Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fughetabout Fixed Election Dates

We promised no election news on this site until October 14. Promise made, promise kept, as someone used to say.

One lesson from this campaign: let's forget this nonsense about fixed election date laws.

Not just because they don't work. Though evidently they don't. The Canadian fixed election date law did not restrain Stephen Harper from pulling the plug when he thought it most suited his interests. And the courts could not intervene. And Harper seems to have suffered no political damage from his action.

But the stronger reason to avoid fixing the election date: fixed dates make for long campaigns, and short campaigns work fine. Prime Minister Harper called the election when he thought he was most favoured and made the campaign as short as he possibly could. And yet the polls have been all over the place ever since the writ was dropped. The advantage of choosing the most favourable date has proven, once again, to be no real advantage at all. The campaigns of the various contenders are much more important than where they were at the start of the campaign.

The standing the Tories had when they called the election is already an artefact of polling history. But if we had known the October 14 date a year ago, the parties would have been out campaigning all year -- probably only helping the party with the most money (i.e., the party currently in power).

Give me short election campaigns, and I won't worry about who gets to set the date.

Correction: I wrote "the courts could not intervene" on the understanding that a legal challenge issued when the election was called had been dismissed. Actually it is pending. The courts refused to block this election, that is, but may return to the question. Democracy Watch, the organization litigating the matter, presents its case here.
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