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OPINION: P.E.I. has ambiguous, contradictory and confusing fixed election date legislation

DR. HERB DICKIESON - SaltWire Network

By Herb Dickieson

A fixed election date is one of the most democratic ways to have a fair and free election. It provides stability and predictability of a fixed term, and a clear mandate to govern. With a fixed election date, a government has a defined timeline to deliver on its election platform, with less temptation for a snap election when polling looks favourable, or unjustified delay when it does not.

Prince Edward Island has ambiguous, contradictory and confusing fixed election date legislation. According to Elections P.E.I., the Fixed Election Dates legislation states, "A general election shall be held on the first Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following ordinary polling day in the most recent general election." So that would fall on Oct. 7, 2019, two weeks prior to the federal government's "fixed election date." An Island made election date must be synchronized not to conflict with timing of the national vote.

Elections P.E.I. further quotes the Legislative Assembly Act, Section 7 with, "Subject to being sooner dissolved by Lieutenant Governor, every Legislative Assembly shall continue for five years from the day of the return of the Writs for a general election, and no longer." This would make the most distal date for an Island election in the present term, May 20, 2020, five years post "return of the Writs" from the May 4, 2015 election, or more likely May 18, 2020, to conform with the Monday election tradition.

Having a fixed election date is the most appropriate method of attracting the best qualified women and men to allow their names to stand for political office for any political party. Offering for an elected public position is a major decision for individuals and their families. Potential candidates operate businesses, engage in professional careers, perform jobs with employee commitments, and have families with associated responsibilities that must be factored in during the decision-making process to run for office. Only a minority of our resident peers are able to suddenly drop all that they are doing at the sudden call of an election on the whim of an incumbent premier seeking electoral advantage.

The uncertainty of an election date also has an impact on planning and staffing for Elections P.E.I., and hundreds of volunteers who participate in the election process. Implications go even further, affecting Island business activity and community organizational planning.

A genuine fixed election date allows potential candidates from all walks of life, for all political parties, to appropriately plan and prepare, taking account of her/his business, employment and family obligations, and present themselves to the electorate for the people's democratic choice. Island municipal governments and most community boards operate in this orderly fashion.

Timing of the writ drop should serve the interest of the people, not the sitting premier and his party. This is best accomplished by a legislated true fixed election date, rather than having an incumbent government "fixing the election date."

- Dr. Herb Dickieson, former MLA, Island New Democrats

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