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HomePolicy Articles Article Summary

Fixing Canada’s Unfixed Election Dates: A Political Season to Reduce the Democratic Deficit

Policy Matters by Henry Milner

This report was written by Henry Milner following the 2005 provincial election in British Columbia, an election that was held on a date predetermined by law – rather than customary Canadian tradition, with the leader of the governing party determining an election call. In this paper, the author asks whether Canadian democracy would be improved if fixed election dates were introduced at both the provincial and federal levels. For his study, he examined 40 democratic countries around the world, finding that only one-quarter of them have unfixed election dates. Milner suggests this is because fixed election dates improve democracy.

Milner examines and discredits the arguments considered to be the “standard” defences against holding fixed election dates. These include the belief that non-confidence motions keep governments more responsible (especially in minority government situations), and that fixed dates lead to long, and costlier, campaigns. Milner addresses these concerns, however, by explaining that minority governments are rare in Canadian political tradition, and that any additional costs associated with fixed election dates are worthwhile given the greater democratic outcome.Milner further suggests that fixed election dates improve overall democratic fairness, make elections more representative by providing advanced warning for potential candidates (Milner feels this will be especially advantageous for women), and reduce the influence of the Prime Minister and Premiers in being, largely, the sole arbiter of when elections are held. Milner also argues fixed election dates will increase voter turnout and reduce voter cynicism because politicians will not be able to manipulate election dates solely to the benefit of a given political party.

Finally, Milner makes a series or recommendations for how fixed election dates could be realized at both the national and provincial levels. He suggests that early fall is an ideal time for an election at either level of government in that the vacation season has ended and “political season” is just beginning again. Milner also offers a prescription for how to deal with premature elections. In sum, although he recognizes that fixed election dates are not going to happen immediately, he cites the British Columbia example as a measure of progress.

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Policy Publication Details

Author(s): Henry Milner;
Publisher: Institute for Research on Public Policy [ Visit Website ]
Year Published: 2005; Publisher Type: Research Institute
Publicly Available: Yes Research Focus: National; Provincial;
Registration Required: No Language: English
Payment Required: No Publication Format: Adobe PDF

Subjects / Categories:

Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement / Elections & Voting
Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement / Elections & Voting / 2005
Policy Articles / Citizen Engagement

Keywords / Tags:

Canada; elections; voting; fixed-date elections; fairness; representation; voter turnout; responsible government; minority government; campaign costs; "political season";