Democracy suffers with fixed elections dates

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

There is little doubt we will have a federal election this fall; this has been determined by the Conservative promise to hold elections on fixed dates. In 2007, they introduced legislation to make this the norm, if not the law. The intent of a fixed-date election is creating a regular cycle of planned general elections, with specific, predictable, election dates and a fixed term for the legislature. However, Canada is a parliamentary democracy, not a congressional government. Our type of representative government, and our attempt to create a fair electoral system, which allows relatively equal opportunity to all parties, creates some issues with a fixed-date election system.
An election begins with the Prime Minister asking the Governor General to dissolve parliament and issue a “writ of election”. Election campaigns begin with this act and last for a minimum of 36 days. To ensure fairness and reasonable access to voters, there are strict controls on donations to political parties, on how much money can be spent on election campaigns, and on how this money can be spent. Unfortunately, recent elections have been marked by notable breaches of these laws, but fixed election dates significantly change the spirit and intent of these financing and spending laws. Campaigning now begins well before the issuing of a writ. Laws for election financing do not apply, nor do electoral expectations of policy alternatives and reasoned debate.
The results of pre-election campaigning are largely negative; the political ads tend to be attacks on opponents rather than plans for good government and, more significantly, pre-election advertising favours the well-funded parties and shuts out alternative voices. The agenda is thus defined by advertising that creates media buzz around some narrowly-defined items and incidents, providing entertainment rather than information. Larger and more complex issues are ignored. Further, running for office becomes prohibitively expensive; money, rather than ability and commitment, becomes the dominate factor in electoral success. Our system of parliamentary democracy suffers.
Whatever administrative advantages there are to fixed-date elections, the disadvantages to our rights as voters are greater. The rules governing election expenses must be expanded to cover the entire pre-election campaign period and parties and individuals must disclose how much they are spending on their ads and where the money is coming from. More significantly, Canadians must insist that political campaigning, at any time, be directed to the main issues that confront our parliament. If democracy is to be maintained and secured, we must demand a fair electoral procedure that is in place for all electioneering at all times.