Blasting fixed elections

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

As the recent American election is finally set to conclude with Barack Obama’s impending inauguration, it is worth reflecting on the wildly exciting electoral cycle down there to illuminate some concerns with the sometimes-proposed fixed election dates for Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew a lot of fire for backing away from his supposed plan to implement fixed election dates in Canada by calling a snap election last fall. When considering the recent American election, though, it becomes clear that there is an enormous problem with instituting such an arrangement.

Tuesday’s inauguration of Obama will mark the absolute end of what has been a couple of years of continual campaigning down south. Since officially announcing his presidential ambitions Feb. 10, 2007, Obama campaigned vigorously, drawing enormous media attention while doing so. Even prior to that, there was a significant amount of press attention and speculation directed towards him and others. For the last few years there has been a constant and steadily increasing fixation on the 2008 presidential race. This monomaniacal media concentration is in some aspects positive. Clearly, the public needs to be highly informed about the individuals vying to govern them. If there were not at least some members of the public keenly interested in understanding who the candidates were and what they stood for, they might as well turn the keys to the castle over to an autocrat.

But there are also enormous drawbacks. The first is that the length of this scrutiny means there is inevitably a lot of sensationalist and trivial nonsense reported, displacing coverage of the actual policies and ideological stances of the individuals. The second problem, and one that is incredibly damning given the US’ current involvement in two distinct wars, among other things, is that this campaign focus draws a lot of attention away from the sitting president and his regime.

During the two or so years preceding campaigns, the media is so focused on the primaries and the coming general election that the activities of the actual government are sometimes lost in the shuffle. This is an awful situation to prevail in a democratic society, which would presumably like to know how its elected officials behave while actually in office, instead of paying attention only until they are given control of the a-bombs and then turning them loose to wreak havoc as they please. Again, this is particularly important in situations such as the United States is in now, when there are a lot of questionable actions being undertaken by the government which affect both American lives and the American image.

There is clearly a big problem associated with fixed election dates focusing too much attention on the campaign rather than on the current government. In the context of Canada, this would be somewhat prevented as the government isn’t actually sitting for the few weeks prior to the election, but it can be readily assumed that parties would begin campaigning long before this period.

Before fixed election dates are called for again in Canada, it is worth considering that though Obama doesn’t step into office until next Tuesday, almost everyone who reads, watches or listens to the news heard of him long ago. Just imagine how bad that would be given the ever-so-charismatic politicians we oft get here.

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