By Duff Conacher
Democracy Watch has formally launched its petition on Change.org calling on new Governor General Mary Simon to say no to any snap election call by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before the next fixed election date.
A snap election call would be illegal, dishonest, and unfair and dangerous for many voters. More than 2,500 voters have already signed the petition since it was posted.
“The Governor General should reject any snap election call by Prime Minister Trudeau because it is illegal, dishonest and goes against the will of Parliament in the same way the British Supreme Court rejected the British PM’s shutting down of Parliament as an illegal abuse of power,” said Duff Conacher, cofounder of Democracy Watch and PhD student at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law.
“Hopefully, despite the fact that she was handpicked by Trudeau through a process that he controlled, Governor General Simon will do her job properly and reject the PM’s illegal, dishonest, unfair, and dangerous snap election call,” Conacher said.
The British Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson’s decision to advise the Queen to shut down Parliament was unlawful, as it “ha[d] the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive”. (Paragraph 50 of the ruling).
A snap election is similarly illegal because Canada’s election law has measures that fix the next election date for October 2023, four years after the last election, unless the government loses a confidence vote in Parliament.
As well, a snap election would violate the constitutional convention rule that has been created by the fixed-election-date law and the prime minister and Parliament following the law for the past three elections. In 2011, the Conservative government led by PM Stephen Harper only called an election after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament. In 2015, Harper called an election on the fixed date, as did Trudeau in 2019.
A snap election will also be dishonest because anything Trudeau says about needing to call an election now will be false. A majority of MPs have voted in favour of everything the Trudeau Liberals have proposed since the last election, including the Liberal budget, so the opposition parties have shown they support the Liberals continuing to govern.
In addition, Trudeau and almost all MPs in the House of Commons, including all Liberals, voted in May against holding an election while COVID is still a danger, which it is. A recent poll showed only 26 percent of Canadians want an election this fall, and, just a few weeks ago, the PM also denied that he was going to call an election.
A snap election will be dangerous for many voters. A fourth wave of COVID-19 is expected across Canada this fall, more contagious than ever, as many people are still not fully vaccinated. Voters who are vulnerable to COVID-19 will, completely justifiably, feel hesitant about going to a polling station to vote.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s government called a snap election last winter—then a COVID outbreak happened, the election date was postponed twice, and voter turnout plunged to a record low as many voters were prevented from voting by the sudden new requirement to register for, receive, fill in, and mail back their ballot on short deadlines.
Elections Canada has never run an election with mail-in ballots being the way a lot of voters vote, nor have any of the federal parties.
Whenever a snap election is called, it is unfair because voters have no time to plan and arrange their lives so they can run as a candidate, volunteer, or participate in the election in other ways. That’s why Parliament decided to fix the federal election date in Canada’s election law. It makes the election more fair for everyone.
Because they are illegal, dishonest, and unfair, Democracy Watch went to court to challenge the snap election calls last fall by the B.C. NDP premier and the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative premier, which both violated their provincial fixed-election-date laws.
Trudeau controlled the selection of Governor General Simon (even more than Harper did in the past) by setting up a façade of an advisory panel that he appointed, cochaired by his friend and cabinet appointee Dominic LeBlanc.
Instead, to democratize the selection of the GG, and every other key federal position that upholds democratic good-government rules, Trudeau should have used a fully independent committee to conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of qualified candidates.
A survey of 1,601 Canadians in February 2021 found that 91 percent of people surveyed, of all types and from all political parties, support having a committee of MPs choose the governor general instead of the PM alone.
More than 80 percent of Canadians also want public, written rules for a minority government like England, Australia, and New Zealand have.