Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Alberta...

The Chief Electoral Officer releases a list of recommendations based on the March, 2008 General Election.

It's a pretty comprehensive list (including allowing inmates the right to vote - sorry, but no), however the 2 recommendations getting the most public attention are the proposed change to how Deputy Returning Officers are hired, and the suggested implementation of fixed election dates.

Premier Stelmach has already announced he has every intention of letting Elections Alberta recruit and hire DRO's, to avoid some of the ugliness of the last campaign. He has even hinted strongly they should be ready to go by the next provincial election, which will be held "in 2012, on or around the same time (March)" - I'm going to hold you to that, Mr. Premier. King Eddie, however, stopped short of endorsing the recommendation for fixed election dates.

Now, there's plenty of room for disagreement on this issue... in fact, there's word that several provincial Tories will be bringing the fixed election date issue to the Alberta PC AGM at the start of October. I'm willing to listen to arguments that have nothing to do with partisan advantage about why fixed election dates are a bad idea - although, going INTO those discussions, I confess I'm a fan of fixed election dates. I think they're good policy (when FOLLOWED - not mentioning any names), and if Ed wants to ensure his re-election in 2012, all he has to do is legislate the next election date - Albertans absolutely LOVE electoral reforms that make things at least SEEM more fair and transparent... Triple E senate, fixed election dates, right of recall, there was even talk about term limits for a while... this is the bread and butter of the old Reform Party, which was the last political entity that actually made the Alberta PC's nervous (there had been talk of going provincial when it seemed Ottawa would shut them out forever). Adopting any or all of those planks as part of an electoral reform package might level the playing field a bit (which might stand to hurt the PC's EVENTUALLY), but by virtue of the fact that Albertans would know that Ed made those changes when he didn't have to, and when he had something to lose by so doing, they'd reward him for it. Remember: One of the reasons Washington is so revered is because he gave up some of the powers that Congress was trying to give him.

The quote that raised my eyebrow in Spock-esque fashion this morning was this:

"I've looked at municipalities that have had fixed election dates since their inception and voter turnout has been extremely poor, much lower than what we experienced in the last election"
Well, yeah... but those are municipalities. Canadians, for whatever reason, are more likely to show up and vote in elections if the winner's official residence is further away. Take Calgary's voters, for example:

2007 Municipal Election (fixed): 209,748 votes cast for Mayor.
2008 Provincial Election (non-fixed): 279,719 votes cast
2006 Federal Election (non-fixed): ~429,207 votes cast

Now, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me - municipal politicians are the ones who make the decisions that affect you most on a day-to-day basis - but that's a post for another time. The fact is, whether or not Ed is sure that fixed dates will HELP voter turn-out... they certainly can't HURT it, can they?

Consider the case of San Jose, California... it has a similar population to Calgary, and fixed election dates for municipal, state and (of course) federal elections.

2006 Mayoral Election: 125,775 votes cast
2006 Gubernatorial Election: ~400,000 votes cast
2004 Presidential Election: ~600,000 votes cast

Again, the municipal numbers are way lower - but I don't see that as having anything to do with the fact that it's a fixed election date... it's just about the fact that it's a municipal election, and the voters (foolishly, in my opinion) don't care. The state election had a fixed date, and voter turn-out was FAR higher than Calgary's participation in the Alberta General Election of 2008.

Now, I know we're not them, and they're not us... but, they've got fixed election dates there, and UNlike Alberta, where the jump from voter participation in municipal and state/provincial races was less than 50%, their vote count more than doubled (they have even less of an excuse than we do, as their mayoral and gubernatorial elections happened on the same day, in the same polling stations).

So, to sum up: Ed and I disagree on this issue. Don't worry, I'm not going to let it affect the relationship we've spent so much time cultivating - we'll still go fishing, crack open a couple of cold ones... but, where Ed looks at the recommendation and sees no reason to believe it will HELP, I look at it and see no reason it could HURT. I mean, he's already said "on or around (March of 2012)"... so what does it hurt to enshrine that date in law?

It will be interesting to see how the government responds if the fixed date issue is put to a vote and passes at the PC AGM... on the one hand, you've got frustrated grassroots party members who feel the AGM's are just an expensive waste of time, and that caucus ignores the results of the discussions anyhow... on the other hand, you've got all sorts of back-room strategists who want to leave the door open to pick-and-choose their date... ultimately, I've got to trust my Premier to do the right thing. He hasn't led me astray yet.

And in the world of politics, when consensus is unavailable, the only real currency you have is trust. Following many of the CEO's recommendations would engender that trust with a large number of Alberta's intelligent, moderate, not-rabidly-partisan electorate. And THAT, Dear Edward, is a ticket to another majority...

and another...

and another...

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