Fixed Election Dates
One of the topics of discussion in the 44th General Election was the question of fixed election dates and why they are rarely if ever adhered to. A discussion in Calgary pointed out that like Stephen Harper before him, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election in spite of the fact that a law exists calling for elections on a fixed date every four years.
Fixed election dates are the norm in many countries and are considered a way to stop the governing party from calling elections mid-term when they consider it is to their advantage, catching other parties off guard, using their governing position to receive free media coverage and so on.
Canada’s fixed election law was passed in May 2007 by Harper’s Conservative government. At the time, Harper stated that “fixed election dates prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage. They level the playing field for all parties and the rules are clear for everybody.”
The law, however, preserves the prerogative powers of the governor general as exercised by the prime minister to call an election outside the fixed dates. The fixed election law amended the Canada Elections Act, but clearly stated “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.” (While he or she is expected to act on the advice of the prime minister, Canada’s Constitution permits the governor general to retain certain constitutional discretion whether to accept the advice of the prime minister to dissolve Parliament. The governor general represents the foreign monarch who is Canada’s head of state. In other words, it is a function which puts the powers of the state above those of any governments which come and go.
Little more than a year after the law was passed, Harper himself called an early election, on September 7, 2008. The outcome was another Conservative minority government.
At the time, the organization Democracy Watch initiated court proceedings, arguing that the prime minister had violated his own fixed election law. In deciding that the law had not been broken, the court stated that the prime minister’s power “has its roots in the historical power of the Monarch.” The court also stated that the royal prerogative cannot be limited by an ordinary law, only through an amendment to the Canadian constitution.
Once it became clear that Trudeau would call an election in 2021 there were suggestions from some circles that the Governor General should deny the Prime Minister’s request for an election. The NDP made a big show of issuing an Open Letter on the matter and debate ensued as to whether or not the Governor General has the power to disregard the advice of the Prime Minister.
What the political pundits and cartel parties did not want to discuss is that whether it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister, the Governor General, the political police or other organs of the state, all of it originates from the Crown and all of it leaves the people out of the equation. This situation illustrates well that “democratic institutions” in which sovereignty is vested in a fictional person of state are designed to deprive the people of power.
The need for people’s empowerment to vest decision-making power in the people is the most important problem which is demanding a solution today.
1. As quoted by CBC News, May 26, 2006.
2. The Governor-General of Canada, Procedures for the Dissolution of Parliament and the Calling of an Election, https://www.gg.ca/en/procedures-dissolution-parliament-and-calling-election