Setting a date

Randy Simms
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There is going to be a big debate in 2014 and it all has to do with elections. Despite everyone’s apparent approval of fixed election dates, there are problems on the horizon. It turns out that six of the provinces and the federal government are slated to have elections at the same time. Given that fixed election dates mean an election every four years, the possibility of this clash happening again and again is very real.

If everything stays as is, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland and Labrador will all have candidates on the campaign trail at the exact same moment as the federal parties. A lot of people think it will lead to confusion on the part of voters, difficult campaigning at both levels and a real turn-off for people who hold politics in such low regard as it is.

Election day in our province is slated for Oct. 13, just six days ahead of the federal vote. It’s hard enough getting folks to the polls once, let alone asking them to do it twice in one week. Premier Kathy Dunderdale agrees and has said she will look to move the provincial date if she has to. “We can’t have two elections on the go at the same time — It’s just too confusing,” she says, “you know, you are using the same resources and so on.” She makes a good point.

The people who drive elections at both the federal and provincial level are not different divisions of the same army. They are the same people. Candidates ask a lot of their supporters come election time and this army of volunteers put themselves out for their chosen candidate and the democratic process. Asking them to deliver even more flyers, make even more phone calls and promote the platforms of parties that may share the same name but not the same views is going to be a challenge. A volunteer who feels conflicted stays home — which is why the fixed election date needs fixing.

Any of the provincial governments involved can go to their respective legislatures and seek permission to override the fixed date if they want to and some, like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, have indicated their willingness to do so if the federal Conservatives don’t move their date first. 

In all honesty, it makes a lot of sense for the feds to make the first move. None of the provinces or the Northwest Territories have any kind of conflict with each other when it comes to elections. The one common denominator is the federal campaign. Move the national election to a different date and everything works out fine.

For Harper, it should be easy. Most of us forget, but he did this once before when he was in a minority parliament.

Back in 2007, he passed the Fixed Election Date Act and then promptly ignored it by calling an election in 2008. Minority governments are notoriously short-lived affairs at the best of times, so it’s not surprising that he wanted to take advantage of good polling and other opportunities to try and strengthen his mandate. 

His intentional violation of the new law almost landed him in court. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the fixed election date law was vague and could not be used to stop him from going to the polls and, under our constitution, the Governor General holds the right to dissolve parliament. None of that was changed by the new act. 

What the new law did do was change the duration that a parliament can remain in power. In other words, if Harper was to change the date to eliminate the conflict with the provinces, he would have to pick a date before Oct. 19, 2015, and not after. If Harper decides to stick to his guns on this and not move the date, the provinces will have to do something on their own. 

In our case, the premier could call together the official opposition parties, pick a date far enough into the future to avoid the impression of political opportunism and let it ride. Others think Dunderdale is leaving early, anyway, so the October, 2015 date is irrelevant.

Did I say this was going to cause a debate? Absolutely!

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at: rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Organizations: Federal Court of Appeal

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island Manitoba Ontario Newfoundland and Labrador

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