Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fixed Election Dates

According to this CBC article, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to "introduce a bill next week to establish fixed federal election dates every four years." If the bill is passed into law, governments will be in power for four years (or less if they lose the confidence of Parliament). The idea is to prevent politicians from calling elections to suit themselves, while preserving Parliament's ability to kick out governments that aren't working.

On the whole, I support the initiative. The only conceivable downside (as far as I can see) is that fixed election dates tend to result in lengthy (and expensive) campaigns. Even if that downside is realized, however, the advantages of fixed election dates outweigh the disadvantages.

Edited to add: Since I wrote the above, I have discussed the matter with my family, as well as reading about it on the internet. I have come to the conclusion that fixed election dates are not really necessary. They may, in fact, be harmful.

For one thing, it is not necessarily undesirable for governing parties to call elections to suit themselves. Considering that majority governments are more stable and efficient, it can actually be better for the country if parties have a chance to gain seats early in their term.

Another point is that our current system allows for elections based on specific issues (like free trade or the sponsorship scandal). Canadians are, accordingly, able to directly influence public policy.

In general, our system has more flexibility, which is only a bad thing when it allows for abuse. In this case, I don't think there is much danger of abuse (at least not any sort of abuse that significantly impedes democracy in Canada). One could certainly argue that our first-past-the-post voting system is more damaging and more worthy of attention.

That said, several provinces in Canada already have fixed-term elections, as do most democracies. With that and the openness of the Canadian public, fixed election dates seem to be inevitable.


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