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Conservatives’ False Claims About Fixed-Election-Date Law Bite Back -- Federal Election Should Not Be Held Until House of Commons Votes Against Significant Government Measure, and Until Other Key Issues are Resolved

“What we have is a situation where the prime minister is able to choose the date of the election, not based necessarily on the best interests of the country but on the best interests of his or her political party.  I believe Bill C-16 would address those concerns. . . . This Prime Minister will live by the law and spirit of this particular piece of legislation.  He and this government are driving this democratic reform. ”

Hon. Rob Nicholson (then-Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform), in the House of Commons, September 18, 2006

Friday, September 5, 2008

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch criticized Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper for trying to fix the results by calling a snap federal election instead of living by the spirit of his government’s law that fixes the next election date in October 2009 (unless the House of Commons votes against a significant government measure).
Prime Minister Harper’s behind-closed-door meetings with opposition party leaders (all of whom should have insisted on meeting in public) about the Conservatives’ supposed fall legislative agenda do not prove in any way whether the House of Commons has confidence in the Conservative government, nor does the Prime Minister’s completely false claim that Parliament is currently “dysfunctional”.
The simple reality is that federal election dates can only be fixed by making fundamental changes to the Canadian constitution, and that the ruling party’s power during a majority government to choose the next election date is shared with opposition parties during a minority government (whether Prime Minister Harper likes it or not).
“The Conservatives’ claim that their law fixed federal election dates is as false as their claim that the Accountability Act cleaned up the federal government,”
said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “Instead of fixing the date of the next election, the Conservatives are trying to fix the results of the next election.”

Instead of his misleading snap-election charade, Prime Minister Harper should have sought the agreement of opposition party leaders that the only confidence vote between now and October 2009 would be the next federal budget.  This would have had the democratizing effects of allowing free votes by MPs on many issues, and giving advance notice of the next election (March-April 2009 or September-October 2009) which would make the election more fair for all parties, and likely increase voter participation.
There are many other public-interest reasons not to hold a federal election right now, and reasons for the party leaders to all agree to fix the next election date for spring or fall 2009.  People with children are usually very busy with this beginning-of-school time period, as are students, and if they have moved to a new city for school they often don't have proof they live there (making it more difficult for them to register to vote and to participate in the election).  As well, knowing the election date well in advance allows people to plan their lives so they can participate more in the election.
In addition, delaying the election until at least spring 2009 would give time to pass key bills, as well as complete various investigations and court cases, on key good government issues, as follows:

  • a proposed law that bans loans to election candidates (except by banks and other financial institutions) is still under review by the Senate, and until it passes the loans loophole will allow anyone to buy off a candidate in violation of the spirit of donation limits that came into effect a few years ago;
  • the investigation and court case concerning limits on spending on advertising by local candidates is not completed, and holding an election when limits are not clearly defined will likely lead to abuse in election spending;
  • court case filed by Democracy Watch has not been completed, and as a result it is unclear exactly what lobbyists can do to help candidates and parties during elections;
  • another court case filed by Democracy Watch has not been completed, and as a result it is unclear whether Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet violated the federal Conflict of Interest Act by making decisions concerning the Mulroney-Schreiber affair;
  • the federal Ethics Commissioner has still not ruled on whether Finance Minister Jim Flaherty violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he handed out a contract to a friend, and;
  • last but certainly not least, there are 90 loopholes in the federal government’s accountability and decision-making system that need to be closed, including loopholes that allow party leaders to lie to voters when making election promises, that allow secret donations to nomination race candidates, and that allow party leaders to dictate who will be the candidate in any riding (To see the list of the 90 loopholes, click here)

“Until key ongoing good government issues are resolved, and until dozens of accountability loopholes are closed, any federal election will result in yet another dishonest, unethical, secretive, unrepresentative and wasteful federal government,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “Will all the federal parties work together to ensure these issues are resolved and changes made so that the next election will be fair and will produce a democratic federal government?

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, Tel: (613) 241-5179


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