Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

For Americans, their political system is set on a very specific clock. Without an intense overhaul of their political system anyone can tell you the date of every major election they will have between now and.... well forever I suppose. Whether the American Republic will last forever is a different discussion altogether (though the answer is no).

The reason the Americans can tell you when their elections will be is because they have set election dates. On the first Tuesday after November 1st elections are held. If you ask when the next federal election will be to a Canadian, at best, he or she could give an educated guess. Or worse, a wild stab in the dark. I follow Canadian politics closely and I have no idea. So-called experts can only hazard a guess. Right now the person who is in the most control of the date of the next Canadian election is the Prime Minister himself, Stephen Harper, and I bet he does not even know when the next election will occur. Unless he’s scheming.

Canada, for the most part does not have fixed election dates. Most parliaments in Canada are only allowed to sit for a maximum of five years, unless there is a major crisis – such as war, which can extend it. Parliaments can fall at any time. A simple motion of no-confidence sponsored by the opposition or the government would lead to an election following dissolution.

Four jurisdictions in Canada have fixed, or semi-fixed election dates: British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories chose to fix elections because holding elections in the winter in such a jurisdiction was less than pleasant.

In Canada municipalities also have fixed election dates. Elections, for the most part, are held every four years at roughly the same time.

What made me write this was something I noticed about American media coverage following the 2010 Midterms. Within hours of the outcome becoming clear the pundits and newscasters began to postulate on 2012. That, generally speaking, does not happen in Canada. When an election finishes in Canada, or even Britain, there is about a week worth of analysis, maybe more if it was a close election. Then the media usually starts focusing on the “What next?” story.

Questions circulate over how the new Premier/Prime Minister will govern, who he or she will bring into Cabinet, if there will be a coalition and what policies will come forward. Then, because we just finished an election, we are generally spared election talk for about 6 months. Then periodic crises (if it is a minority parliament) draw our attention to the possibility of an election. Elections come and go, and after about 8 weeks it’s all over. Between these periods is, generally, governing. On the other hand with two years until the 2012 elections the American political machine is gearing up. Governing will take a backseat to partisanship for the next two years. I’ll take political jockeying over elections over non-stop politics any day.

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