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Time to repair the ‘fixed’ law

The year-end interview of Premier Wade MacLauchlan conducted by political SaltWire Network reporter Stu Neatby contained little in the way of surprises.

As he heads towards the fourth year anniversary of his election May 4, the premier was giving the kind of vague answers that were supposed to be a thing of the past when the fixed election legislation was brought into place. Things like "we are a day closer today than we were yesterday."

If the premier does go to the polls in May, it will be the second time he has violated the fixed election law passed by his predecessor Robert Ghiz. That law called for an election on October  19, 2015 and a vote on the first Monday in October every four years after that.

When he called the 2015 election, the premier put forward a strong case for an early vote. At the time, all four parties had new leaders, none of them with a seat in the legislature. Holding a session of the House with neither the premier nor the leader of the opposition being the leaders of their respective parties would be unusual to say the least.

The fixed election law should call for an election four years after the last vote rather than specify the October date. The problem is further compounded by the provision that if there is a federal vote in October (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already signaled he plans to honour the federal law and hold a vote Oct. 21), the election is postponed until the following spring.

The premier can rightfully argue a spring vote would be in line with the conventional practice of holding an election every four years. While the province's law does allow governments to hold office for up to five years, that is a rare occurrence since it leaves the impression with voters of a government clinging to power.

When the vote comes, polls are suggesting it will be a fight between the Liberals and the upstart Green Party under the leadership of Peter Bevan-Baker, who has topped the polls for almost two years when Islanders were asked their choice of premier. While the party now has two seats in the legislature, it is still a long way from government.

The Progressive Conservatives are counting on riding the momentum of the February leadership convention into the election. While it remains to be seen whether that will happen, but the new leader will have to be in a hurry up offense to recruit candidates and develop a policy platform for a May vote.

Regardless of who wins, the fixed election law should be fixed to set the next election four years from the last one. In its current form, it is useless and is destined to be ignored by succeeding governments, no matter what its political stripe.

A fixed election has a good deal of merit - it allows for Elections PEI to do more pre-planning and it allows potential candidates to better arrange their schedule to get time off from their jobs. However. it has to work and the current legislation doesn't. It has to be fixed.

- Andy Walker is an Island-based writer and commentator. His column appears every other week in the Journal Pioneer.

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