Edmonton lawyer Tom Engel filed the injunction application last week. He argued Prentice must “uphold the promise and legal obligation to hold the next general election” during the legislated time frame of March 1, 2016 to May 31, 2016.
That time frame is mandated under Alberta’s Election Act, through an amendment introduced by the Conservative government and passed into law in 2011. It fixes a date for a provincial election every four years.
Then-Justice Minister Verlyn Olson told the legislature the fixed-election law was needed to avoid political opportunism and to bolster democracy.
But there is another subsection of the same act that essentially says the premier is free to call an election whenever he pleases by asking the province’s lieutenant governor to dissolve the government.
Calgary lawyer Michael Bates, acting for Engel and former Sturgeon County mayor Don Rigney, argued that if Prentice is allowed “unfettered” power to call an election whenever he sees fit, it effectively renders meaningless the fixed-election date amendment.
In passing the amendment, the government obviously intended for it to have a purpose, Bates argued, adding that allowing Prentice to call an election whenever he chooses would actually cause harm.
Bates said people like Don Rigney relied on the fixed-election date law to plan their political careers and lives, and calling an election a year early would effectively deprive Rigney of his right to run in the election.
But Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Ken Nielsen pointed out that Rigney could have brought this injunction application years ago.
Prentice has repeatedly suggested he may need to call an early election to seek a mandate from Albertans for the major budget changes he has said his government must implement in order to get the province off the boom-and-bust budgeting cycle linked to oil prices.
But Engel argued in his application that if the budget is passed by “a majority of elected MLAs, then by definition, there remains a mandate to implement it.”
Engel notes that Prentice and his Conservative MLAs hold elected power and they have a significant majority.
“To suggest the premier and executive council require a mandate, while clearly having a lawful and democratic one, is to suggest the seeking of a mandate of increased political advantage but not increased legal or moral authority,” Engel’s application stated.
The justice's decision leaves room for Engel to pursue an injunction against premiers from calling future elections, but said he did not think the application would be successful.