While part of the reason I don’t like fixed election dates in Canada is simply that it’s not our tradition and it feels strange to me, there are a few more important issues at hand: Extremely long pre-campaign campaigns & uncontrolled pre-election spending.
From The Gazette’s editorial “Spending caps should cover run-up to elections“:
But it’s citizens — not the opposition parties — who are the real losers here. In addition to being subjected to a year-long pre-electoral period, former Elections Canada head Jean-Pierre Kingsley has noted that Canadians are witnessing “the erosion of the financial controls that Canada has been developing over several generations. … When we lose the financial controls, we lose the ability to maintain what we call the level playing field, which is at the very core of our Elections Act.”
The rise of third-party groups like the now-defunct HarperPAC and left-leaning Engage Canada, which have raised money independently and funded ads in support of the parties, represent another by-product of the fixed-date system and, as Kingsley pointed out, could send Canada down a path similar to the U.S., where these groups amass and spend huge amounts of cash to influence political outcomes.
The idea of fixed elections became trendy at one point in the mid oughts and the Harper Government passed a fixed election date law in 2007 (which they then broke because it was convenient for them in 2008, but that’s for another blog post). As the Conservatives have been in a majority situation since 2011, the 2015 election is really the first time our country is experiencing the fixed-election cycle – and it’s bad.
Can anyone remember a campaign that started so early? Sure, there have always been pre-election goodies spread out by governments that indicated the writ would be dropped, but there was always a mystery to it that prevented everyone from truly kicking into election gear.
This time around, the campaign is already in full swing and has been for probably a year. It’s not only exhausting, but is creating a situation of uncontrolled spending by outside interest groups that support one party or another.
At the very least, lest we go down the road of US-style politics where the winner is usually just the highest bidder, we need major controls put into place. Since it has money and given its history of taking its ball and going home when it doesn’t get its way, I doubt the Harper Government will be the ones to pass any such controls.
Let’s hope this is the first and last election campaign that goes down this way