority governments are election campaigns almost by definition.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:53 p.m.  

  • leoPetr,
    other than the liberals in 1990 in ontario name one govevernment that was punished for going to the polls too early. Jean Chretien liked to go about every 3-3.25 years when was he punished for this?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:54 p.m.  

  • I thought it was interesting that -at least in the Globe's coverage of this issue- they mentioned this as a response to the Chretien and Martin government's snap elections, and yet don't mention the other side of the issue, the BC NDP's holding on for 5 years to wait for favorable condiitons, or as CG pointed out the Mulroney/Campbell Robber Barons holding out so they could get a whole 2 seats in 1993.


    By Blogger A.L., at 3:02 p.m.  

  • """Jean Chretien liked to go about every 3-3.25 years when was he punished for this?"""

    I remember standing in the back of a room during the 2000 election. While the rest of the crowd was chanting at Chretien "4 more years!", Provencher Liberal and myself were bellowing "3 more years, 4 more months."

    By Blogger Don, at 3:09 p.m.  

  • I really don't buy the "year long campaign" argument, because we generally have an idea when elections are coming anyways. Jean Charest is in pre-election mode, regardless of whether or not they have fixed election dates.

    The only argument against fixed election dates is that it's American, and therefore bad.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 6:34 p.m.  

  • Hmmm, you conveniently ignored the *ahem cough cough* early election calls of Martin/Chretien when they faced new leaders of the opposition...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:02 p.m.  

  • well, I'm very concerned about Kennedy's "entrepreneur" stuff.

    the last thing we need is another Bush-wannabe trying to lead our party.

    (Bush also wants to create an entrepreneurial culture/ownership culture in the states).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:37 p.m.  

  • I live in the US, and the year long campaigns are definitely a problem. They are one of the reasons for one of the stranger anomalies of the American system, in that not every election is contested. In every cycle, several incumbents will have no opponent, and quite a few incumbents will only have nominal opponents. One of the reasons for that is that you have to quit your job in the US to run for office, and people are reluctant to do that, especially if its 99% certain they will lose.

    That said, the reason for the long campaign has more to do with the lack of election spending limits than the fixed election dates. Germany has almost-fixed election dates (the government can call a snap election, but its very difficult), and none of these problems.

    Fixed dates are probably better, but the advantage is not worth changing the system, and they have to be accompanied by spending limits.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:09 a.m.  

  • "The only argument against fixed election dates is that it's American, and therefore bad."

    *eye roll* Oh, right, that's what I--an American--am worried about.

    The concern isn't with overly long national campaigns, it's with overly long LOCAL campaigns. I assume you've worked on local campaigns in the past. Would you really have been able to get the stronger of those candidates to run if the campaigns had lasted six months, eight months, a year? I know we wouldn't have.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 7:54 a.m.  

  • "Elections dates would be fixed, but the government could still be brought down on a vote of non-confidence at anytime."

    of all these comments, this one from Mikes makes me laugh the most (8th from the top). He wants the oppostition parties to be able to launch an election, and wants to prevent the governing party from doing so!!

    Spoken like a true dipper!!

    Just a guy...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:08 a.m.  

  • The concern isn't with overly long national campaigns, it's with overly long LOCAL campaigns. I assume you've worked on local campaigns in the past. Would you really have been able to get the stronger of those candidates to run if the campaigns had lasted six months, eight months, a year? I know we wouldn't have.

    Well, we have fixed election dates for municipal elections, and there doesn't seem to be a problem there, so I'm not sure what your point is.

    By Blogger Dave, at 9:46 a.m.  

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