Alice Funke (Pundits Guide) wrote earlier this summer about how changes to the Elections Act made under Bill C-23 (the Fair Elections Act) were custom made to suit the governing Conservatives and spelled out how increased spending limits would benefit the party with the most money. When we look at other clauses and parliamentary rules, it may not go far enough in highlighting the end goal of Election 42 and point to plans for a snap Election 43.
How coalition governments come to be may be largely misunderstood. If Stephen Harper gets the most seats at the end of this election, but doesn't get a majority, the Liberal Party and NDP can't automatically form a coalition and take control of the Government. The rules according to How Canadians Govern Themselves are clear, as follows:
If no party gets a clear majority, the cabinet that was in office before and during the election has two choices. It can resign, in which case the Governor General or lieutenant-governor will call on the leader of the largest opposition party to form a cabinet. Or the cabinet already in office can choose to stay in office and meet the newly elected House -- which, however, it must do promptly.
So, the Conservatives could go through the steps of summoning a session of Parliament and ask for the confidence of the House by way of a Throne Speech. Surely, opposition parties would vote that down and form a coalition then right? Again, the rules are pretty clear on that too.
If a cabinet is defeated in the House of Commons on a motion of censure or want of confidence, the cabinet must either resign (the Governor General will then ask the leader of the Opposition to form a new cabinet) or ask for a dissolution of Parliament and a fresh election.
So if the cabinet does NOT resign, we would be forced in to another election immediately. The Governor General couldn't possibly allow for another election so quickly. The rules again are pretty clear on that as far as the Governor General's discretion in the matter.
In very exceptional circumstances, the Governor General could refuse a request for a fresh election. For instance, if an election gave no party a clear majority and the Prime Minister asked for a fresh election without even allowing the new Parliament to meet, the Governor General would have to say no.
There is a possibility that the Governor General can deny the request for a fresh election if he/she determines that not enough time has passed since the last election, although it's unclear what threshold of time must pass.
There may be another reason why the opposition parties wouldn't want to defeat the government on a Throne Speech given later this fall, despite all of the criticisms of the current Government.
As part of the Canada Elections Act, every candidate and party receives a portion of what they spend during an election back from the Receiver General (the government). Each party is eligible for up to 50 per cent rebate on any amount spent during the writ period (the campaign period that began on Aug. 2) and each candidate is eligible for up to 60 per cent rebate on amounts spent during that time. These rebates are subject to certain conditions spelled out in the act.
With limits at more than double the norm, the rebates expected by parties are 50 per cent of what they spend during this 78-day campaign, which gives any party who spends the limit more than enough to run the next normal 37-day election. And parties that don't spend the limit in Election 42? They have much less coming back to prepare for Election 43, assuming they are not already borrowing against that rebate now.
There is another very small change under the new Fair Elections Act that caught my eye recently that may also impact how prepared parties are for the next election. It appears to me that a small change may impact how much a candidate has to spend to qualify for the rebate, the requirement is in Section 477 and appears to indicate that candidates need to spend 30 per cent of the limit to qualify for that rebate. The change in the wording is very subtle, "calculated under" instead of "provided for." Why is that important?
To qualify for the second part of the rebate, the larger part, a campaign must spend 30 per cent of what is a substantially larger limit (calculated under the new provisions in Section 477.49) to get back 60 per cent of what they spent. With limits now approaching $200,000 in most ridings, that means any campaign that doesn't spend almost $60,000 will get back substantially less than they expected. It's important to point out that most parties ask campaigns to split the 60 per cent rebate with them, whether that split is 50/50 or some other split, it means each party is counting on some portion of what is spent by the 338 campaigns at the riding level. Again, that benefits the riding associations, campaigns, and indirectly, the party that have the funds to spend 30 per cent of the new much higher limit. Because of other rules I wrote about before, these campaigns won't be able to get loans to cross that threshold in these closing six weeks of the campaign.
Outspending your political opponents almost two to one in an extra long election may not be enough to achieve victory, with almost 70 per cent of the population calling for change, it's hard to imagine the possibility of a majority government. By ensuring funding for the next election and limiting the campaign abilities of the other parties, the Conservatives will surely win Election 43. Donation limits only refresh annually, not per election, so if another snap election is triggered in 2015, parties would be scrambling to find new donors who had not already contributed the maximum to the current election.
There may only be 40 days left in Election 42, but, if I am right, there is another 37-day campaign right around the corner.
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