qOtd: Should Alberta adopt fixed election dates?
Nation, this is an issue that's near and dear to my heart - and thus, it's the subject of our initial qOtd.
Fixed election dates are employed throughout many jurisdictions. Locally, our municipal elections are held on fixed dates (I can tell you, for example, on what date the municipal elections of 2019 will happen). Elections in the United States are held on a fixed schedule as well. Barack Obama knows exactly when his first term will end. For that matter, he knows exactly when his SECOND term will end, if the voters give him one.
The benefits to fixed dates for elections is that everyone knows they're coming. If we know there's an election in 2 months, then the massive funding announcement you made today is as transparent as the aluminum that Scotty used to build the whale tank in Star Trek IV. If we know there's going to be an election on November 3rd, 2011, then Elections Alberta can hire people to work during the campaign, they can enumerate voters, and they'll know - months in advance - what day they'll need elections officers to be working.
In the British Parliamentary tradition, however, we don't have fixed election dates. Elections are called by the monarch or by the designate in the monarch's stead: The "writ" of election is issued, and the election begins. While putting this power in the hands of the Queen or her ceremonial representative seems anachronistic, it is always either done at the behest of the governing party (in a majority) or after a minority government loses a vote of non-confidence in the house. The longest that an Alberta Legislative Assembly may sit without an election is 5 years - so, in effect, our legislatures DO have an "expiry date", if not a fixed date of elections. Presumably, if the Premier didn't ask the Lt. Governor to issue the writ before those 5 years are up, the Lt. Governor would do so of their own accord (it's never happened, to my knowledge).
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I know people who I respect greatly who disagree with me on this, but to my mind if a legislative body is to have any democratic credibility, they need to make it clear from the outset when they will next be going to the voters.
The current system places FAR too much power in the hands of the ruling party. They can have an election called when the opposition is down in the polls. They can have an election called when another party has just changed leaders (as we saw the federal Liberals do when Stockwell Day won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance). They can set the election to suit their own agenda - and whether or not they do so, the fact that they have the POWER to do so is fundamentally undemocratic, in my view.
Now, there's a twist to this, of course: In our system, unlike the U.S. system, the opposition can "bring down" the government. If you set election dates for the first Monday on May, once every 4 years, what do you do if the opposition brings down the government halfway through its term? Or in January of the 4th year? You hold an election, of course - we need to be governed by a duly elected body. But do you then re-set the clock, and start counting 4 years from the date of the last election? Because that's essentially what we've got now - except the clock re-sets to 5 years, and no one's ever gone the distance (that I know of, anyway).
There are a lot of details to work on, I know. And I'm perfectly willing to hear you out if you disagree with me on this issue. But to my mind, we need fixed election dates in this province. It's the only fair way to hold elections. It's fair to the opposition parties. It's fair to the public. It's fair to Elections Alberta.
And if you can't win a FAIR election - you probably shouldn't be in a position to hold an UNfair one.
That's MY take - what's yours?