Monday, October 19, 2009

Today Is Election Day

Bill C-16

Subject to an earlier dissolution of Parliament, a general election must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following a previous general election, with the first general election to be held on Monday, October 19, 2009.

Well okay it should have been today, except that Harper took us into an election early, violating his own law. Instead in a cynical ploy to grab power the Harpocrites ran an election saying there was no recession, they would not raise taxes nor would they have a budget deficit...my my how things changed after they were elected with another minority government and the economy crashed.

Harper then prorogued the government within two months of that election in order to avoid being ousted by an opposition coalition, while still denying there was a recession.

Today with the threat of another election still in the air one has to ask why the rush last fall if not for the fact that actually the Harpocrites have been ready for an election since they won a minority in 2006. Every day is election day for them. They are not ruling as a government but as a party running a party campaign around the economic issues they denied were a reality last fall.

Image

However if we take the PM at his own word well perhaps we should have had an election today. But that's just a technicality...

Harper says recession is no time for an election -

Harper says recession over only in technical sense

And despite all the political platitudes offered at the time it turns out that Canada's fixed election date did turn out to be an illusion........

Bill C-16 on Fixed Date Elections
November 06, 2006

Third Reading in the House of Commons

House of Commons, Ottawa
Monday, November 6, 2006
Check Against Delivery

Introduction

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to begin debate in third reading on Bill C-16 – An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act – which would provide for fixed date elections.

First of all, I would like to note that the Bill was carefully reviewed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

A range of expert witnesses has appeared before the Committee and much discussion has taken place.

The Committee heard from the Chief Electoral Officer, representatives of political parties, academic experts, as well as me.

While I have been informed that there were lively debates on key issues, I am pleased to note that Bill C-16 carried in Committee without amendment.

Moreover, while there were some minor differences on some of the details of the Bill, I was struck by the fact that all parties represented in the House of Commons support the fundamental rationale of the Bill.

I believe that all parties share the view that elections belong, fundamentally, to citizens. They belong, Mr. Speaker, to the people.

All parties agreed with the principle that the timing of elections should not be left to the prime minister but should be set in advance so that all Canadians will know when the next election will occur.

Mr. Speaker, today I will begin with a description of the current process for calling general elections and I will discuss some of the difficulties associated with it.

This will be followed by a discussion of the many advantages associated with fixed date elections.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I will be very pleased to present the specifics of Bill C-16.

Current Process

Today, it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister, whose government has not lost the confidence of the House of Commons, to determine what he or she regards as a propitious time for an election to renew the government’s mandate.

The Prime Minister then requests dissolution of the House from the Governor General and, if the Governor General agrees, he or she proclaims the date of the election.

What we have, Mr. Speaker, is a situation where the Prime Minister is able to choose the date of the general election, not based on what is in the best interest of the country, but what is in the interest of his or her party.

Bill C-16 will address this problem and will produce a number of other benefits.

Advantages of Fixed Date Elections

Mr. Speaker, before going into the details of the bill, allow me to discuss the key advantages of fixed date elections.

Fixed date elections will provide for greater fairness in election campaigns, greater transparency and predictability, improved governance, higher voter turnout rates, and will help in attracting the best qualified candidates to public life.

Fairness

First of all, allow me to discuss the issue of fairness.

Fixed date elections will help to level the playing field for those seeking election in a general election.

With fixed date elections, the timing of general elections will be known to all.

Since the date of the next election will be known to all political parties, each party will have an equal opportunity to make preparations for upcoming election campaigns.

Instead of the governing party having the advantage of determining when the next election will take place – an advantage they may have over the other parties for several months – all parties will be on an equal footing.

And it’s only fair that each party will have equal time to prepare for the next election and know when it will be.

Transparency and Predictability

Another key advantage of fixed date elections is transparency.

Rather than decisions about election dates being made behind closed doors, general election dates will be set in advance as prescribed by this bill.

Once this bill is passed, the date of each election will be known by all Canadians.

Predictability is also a key advantage of fixed date elections.

Canadians and political parties alike will be able to rely on our democratic election system working in an open and predictable fashion for all general elections.

Plans can be made on a reliable basis to prepare for, and respond to, fixed date elections.

Improved Governance

Mr. Speaker, fixed date elections will allow for improved governance.

For example, fixed date elections will provide for improved administration of the electoral machinery by Elections Canada.

The Chief Electoral Officer, in majority situations, will know with certainty when the next election will occur and will be able to plan accordingly.

This will almost certainly involve greater efficiency at Elections Canada and will, therefore, very likely save money for taxpayers.

Political parties will also likely save money as they will not have to remain on an ‘election footing’ for extended periods of time.

Moreover, fixed date elections will allow for better parliamentary planning.

For example, members of parliamentary committees will be able to set out their agendas well in advance, which will make the work of committees, and Parliament as a whole, more efficient.

Higher Voter Turnout Rates

Yet another reason for adopting fixed date elections is that this measure will likely improve voter turnout because elections will be held in October, except when a government loses the confidence of the House.

The weather is generally favourable in most parts of the country.

Fewer people are transient. So, for example, most students will not be in transition between home and school at that time and will be able to vote.

Moreover, seniors will not be deterred from voting as they might be in colder months.

And, of course, citizens will be able to plan in advance to participate in the electoral process, arranging for advanced voting if they plan to be away.

An additional benefit is that pre-election campaigns to ‘get out the vote’ will be able to be well prepared, as the organizers will be aware of exactly when the next general election will take place.

Candidates

Finally, I want to mention an advantage that will have resonance to many of those in this chamber.

It is a difficulty with the current system that I have witnessed personally (and something I have mentioned in interviews when Bill C-16 was first introduced).

Fixed date elections will help to attract many of the best qualified Canadians into public life because it will be easier to plan their own schedules to enable them to stand for election.

For many of our most talented Canadians, unfixed election dates make it difficult to plan to enter public life because they simply don’t know when the next election is going to be held.

I think fixed date elections can only help in attracting the most qualified individuals to public life.

Details of the Bill

Mr. Speaker, I would like to turn to the details of the bill.

1. Responsible Government

Legislation providing for fixed date elections must be structured to meet certain constitutional realities of responsible government. They include:

• the requirement that the government have the confidence of the House of Commons;

• respecting the Governor General’s constitutional power to dissolve Parliament.

The bill before us was drafted carefully to ensure that these constitutional requirements continue to be respected.

So, the bill does not in any way change the requirement that the government must maintain the confidence of the House.

Moreover, all of the conventions regarding loss of confidence remain intact.

In particular, the Prime Minister’s prerogative to advise the Governor General on the dissolution of Parliament is retained, to allow him or her to advise dissolution in the event of a loss of confidence.

Moreover, the bill states explicitly that the powers of the Governor General remain unchanged, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.

2. Modeled After Provincial Legislation

As set out in the government’s platform, this bill is modeled after existing provincial fixed date elections legislation.

The legislation is very similar to the approach used by British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, it should be noted that the legislation in all of these provinces is working – and working well.

British Columbia recently had its first fixed date election (May 17, 2005) and Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador will soon have their first fixed date elections (October 4, 2007 and October 9, 2007 respectively).

In British Columbia, there was certainly no evidence of what some critics have called a “lame duck government”.

3. Mechanics

The government’s bill provides that the date for the next general election is Monday, October 19, 2009.

Of course, this will be the date only if the government is able to retain the confidence of the House until that time.

So, for example, if the government were to be defeated tomorrow, a general election would be held according to normal practice.

However, the subsequent election would be scheduled for the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after that election.

And that is the normal model that would be established by this bill.

General elections will occur on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following the previous general election.

We chose the date very carefully and one of my parliamentary colleagues will provide a full explanation of our choice during the course of this debate.

However, in brief, we chose the third Monday in October because it was the date that was likely to maximize voter turnout and to be least likely to conflict with cultural or religious holidays – or with elections in other jurisdictions.

4. Conflicts

This raises an additional feature of the bill that I want to bring to your attention – a feature that provides for an alternate election date in the event of a conflict with a date of religious or cultural significance or an election in another jurisdiction.

In the current system, the date of the general election is chosen by the government, so it is rare that a polling day is chosen that comes into conflict with a date of cultural or religious significance or with elections in other jurisdictions.

However, with the introduction of legislation providing for fixed date elections, there is some possibility that, in the future, the stipulated election date will occasionally be the same as a day of cultural or religious significance or an election in another jurisdiction.

The Ontario fixed date elections legislation provides that, if there is a conflict with a day of cultural or religious significance, the Chief Elections Officer may recommend an alternate polling day to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, up to seven days following the day that would otherwise be polling day.

Using a variation of the Ontario legislation providing for fixed date elections, our bill empowers the Chief Electoral Officer to recommend an alternate polling day to the Governor in Council should he or she find that the polling day is not suitable for that purpose.

The alternate day would be either the Tuesday or the Monday following the Monday that would otherwise be polling day.

Allowing alternate polling days to be held on the following Tuesday or Monday is consistent with the current practice of holding elections on a Monday or a Tuesday.

Illusory in Nature?

Mr. Speaker, some Opposition members had concerns that this bill is illusory in that the Prime Minister can call an election at any point up until the fixed date for the election.

However, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has to retain his prerogative to advise dissolution to allow for situations when the government loses the confidence of the House.

This is a fundamental principle of our system of responsible government.

Moreover, if the bill were to indicate that the Prime Minister could only advise dissolution in the event of a loss of confidence, it would have to define ‘confidence’ and the dissolution of the House of Commons would be justiciable in the courts – something that we certainly do not want.

Conclusion

Mr. Speaker, this bill providing for fixed date elections is long overdue in Canada.

In June, Ipsos-Reid released the results of a poll which showed that 78% of Canadians support the government’s plans to provide for fixed date elections.

You may know that the third week in October is already Citizenship Week in this country where we celebrate what it means to be Canadian citizens.

Of course, fundamental to being a Canadian citizen is our civic responsibilities, including our duty to vote.

It is fitting, then, that general election dates will be set for the third Monday in October.

This legislation will provide greater fairness, increased transparency and predictability, improved policy planning, increased voter turnout, and will help to attract the best qualified Canadians to public life.

I hope my colleagues on both sides of the House will join with me in supporting it and I look forward to the Bill’s speedy passage in the Senate.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


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