Q & A: Do fixed election dates result in an era of permanent campaigning?
REGINA – The Saskatchewan election on April 4 is anticipated to be the largest ever held in the province’s history.
Nobody’s regulations have really caught up – Jim Farney, U of R political scientist
The premier still needs to dissolve government, but with a fixed election date it begs the question: Are we in a permanent era of campaigning?
Global’s Teri Fikowski sat down with Jim Farney, University of Regina political scientist:
Q: What is the idea behind having a fixed date and why were the changes made provincially?
Farney: Provincially and federally, about 10 to 12 years ago, people started looking around and going, “Wouldn’t it be great if we limited the ability of government to basically game the system?” (They called) the election whenever they were doing well in the polls or just after they made an announcement that really worked well.
Q: Is there an advantage or disadvantage for political parties with fixed election dates?
Farney: In our current context the Saskatchewan (Sask) Party has so many people and so many resources and so much more money, that it kind of washes that all out. In a closer race, it would make some difference. I’m sure the Harper Tories carefully planned a whole bunch of funding announcements to run up to the writ dropping. This time provincially, that’s a fairly small part of the calculation.
Q: Have you seen some strategy from political parties leading up to the election date, or the way decisions have been made.?
Farney: If we had the legislature sitting now it would be a lot more partisan, question would be more pointed and the opposition would be trying to drive the questioning towards what they know that their platform is going to be. The decision to bring the budget after rather than before the election would be timely as well.
Q: Now we’re waiting for the writ to drop and the premier to officially dissolve parliament. Does campaigning really wait or are we in a permanent era of campaigning?
Farney: We’re not quite permanent because we have these four years in between and certainly any candidate in a congested riding has probably been door knocking for a year now…what will change when the writ gets dropped is third party advertising once the campaigns kicks in. Some limits on what parties can say and do. Media and academics will start to pay more attention and the government dissolves, so we don’t have the confusion of; ‘Is it Mr. Wall the premier or Brad Wall leader of the Sask Party?
Q: Do you think when the writ drops can be strategic?
Farney: Again it would be different if the legislature was sitting. If the legislature was sitting and the premier and debates were going badly then, yes drop the writ and get the campaign going. Otherwise there’s no real incentive to lengthen it out that much, unless you third parties roll out some ads you feel you kind of want cut off and stop.
Q: There are rules during campaign periods, for example parties can only spend so much, but do you think in terms of fixed election dates the rules are keeping pace with the rest of Canada?
Farney: The regulations on spending are really focused on the writ period so that formal campaign period. So as the parties have got better and fundraising, and the Sask Party would be a good example of this, they’re going, “Gee we have more money than we can spend in 30 or so odd days, so let’s back figure out where we can spend it where its unregulated.” Nobody’s regulations have really caught up with that because what we thought we were doing was limiting the amount of money parties had but they’ve simply gotten better at fundraising.
Campaign strategist weighs in on fixed election dates
Terry Harris, vice president of Harris Greenaway Communications served as a senior adviser and chief of operations to the Saskatchewan Party, and continues to handle some of the party’s marketing.
She said there are some strategic advantages with having an election date set in stone.
“You know when it’s coming, so you know it’s coming months in advance. You can prepare months in advance. You can prepare your messaging, you can prepare your materials.”
However, Harris said there are some risks to consider too.
“If you’re the governing party, for example, you have no control over environmental factors such as tragic events that may occur right in advance in the election that might impact your political fortunes.”
Harris said fixed election dates are also beneficial to voters and offers them no reason to not get out and vote.
“They have a greater opportunity to get to know their candidates and get to know the issues and make a more informed decision come election day.”