Friday, August 29, 2008

Election dates: unfixed or re-fixed?

I've been staying out of the federal election fixed-date discussion, because the four-year limit never really seized my imagination one way or the other. There are solid reasons both for and against fixed terms. But, as it now turns out, we didn't get them in any case.

Even in the absence of a no-confidence vote, The Stephen can simply advise the Governor-General and have her dissolve Parliament whenever he feels like it. So much for the law that observers thought would prevent a PM from calling elections on his own. It was all smoke and mirrors--a master illusionist conjuring up an apparition of democratic reform for open-mouthed gulls and sycophants, the latter now hastening to provide their Stalinoid rationalizations of this 180° volte-face.

Some folks are hanging their hopes on Michaëlle Jean refusing to dissolve Parliament. But she's not likely to do the Byng thing, even if the NDP and the Liberals were to make a coalition proposal. And after the disastrous 1972 quasi-coalition experiment, which nearly wiped out the NDP two years later, the latter wouldn't even be a theoretical possibility.

Anyway, as noted, it's not the law that intrigues me: it's the motive for "breaking" it that has me scratching my head.

On the face of it, an election call at this juncture simply defies all reason. As Canadian Cynic reminds us, The Stephen himself is predicting another minority government. Harper's mentor Tom Flanagan argues that it's a strategic move--that Harper wants to destroy the Liberal Party by attrition. But this makes little sense to me. A loss for the Liberals will inevitably trigger the ouster of the hapless Stéphane Dion, and Stéphane Dion has been the best friend a minority Conservative government leader could ever wish for. Harper's claim that Parliament has become "dysfunctional," furthermore, is not borne out by the plain facts: the last session of Parliament was actually a very productive one indeed.

How a Fall election can redound to Harper's credit, then, is a bit of a mystery. He has given Canadians
right across the political spectrum ample reasons to fear and loathe him, and these are fresh in our minds, too--listeriosis, public service purges, ideologically-driven culture cutbacks, at least the suspicion of illegal election fund activity, Cadmangate, deliberate disruption of parliamentary committees, and now unfixed election dates into the bargain. Even the National Post can't figure it out: I, for one, find the tone of this editorial quite telling.

An old friend from the NCR-Freenet days, however, raises an intriguing possibility in an email. He cheerfully admits that this may be venturing perhaps too deeply into tinfoil hat territory. But in his words:

Call me paranoid, but I've always felt that Stephen Harper's crew wants to
bring Canada and the U.S. as close together as possible. Now, having
enacted legislation that puts our elections on the same four-year cycle,
they seem to be arranging it so that the elections will occur in the same

Maybe this is deliberate, and maybe not. In any case it wouldn't hurt to
consider the scenarios. Would synchronized elections have any effect on
the national psyche? On campaign financing? On the framing of election
issues? On party strategies? On the implementation of political agendas?

All good questions. Comments?

H/t CC and Impolitical

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