A Promise Broken
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with my friend, Esther, who is the booking person for the Calmar Legion. My theatre group has rented the hall for the week before our next production to build the set and whatnot. She was concerned that another booking may conflict with the night of our tech rehearsal which is set for April 27.
She told me a caller had said they’re looking at possible dates for an election. They wanted to pencil in that April 27th date. Esther wasn’t sure, however, whether it was federal or provincial officials who had contacted her.
I mentioned that it seemed odd to have an election when both levels of government are in jurisdictions that are bound by legislation holding them to fixed election dates. By law, neither of them can go to the polls for at least another year.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Esther. “You can’t trust those politicians.”
Therein lies the problem of fixed election date legislation; politicians lie about their commitment to it. The legislation is always much ballyhooed when introduced. Unfortunately, the law is immediately torn to shreds the instant a party sniffs the air and decides the electoral wind is in their favour.
Why is it important to have fixed election dates? Let’s hear from one expert,
“Currently the Premier is able to choose the date of the general election… A drawback of this approach is the perception that the chosen election date is purely political. This is not the perception we want the public to have. We want to inspire an even greater confidence in our electoral system, we want Albertans to trust in the integrity and fairness of the system.”
The person who said that was then-Alberta Attorney General Verlyn Olson who was discussing the fixed election bill when it was enacted by the Redford government.
However, despite the fact that many in Prentice’s caucus voted heartily for the bill and vocally supported it with eloquence and self-congratulation, there is no doubt they will hew to the party line and turn their backs on their high ideals at Prentice’s behest.
And what will they gain? The ruling PCs already have 70 of 87 seats. Just how much of a majority do they feel they need? What, exactly, is Prentice in a rush for? (I am assuming it is Prentice since he seems more foaming-at-the-mouth to call an election than Harper is.)
It seems apparent Prentice has been reading the polls recently. Although he came in a respectable second in the survey of popularity of provincial premiers, to the greatly admired Brad Wall, unsurprisingly, he has dropped almost ten points in approval ratings in recent weeks. He has been recently assailed for his remarks blaming Albertans for the over-spending of the government, has not replaced former Wildrose members who crossed the floor to the government side, and has floated such trial balloons as a provincial sales tax, an annual Alberta Health Care fee, and other revenue-raising plans that affect those least able to afford it, rather than cutting the gold-plated services Prentice claims we demand.
Prentice sees his popularity is slipping away and wants to strike while the iron is still hot enough, despite recent cooling, rather than face another year of the downward trend in approval before seeking another mandate.
Prentice must be betting that the outrage over tossing the fixed election date legislation will be muted by arguing he needs a new mandate to deal with the drop in oil prices. He can effectively maintain it’s fair to allow all the parties to state what they would do to deal with the drop in revenue. An election would do just that. The fact that a couple of the other parties are in the throes of leadership conventions isn’t his fault, after all.
However, to quote Verlyn Olson, once more, this is what the government pledged not so very long ago. “The opposition will know years ahead of time when the election is coming, and they can do everything they need to do to prepare. Albertans, again, are not going to be prejudiced in any way.”
Apparently, this point is also lost on the premier in his zeal to guarantee at least four more years of power rather than the one he has now.
It is plain to see why Prentice is making the move electorally that he is, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for the voters of Alberta. He’s simply reinforcing Esther’s observations about politicians’ trustworthiness.
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