Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ontario passes law to fix election dates

My first thought upon discovery of the news was that this is good news - just a little more time and the feds will follow suite, heeding the prophets in the parl who speak for the end of arbitrary election dates. And it has the favor of the plebs too. Popular support for fixed election dates have risen from 54% in 2000 to 81% in 2004.

But as the article by Don Dessord points out, fixed-elections dates challenge the fundamental principle of responsible government in Canada. As an essential feature of the American Congressional system which relies on the principle of the separation and balance of powers, fixed-election can be confused perhaps as importable into Canada to help level the field for fair competition.

But features of responsible government that would be compromised by fixed-election dates would include votes of non-confidence and the role of the Governor General.

So why is the notion of fixed elections appealing? I think Dessord has a good answer and some interesting suggestions:
I believe what the public really objects to is not the fact that election calls are unpredictable, but that the party in power holds an unfair advantage and some elections are not fair contests. Therefore, measures that improve the competitive nature of elections would go a long way towards alleviating public dissatisfaction.

There are many ways to do this, though a full discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. Some form of proportional representation, for example, would help. So would allowing more free votes in Parliament. More free votes might convince citizens their MPs matter, and so they might think elections matter more too. There are many other problems with our parliamentary system that need to be addressed as well, as people like Donald Savoie have so well identified. But the convolutions necessary to fix election dates strike me as requiring far too much effort for far too little improvement, and may very well make things much worse.

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