Fixed-date system has its pluses

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A twist to the timetable for electing governments has slowly been making its way across Canada. Fixed elections could finally find their way to Nova Scotia.

This is the only province that hasn’t yet adopted a fixed-date system. But Premier Stephen McNeil has already acknowledged that and indicated that legislation to put it in place could be coming quite soon.

We’ve often heard the argument for a fixed date, with an election held every four years. With a decision to call an election left to the premier – or prime minister at the federal level – the timing can vary radically. It might be three years, or a government might stretch its mandate out to five.

Of course, the kicker is that political leaders have used the discretionary ability to their party’s advantage in the past. If things are going swimmingly, perhaps it’s prime time to pull the plug and call an early election. In case of rough times, you can always put it off and hope you can get your ducks in a row. Or just go by the polls. It certainly adds to voter cynicism.

This week, chief electoral officer for Nova Scotia Richard Temporale added a huge advantage, saying that fixed dates could save up to $500,000 in administrative costs for the province.

Fixed dates do, however, present a potential dilemma in the Canadian system of government. Anytime during an elected term, a non-confidence vote by members could topple a government – a prospect that’s particularly possible, of course, when it’s a minority government.

We’ve had a couple of minority governments in this province in the last two decades. And, let’s face it, with three main parties it’s something that could easily occur in just about any future election.

That’s a detail that should be discussed in any legislation regarding fixed dates. But it’s also just one detail toward what would be a significant improvement to the system. The public should watch this closely and see that the measure goes ahead, as suggested.

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