16 June 2015

The Moveable Fixed Election Date #nlpoli

Arguably, the greatest fairy tale the Conservatives spread after 2003 was that Danny Williams didn’t take a salary from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The truth was he collected every penny of his salary from the day he entered the House of Assembly until the day he left.

The second biggest fib they told was that there were fixed election dates.

There aren’t, of course.

Any Premier of the province can take a car ride down to Government House whenever he or she wants and advise the Lieutenant Governor to call an election.  That’s the way things have always been and the revised House of Assembly Act says so in section 3 (1)
Notwithstanding subsection (2), the Lieutenant-Governor may, by proclamation in Her Majesty’s name, prorogue or dissolve the House of Assembly when the Lieutenant-Governor sees fit.
Not content with that,  the Conservatives also set a rule that supposedly required an election within a year of a new Premier taking office, in a case where the old one quit in between general elections.  Well, as regular readers known that really only required the Premier to head off to Government House and advise when to have an election.

For argument sake,  if Kathy Dunderdale had quit the day after the 2011 general election, the guy who replaced her could have set the election date for 2015.  He’d have done exactly what the law said,  Conservative claims notwithstanding.

The current crowd running the place have decided to add a few more twists of their own to what is, by now, a laughing stock of a set of election laws.  They’ve introduce a couple of changes to the law saying when elections will happen. It’s in the bill that sets the new boundaries.
(3) Notwithstanding subsection (2) and section 3.1, the polling day for a general election in 2015 shall be held on November 30, 2015.
That’s clear enough.

Then da byes decided to go a step further.  In the future,  they want to try and set the election date in years when the federal and provincial elections would happen at the same time.
(4) Notwithstanding subsection (2), if, on April 1 in the year that a general election is to be held under that subsection, the Premier is of the opinion that the day that would be an ordinary polling day under that subsection is not suitable for that purpose because it overlaps with a federal election, the Premier shall choose an alternative day in accordance with subsection (5) and shall provide advice to the Lieutenant-Governor that a general election be held on that alternative day.
There’s a gigantic mouthful.

What it basically says is that the Premier must move the date of the election in a year where the federal and provincial one conflicts.

Notice that they didn’t see fit to put the actual alternative day in this clause.  Instead they referred to another clause in which they actual define the alternative day.  It’s the “last Monday in November in the fourth calendar year following the ordinary polling day for the most recently held general election is the alternative day referred to in subsection (4).”

They could have written the clause to say  “the Premier shall advise the Lieutenant Governor  that a general election be held on the last Monday in November as the alternative day.”

Job done.

They could have made 10 louder.  Instead,  they made the amp volume turn to 11.

But that isn’t the only problem with this latest amendment.

Look at the words again:  “if, on April 1 in the year that a general election is to be held under that subsection,….”

Some people think that this sets the first of April as the date by which the alternative date has to be set.

Not so. 

What the clause does is set the one day in the year when the Premier has to have the opinion that the supposedly fixed date is unsuitable.  Read  it again, if you don't see it.

What happens if the Premier doesn’t think there will be a problem in April but figures it out some time later?  Did he miss the one shot he had?

What if she thinks there’s a problem before April 1?  Does she have to wait?

No Worries.  Da byes re-wrote the first clause to say that notwithstanding any other provision of section 3,  the LG can call an election any time,  which is, of course, what we have always had in the province:  unfixed election dates.

Think about it for a second.

They’ve gone through this whole elaborate rig-a-ma-role of creating supposedly fixed election dates that aren’t really fixed.  Then they changed the fixed dates to another fixed date and then set them in a way that it isn’t fixed either.

And where they supposedly wanted to move the fixed date to another fixed date but have the decision no later than the first of April, they actually set April Fool’s Day as the one day in the year when the Premier must have a thought.  And the clause doesn't matter anyway since the Premier can set an election date whenever she wants.

The only truly fixed date is the one in the constitution.  You can't go more than five years between elections.

And if you think that the election law goofiness is confined to one side of the House, consider the more recent example of the folks who thought they had trapped the government into having an election by their brilliantly convoluted amendments back in January.  What the amendments actually did was limit the boundaries commission to 120 days of work.  If they didn't finish, the government could just appoint a new commission and start again or re-appoint the same gang and keep going.

Some people clearly having a problem writing simple sentences in English and they are all in the House of Assembly.