Fixed election dates are a simple and basic electoral reform that should have been instituted generations ago. When I speak to American friends about our system that allows Premiers and Prime Ministers to call elections whenever they please, the response from those I have spoken to is invariably astonishment.
A lack of fixed election dates is an affront to basic democracy. Having the power to choose the date of an election gives a governing party an incredible advantage thus while many leaders pay lip service to the issue on the way up, the leaders quickly forget their commitments upon achieving power. Klein used to revel in his cute hints about making election calls and watching opposition parties scramble in efforts to prepare for an election that often never came. Stelmach is enjoying the same power as was demonstrated in the months of election speculation that began in Alberta last fall and continued until an election was finally called last spring.
Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer released 182 recommendations for Alberta’s electoral process yesterday. The scorn with which Stelmach rejected the concept of fixed election dates was insulting in his arrogance. In a petulant way, Stelmach gladly accepted handing off added responsibilities to the Chief Electoral officer. The prior appointments of returning officers by the governing party was a joke and even Stelmach could see that. Stelmach is happily accepting of increased advertising controls at election time as well. Stelmach is still bitter about those union commercials that were mean to him in the last election and in his usual anti-democratic ways is pursuing gag-law legislation.
The increased responsibilities given to the Chief Electoral Officer are a good thing, but it will be difficult for him to act upon them without fixed election dates. I truly do not envy the task that Alberta’s elections staff have. Elections get called unexpectedly and elections Alberta has less than a month to arrange the hiring and management of enough people to conduct and election in 83 constituencies. This is a nearly impossible task considering Alberta’s labor shortage. It is little wonder that there was mass confusion at the polls in last spring’s election. It is not like a hiring and training program can be implemented when the election date is unknown.
Fixed election dates would greatly improve the preparation for and management of elections. Special Ed clearly will not implent that simple and critical electoral reform. Stelmach has already demonstrated a trend of protecting his power jealously.
When rejecting fixed election dates, Stelmach snapped that it would have no impact on voter turnout. Voter turnout alone is not the reason we need this reform. To put it simply, fixed election dates are needed for a proper democratic system. One thing that is leading to our dismal voter turnouts is increasing voter cynicism due to being lied to by their elected leaders. Stelmach barely got out of the gate as Premier before flip-flopping on the promise to reduce cabinet to 17 members. Special Ed quickly learned that the plum of cabinet appointments is his best method of caucus control. The more cabinet positions Stelmach has, the more incentive MLAs have to kiss the Premier’s ass.
Harper’s reversal on his commitment to fixed election dates did little to instill faith in the electorate. Harper’s shaky excuse of having a dysfunctional parliament hardly cuts it. Joe Clark proved what happens when a minority leader acts as if he has a majority. Harper could very well have simply governed as he pleased and called every vote a confidence vote. In that case, either his bills would be passed (parliament would have been functional), or the opposition would bring the government down and Harper would get the election that he desired without breaking the spirit of his own law. Using the aforementioned strategy would have taken the power from Harper’s hands to have an election when it best benefits his own party however thus he simply ignored his own commitments and dissolved parliament.
As somebody who has ran in a few elections I have always had to deal with hearing people spout about how all politicians are the same and how all politicians are liars. I do not agree with that assessment, but our examples in our legislatures certainly do not make it easy to counter the assertions of the bitter. It is up to the electorate to vote out politicians when they lie to us. Rest assured if enough MLAs and MPs lose their jobs over the course of a couple elections, we will see a great change in attitude among those elected. Sadly, instead of taking an increased role in democracy as we need them to, many voters are simply sinking into a cynical funk and are not voting at all. It is a sad and dangerous trend for us all.
While I generally loath Canada’s version of Pravda (the CBC), one gem the CBC does retain is Rex Murphy. Murphy stands up for free speech and does not hesitate to be critical of any party when it is warranted whether Liberal or Conservative. He sums up Harper’s flip-flop quite well.