Fix the Date, Fix the Problem

The Prime Minister has called by-elections for two Montreal and London area ridings. They are to be held on November 27 '06.

As you may have heard, the Liberals are up in arms about this, because November 27 is when the LPC's leadership convention opens.

Of course, as Don Martin points out in his column in today's National Post, the Libs are the last ones who should be complaining about this sort of thing. Not only did they call a general election shortly after Stockwell Day became leader of the CA, and shortly after he and Joe Clark (then-PC leader) were elected to the House of Commons; the Libs had no problem in scheduling a by-election during the Progressive Conservative Party's 2003 leadership race.

So, it's a little rich for Steve MacKinnon, the Libs' Executive Director, to call this "cynical". Steve, you guys wrote the book on this sort of thing.

But rather than go back-and-forth over this issue, or the issue of whether one or more of Michael Fortier, Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy or Martha H-F should be running in one of the open seats - all of which are good questions to ask - I'm going to suggest something that will keep Steve's stomach from getting upset the next time there's a vacancy in the House of Commons.

Legislation has been introduced at the federal level to provide for fixed general election dates. If the Libs truly want to avoid the sort of situation that is now giving them the vapours, here's how: Support the current bill, but either propose an amendment to it, or introduce legislation on your own, that will specify when a by-election is to be held. (Right now, the legislation only says the by-election has to be called within a certain time - as the current situation shows, that still leaves a lot of leeway to the PM.)

For instance, you could say that the by-election has to be held within 90 days of the seat becoming vacant, or on the next Tuesday after the 90th day. It would be easy to add a provision saying that if that day was a holiday, the election would be postponed by a week or two. That will take the guess-work out of when a by-election will be held, and put everyone on the same footing.

Granted, proposing solutions isn't as much fun as complaining when the other guy does the exact same thing you used to do (and yes, that applies to both sides of the centre aisle of the H of C). But I'm sure Steve and the other Liberals complaining about the November 27 date can find time to do both.

More later.


At 10:41 p.m., Blogger Gavin Neil said...

They have fixed election dates in the USA, where the government basically stops running to campaign one out of every four years.

I can't understand how any small c conservative could possibly support a measure that would make every government work less than it already does or would. I cannot understand why anyone would choose to support a plan that is already tried, tested, and found to be a miserable failure.


At 11:16 p.m., Blogger Jason Hickman said...

Small-c conservatives don't *want* the government to work more, Gavin - it ends up requiring too many tax dollars :)

Just kidding (mostly).

To deal with your concern seriously, I see the Canadian examples of the party-in-charge getting to screw around with the election timetable, to its own advantage, as being worse than the US system to which you refer.

And besides, unless a government has reached the absolute depths of public opinion and are hanging on in hopes of a miracle (the '93 federal Tories and the '95 Ontario NDP come to mind), most times the election is called at around the 4-year mark in any event. As a result, you still get all of the campaign nonsense you refer to during the last year.

The difference is that the parties and the voters know when the election will be (unless, of course, the government falls in advance).

And lastly, I dispute the notion that the fixed-date system is a "miserable failure" everywhere that it has been tried.

After all, we have fixed date elections right here in Canada since every province, as far as I know, has fixed-date municipal elections. Granted, there are a lot of problems with municipal governments in Canada, but I don't think you can lay blame for that at the door of a fixed election date.

They also have fixed federal e-dates in a number of countries other than the USA (France, for its presidential elections, and Austrailia for its parliament, come to mind). The systems in those "fixed-date" countries are really no more of a failure than they the current Canadian system.

All in all, I think the fairness of having elections on fixed dates (again, barring the loss of a confidence vote by the government) outweighs the concern you've raised - but I do thank you for raising it. The more discussion, the better.


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