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As I See It

The stew has started to bubble again up on the Hill in Ottawa as the various sides begin to position themselves for a possible election.

The stew has started to bubble again up on the Hill in Ottawa as the various sides begin to position themselves for a possible election.

With the dawn of 2011 just around the corner, marking the third year since the last federal election, and the fifth since the minority Conservative Party took office, it seems the feds have election fever again, and the parties are preparing for what some commentators are saying will be a spring election.

False alarms are becoming pretty regular things in Ottawa, as befits a situation where the government is run by a party with minority status in the commons.

Each side vies with the other, and the most sure-fire sign that an election will be coming is, as always, the polling numbers.

Once one side or another sees itself strong in the polls, relative to the other parties, you can bet safe money that there will be an election push.

Of course, with a minority government in power, this means that the opposition parties have to come to a consensus for a non-confidence vote to be pushed through.

So for example, if the Liberals find themselves ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, they may well want to trigger an election.

However, if the growth in support for the Liberals comes at the expense of NDP votes, it is possible the NDP would refuse to join the non-confidence motion.

For the Harper government on the other hand, they can dissolve government and trip an election any time they feel the need to.

While Canada does not have a set election schedule, it does have a maximum amount of time a government can serve without an election set within the constitutional framework.

Section 4 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressed rules that no government may serve longer than five years from the date of the writ of the previous election.

Recognizing that in some circumstance an election may be disruptive, subsection 2 of Section 4 does lay out certain circumstances where a government may continue to sit without election beyond the five-year mark.

Subsection 4 states specifically, "In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be."

While the five-year limit effectively ensures that no one government will become monolithic in its power, a government serving out the full five years is a relative rarity in Canadian federal politics.

In fact, since Confederation, fewer than 10 governments have served out their full five-year mandates without calling or being forced into an election before the mandatory limit.

While some find fault with the present system of election, I believe that it is a effective way of keeping our political representatives on their toes, and therefore response to the general demands of the electorate.

Many political commentators in academia point to set election schedules as an erosive influence on the democratic process.

While often the politicking of the first period of an election cycle will see substantial (in terms of party leaning) legislation passed, as the election cycle comes to an end, less and less gets done, it is argued, as the parties align themselves for the next election.

In the case of the U.S. presidency, the argument is that the first two years are when real work gets done, and the last two years are when real electioneering gets done.

While some may find fault with this hypothesis, I myself am interested in seeing how the scheduled elections of Saskatchewan play out over the next few cycles.

As for the federal government, it will be interesting to see when it is the next election is called, and to see whether or not the prognosis of a spring 2011 election will come true.

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