Monday, 31 August 2015

History of Five Elections

Back in 2012 (before this blog), I posted a little timeline on Facebook I titled “History of Four Elections”. Seems like it’s time to update that. Follow along to learn a bit more about Canadian federal politics. I’m going to try to avoid bias, and look at this with an eye to democracy, though I have an opinion at the end.
This is Canada. Just to be clear.


It was June 28, 2004, after a 36-day campaign (the minimum required length at the time). Liberal minority government. This was the first election featuring the new Conservative Party (following the merge of the Progressive Conservatives and Reform Party). Of note, Paul Martin (Liberal), Stephen Harper (Conservative) and Jack Layton (NDP) were all new leaders for their parties in that election.

The sponsorship scandal had become a problem for the Liberals even before that. In 2005, Paul Martin went on national television, promising to call an election within 30 days of the final report coming out (scheduled for February 1st, 2006). But after Justice John Gomery’s first report came out on November 1st, 2005, opposition parties united against the Liberals.

On November 28, 2005, Stephen Harper tabled a motion of non-confidence bluntly reading "This House has lost confidence in the government". It passed. This was historic, as being the first time a Canadian government fell on a straight motion of non-confidence, not one attached to a budget or other legislation. (The sponsorship scandal was not part of the motion.)


Was January 23, 2006, after a 55-day campaign to allow for the holidays. Conservative minority government. On May 3, 2007, Parliament passed the Fixed Election Dates Act (“Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act”), which put federal elections every four years, unless the government loses the confidence of the House. (Meaning an election October 19, 2009.) The thought was that Harper was trying to prevent prime ministers from calling elections "on a whim".

In September 2007, Harper delayed the opening of Parliament. This was the first time he would “prorogue” the federal government. I admit that I probably wouldn’t bring this up, if not for the later instances (see below) and what happened one year later. Namely:

On September 7, 2008, Harper called an election "on a whim". Wait, what? (Doesn't this violate the above law? Loopholes?) His reasoning was “Parliament has become dysfunctional” and he needed a “renewed mandate”. September is apparently not his month.


Was October 14, 2008, after a 37-day campaign. This was literally the day after Canadian Thanksgiving, that’s why it wasn’t on a Monday. Conservative minority government. Again. (With a few more seats.) In November 2008, the Conservatives proposed an end to per-vote subsidies. Similar to 2005, opposition parties united, this time against the Conservatives.

On December 4th, 2008, Harper prorogued the government until the end of January. This prevented any vote of non-confidence or challenge from occurring (which could have led to a Liberal-NDP coalition government, rather than another election). For those unaware, all bills in progress DO get killed when this happens, so I feel it's relevant to election history.

On December 30th, 2009, a year later, Harper AGAIN prorogued the government for two months, which delayed hearings into the Afghan detainee scandal - though he cited the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games and economic “recalibration” as his reasons. To be fair, this had some precedent. Jean Chretien did it in November 2003, to avoid the tabling of the Adscam scandal - citing the Liberal leadership turnover to Martin.

Aside: July 2010. Conservative government kills the long form census. The Chief Statistician (himself appointed by Harper in 2008!) resigns over use of the new "voluntary survey". I know this isn’t strictly parliamentary, but it’s a personal pet peeve. Even Rick Mercer ranted about this.
Obligatory Rick Mercer reference made!

On March 25, 2011, Michael Ignatieff (then Liberal leader) tabled a motion expressing non-confidence, finding the government to be in contempt of Parliament. It passed. Harper’s Conservatives became the first government in Canadian history to be found in contempt. “A government that breaks the rules and conceals the facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office,” Ignatieff said.


Was May 2, 2011, after a 37-day campaign. Conservative majority government. Yes, Canada re-elected the government that had been found in contempt. The NDP (New Democratic Party) formed the Official Opposition, as opposed to the Liberals (Ignatieff lost his own seat). Elizabeth May also won the Green Party their first federal seat.

In September 2013, Harper delayed (“prorogued”) the opening of Parliament. If you’re keeping score, this is his fourth time - which again has precedent, Chretien also did it four times.

Pictured: Elections Canada
In February 2014, the “Fair Elections Act” (Bill C-23) was introduced. It would pass in June. Here’s Everything you need to know about the Fair Elections Act. Paring that down to three points here: 1) Elections Canada can no longer encourage people to cast ballots (no advertising). 2) “Vouching” (voting using your voter information card, among other ways) is out. And 3) donation limits to party campaigns went up, spending also pegged more to the length of election campaigns.

The “Fixed Election Dates Act” (see 2007) had already set the next election for October 19, 2015 (four years after 2011). Traditionally, there are two televised debates prior to the election - one in English, the other in French - arranged by the television consortium of the CBC, Global News, and CTV. The Conservatives rejected this, instead taking debate proposals from other sources. (The NDP has since said they won’t attend debates that don’t include the Prime Minister.)

On August 2nd, 2015, Harper set things in motion, meaning a 78-DAY CAMPAIGN. This is the longest Canadian election campaign in over 100 years. Compared to 2011, there are 15 additional seats in Ontario, 6 in Alberta, 6 in British Columbia and 3 in Quebec. This increases the total number of seats in the House to 338.


Will be October 19, 2015. I am pretty sure we’re looking at a Conservative minority government. (FYI, we've reached the opinion section here.)

I’ve decided to put my reasoning for that into my subsequent post. If you want to shout at me for the opinion, go there. If you have FACTUAL corrections or clarifications, THOSE can go here. 

In the meantime, I'll conclude this post the same way I ended things in 2012: I think everyone needs to vote. If you support what Harper has done (or at least what his local MPP has done), vote Conservative. If, like me, you think this undemocratic nonsense has gone on long enough, vote for someone else. But vote. Don't sit back and "protest" by not voting or spoiling your ballot - because really, in my opinion, that's just condoning Harper's actions.

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