law so badly misunderstood that politicians and parties tolerate an unwanted,
unpopular premier in order to avoid an election. A government without the
political capital to change important public policy becomes trapped with
unwanted leadership and winds up paralyzed. The public grows more
apathetic or, worse, angry… and the whole province suffers as a result.
through it under Kathy Dunderdale. Now, with Dwight Ball flailing
badly as the province’s First Minister, it seems that we have lost the ability
to determine a course to provide renewal of the province’s political
have to be that way.
everyone doesn’t understand is the one that requires an election within a year
of changing Premiers, unless the timing of a general election makes the
law has its roots in events starting in February 2001 when Roger Grimes won the
leadership of the Liberal party and became premier of the province. In
April 2001, Danny Williams won the leadership of the PC party and, two months
later, took a seat in the House of Assembly becoming Leader of the Opposition.
two years, Williams taunted Roger Grimes and raged that he was an illegitimate
premier. Williams justified his attack on Grimes because he had not won a
mandate in a general election. In the ensuing 2003 campaign, Williams
defeated Grimes and became Premier.
of any kind existed for William’s proposition that Premier Roger Grimes was an illegitimate
leader, or to suggest he was not the lawful premier of the province. In fact, the
Canadian Constitution and historical precedent, if any were needed, confirmed
that Roger Grimes had every right to govern as Premier until the Legislature
was dissolved by His Honour, the Lieutenant- Governor, who — alone — signs the
writ of election.
wasn’t good enough for Danny Williams and, as Premier, he sought to create new
rules by legislative means. On November 29, 2004, the Williams government
tabled an amendment in the Legislature to the Elections Act, 1991.
legislation essentially made three changes: first, it set the date for the
provincial general election to the second Tuesday in October every four years;
second, it required an election if the sitting Premier resigned more than a
year from the fixed date; and, third, it required that a by-election be called
within 60 days of a member having resigned, replacing the previous 90 day limit.
rules have served to create several misconceptions about the permanence of fixed
date elections in this province. The easiest short-cut through them is to
understand that there is no way to permanently “fix” an election date, short of an amendment to the Canadian Constitution.
Statute by itself cannot immutably restrict the actions of a future
government. Indeed, this very fact is acknowledged in the Act’s first clause
which states that “the Lieutenant-Governor may, by proclamation in Her
Majesty’s name, prorogue or dissolve the House of Assembly when the
Lieutenant-Governor sees fit.”
a theoretical point; indeed, there is nothing theoretical in our Constitution about
the role of Her Majesty, in whose name the Lieutenant-Government serves.
Statute exists under federal legislation. Changes to the Federal Elections
Act require that each general election takes place on the third Monday in
October in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with
October 19, 2009. Since November 6, 2006, there have been elections on
October 15, 2008, May 2, 2011 and October 19, 2015 — based on precisely the
same provision invoked in the case of this province’s Elections Act.
point has already been made. The “fixed” election date is, in fact, not fixed
at all. Governments have
the ability to change any Statute. Any time a government prefers a different
election date or some new rule, it can occur as long as the maximum constitutionally
prescribed period between elections is honoured. The only other requirement is the
approval of the House of Assembly.
about the election of a new premier also derive from the notion that the fixed
election date is inviolate. In this case, too, the idea that an election
must be called within a prescribed period after a new First Minster has been sworn-in has no constitutional
underpinning. Such novelties can be altered or obliterated — as long as the
House of Assembly concurs.
argue further that the election rules promulgated under the Williams
Government have no value, and that they actually work against the best interests
of the province.
likely unintended consequence of the requirement for an election when a Premier
has been replaced mid-term, is that it encourages unwanted or unpopular
premiers to stay in Office longer than they should. In so doing, they prevent
much needed Party (and possibly wider political) renewal.
are not optimists; they are opportunists. If a government caucus — one having
political difficulties — thinks that replacing an unpopular Premier will
trigger an election they may lose, they will have no incentive to hasten their
own defeat. They will endure the unwanted leadership, and take no action to
replace the failing incumbent. The Members will stay in office for as long as
possible, rather than for just the one year period current legislation affords.
possibly including Danny Williams, have forgotten that under the British parliamentary
system premiers are not elected. The electorate votes for individual MHAs. The
selection of a leader is the role of the political party. The party that has the
confidence of the House of Assembly — often but not always the one with the largest
caucus — becomes the government. Its leader, in turn, becomes the Premier.
public doesn’t directly elect premiers, the legislation promulgated in the Williams era is a peculiar solution to what is essentially a non-problem.
having voted in an election, select their party of choice. As long as that
party retains the confidence of the Legislature, it ought to govern for the
period to which it is constitutionally entitled. The idea that the departure of
one MHA — who happens to be the Premier — should force an entirely new general
election is presumptuous, unnecessary, and inconsistent with the processes of