Thursday August 21, 2014

Fixed election dates cause problems, too

While fixed elections dates addressed some theoretically  problematic aspects of our electoral system, they certainly created others.

Maybe it’s time to turn the clock back and rethink this grand experiment in democratic process. Perhaps there is some value in mystery and surprise, after all.

For those who don’t remember, former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell introduced B.C.’s fixed election date legislation in 2001, calling for Canada’s first ever set election in May 2005. We’ve been on the four-year schedule since.

The remedy was designed in part to remove from government what many thought was inordinate control of the electoral process. As well, it was hoped fixed dates would improve voter turnout, which has been in decline for the last several years.

Has it achieved the goals? On the first point, there is little doubt the ability to call an election amounts to a powerful tool in a governing party’s electioneering toolkit. Careful attention to the winds of public opinion allows savvy strategists to predict when the dropping of a writ most favours their party.

Fixed election dates seem to nullify the tool, but do they completely? Savvy governments are still able to develop policy and plan government spending that best suits their purpose. Some might argue, at the least, it makes the process more transparent but only marginally so. As we’ve seen with the recent ethnic planning
scandal, a great deal of  behind-the-scenes scheming is still possible.

How about voter turnouts? Have they improved? The stats indicate a marginal improvement but to peg that entirely on fixed date elections is impossible.

The reality is, there is as much potential to turn off voters with fixed dates as there is to invigorate them with new civic passion. As we are seeing, fixed dates extend the electoral cycle dramatically. The election is set for May 14, but we are already in the campaign. It’s likely many of B.C.’s average folk will be sick of politics by the time May rolls around.

There was a time when a five-week election campaign, dropped on voters out of the blue, meant something.

Maybe it should be made to mean something again.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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