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December 15, 2010

Elections BC Prevents Snap Election

Despite speculation about a possible snap election, it appears that thanks to Elections BC no premier is able to call a snap election.

Before the law was changed to require elections on the second Tuesday of May four years after the last general election, Elections BC stood in a state of readiness so as to be able to conduct an election 28 days after the premier of the day surprised the public by dropping the writs. Being ready costs money, so Elections BC has saved money by assuming that elections are now every four years.

When Elections BC appeared before the legislature's finance committee on November 23rd, he told the committee that it would take six months to prepare for the HST initiative vote, four months for a rush job unless it were done exclusively by postal ballot.

Preparing for a ballot-box style initiative vote is the same as preparing for a general election; polling stations and clerks are necessary in 85 ridings. In other words, it would take four to six months for Elections BC to be ready for a general election.

If BC Liberal leadership candidates are going to raise the stakes by speculating on a snap election, Elections BC needs to get into the kind of state of readiness that was normal before set election dates. Section 27 of the Election Act states: "General voting day for an election is the 28th day after the date on which the election is called. " The 28 day campaign is the same whether an election is called as scheduled every four years or whether it is called by surprise. The difference is with a snap election, Elections BC has to have about 30,000 temporary staff in place with just 28 days notice. Since it is a non-partisan office of the legislature, its preparation should not be secret. The Chief Electoral Officer should tell the public exactly how much it will cost to keep his office in a state of readiness sufficient to be able to deliver a properly run election on just 28 days notice, and how soon he will be able to get it in that state. It doesn't matter what the law says, without Elections BC being able to deliver an election, a snap election call would just make BC look like Haiti-north.

There are other problems facing those who would call a snap election. Section 23 of the provincial Constitution Act provides for elections every four years and also says: "The Lieutenant Governor may, by proclamation in Her Majesty's name, prorogue or dissolve the Legislative Assembly when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit." It does not say the Lieutenant Governor in Council, i.e. the government. When it comes to dissolving the legislature and calling an election, the Lieutenant Governor can say no to the government.

Before the government asks the Lieutenant Governor to grant a request for an early election, it would have to decide whether it is worth rolling the dice. With a tie in the polls at just 36 to 36, it would take a risk-loving premier to exchange over two years of certain power for a risky shot at four years.

Christy Clark, the BC Liberal leadership candidate who has been most vocal on possibly calling a snap election, may drop out of the race before she reaches the finish line. Allegations regarding her knowledge of what David Basi was up to have surfaced in a manner that might force her to either sue for defamation or suffer such damage as to make her campaign irrelevant. Even with Clark out of the race, George Abbott is the only candidate on record as not supporting a snap election. Falcon, de Jong and Stillwell need to make their positions clear. The damage is done. Whatever they say, Elections BC now needs to go back to the finance committee and say how much it will need to cover the uncertainty created by BC Liberal leadership candidates.