Saturday, September 06, 2008

Every Two Years, On the Dot

<<--See also: "Canada has elections?"

It’s all but official, but it looks like Canada is heading for an election on Oct. 14th. I am looking at this story with detached amusement because Prime Minister Stephen Harper is calling for the dissolution of Parliament and new elections which flies in the face of a law he touted and later passed that called for fixed elections… which this is not. I’m also amused since I’m one of five Americans who are actually paying scant attention to our neighbors to the north. Just kidding. The simplified version of this story is that PM Harper ran with a promise to have fixed elections every four years. He even got the bill passed into law. Of course, the fine print still allows for elections if a no-confidence vote passes. Apparently, Mr. Harper and the conservatives, reading the tea leaves, decided that their party would fare better if they called for elections now than if they waited until next year when the next election was due to occur. Although technically not in violation of the statute, the Right "Honourable" Stephen Harper certainly violates the spirit of the law.

What I am confused on his how the Prime Minister can ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. I thought that a motion of no-confidence had to be voted on.

The Westminster model of government has been shown to be the most stable form of representative democracy but it is definitely a model that I am glad that I don’t live under. It is the supremacy of the legislative body being the main, and perhaps, all-encompassing reason. An example of what I think is abusive power is the ability to call for snap elections and to vote themselves a continuance of power.

In the United States, this does not happen. We do not have snap elections because Congress can’t be dissolved before the next session. The Constitution (which is supreme, not Congress) calls specifically for regular elections due to the constrains of the various offices it outlines. The limits being two years for congressmen, four years for the President, and six years for senators with the provision that one-third of the senate is voted on every two years. These terms are fixed and can’t be changed by the government. The only way to do that is to amend the Constitution which would be practically impossible given the political culture of republicanism with Americans.

The problem that is currently happening in Canada is exactly one the kind of things that the Framers were trying address when they drafted a Constitution that called for fixed elections. It was pretty much a disgust of an abusive Parliament in Great Britain that shaped the American government as we now know it. Before the revolution, the royal governors had the ability to dissolve the colonial assemblies and call for elections at will. Enshrining the idea of fixed terms and thus fixed elections was the response.

Consider this: The United States of America has not missed an election since the Republic was founded. Contrast that with the history of the Parliaments of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom which has a history of prolonging their sessions and even suspending elections well into the 20th century. And while custom dictates that elections be held “frequently” what the hell does “frequently” mean? Well by whatever definitions the government wishes. Bothered with the need to have elections every five years because Parliament can only sit that long? Pass a bill that extends it. There is nothing that prevents a parliamentary legislature from legislating itself out of an inconvenient political problem. I find that to be disturbing.

Good luck to you Canada, we’ve got our own freak show to watch… not that we’d watch yours even if we didn’t. Sorry.


Sooo-this-is-me said...

Don't feel bad David (and I know you don't)most Canadians polled said they are more interested in your elections at the moment than ours! Our guys are as dull as paint drying and the election will solve nothing, so far it looks like the number of seats for each party will not change by much. The thing about snap elections though is they can back-fire if people feel that a party is trying to trick them, causing them to vote the other way. Finally Harper being very right wing is afraid that a win by Obama, may cause Canadians to vote left again, that is why he rushed to have it before your elections down there, Canadians however are aware of what he is doing, it is just that the other two choices appear weak to us.

David said...

Most Canadians? Wow, we can't even get most Americans to vote.