The Harper Index

Fixed election date legislation led to snap election

One year after breaking his own law, Harper is still in control.

Fixed election date legislation led to snap election by Eric Mang

OTTAWA, September 10, 2009, HarperIndex.ca: On September 7, 2008, Stephen Harper called a federal election despite his government's own law that established fixed election dates. In 2006, Harper justified this legislation (which was set for October 19, 2009) stating: "Fixed election dates prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage."

Harper also said in 2006, that "The only way we can have justice is to have a fixed election date, because an election without a fixed election date is a tremendous advantage for the party in power."

Then in the summer of 2008, facing what he thought a weak opponent in Stéphane Dion, Harper complained about Parliament not functioning "productively." His claim was questionable, as the Liberal opposition supported most of the government's critical pieces of legislation.

If any party could be accused of creating an atmosphere of dysfunction, it was the Conservatives. They were accused in the Spring of 2008 of stifling Parliamentary committees. For example, the then-Chair of the Justice Committee, Conservative MP Art Hanger, walked out of meetings rather than address an opposition motion to examine allegations that former MP Chuck Cadman was bribed by Conservatives to vote against the Liberal government in 2005.

That the Conservatives were purposely fomenting chaos in Parliamentary committees should have come as no surprise; they were instructed to do so. In 2007 Conservative committee chairs received a 200-page manual on how to disrupt Parliamentary Committees. News reports said the leaked guidebook told Conservative committee chairs "how to favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind business to a halt." So when justice committee chair Art Hanger, stormed out of committee meetings, he acted in accordance with party directives: to bring parliamentary business to a grinding halt.

Creating an atmosphere of parliamentary dysfunction, believing that the Opposition Leader could easily be beaten, Harper defied his own fixed election date law. He tried to hang parliamentary torpor on opposition parties and then dissolved Parliament, while it wasn't sitting, with the hope of capturing his elusive majority.

This week, Democracy Watch's case that Harper broke his own fixed election law, was heard in Federal Court. Justice Michael Shore heard arguments on September 8, 2009 and is expected to deliver a decision in a few weeks. However, Shore may withhold releasing his decision in the midst of a federal election to avoid influencing the outcome of the vote.

At the very least, breaking his own fixed-election-date law won Stephen Harper another year of government. It may soon be revealed what it, if anything, it cost him.

Eric Mang lives in Toronto and was a former political aide in the Harris government in Ontario and in the Campbell government in British Columbia. See more of his writings at his website below.

Links and sources
  Eric Mang website

Posted: September 14, 2009

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