Superficially, Bill C-16 is neither good nor bad. When it comes down to it, I'm not particularly impressed with the idea of fixed election dates. I really don't believe that I want to see Canada go through the two year long pseudo-campaign race that takes place in the United States. I think that such a process simply diverts lawmakers from doing their jobs, and diverts public attention from the governance of their nation.
However, I must admit that the following part of the bill kind of caught my eye:
56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.
First of all, it would be damned difficult to change the Governor General's powers in with respect to parliament in the first place:
The Constitution Act (1867) specifically grants that power to the Queen:
50. Every House of Commons shall continue for Five Years from the Day of the Return of the Writs for choosing the House (subject to be sooner dissolved by the Governor General), and no longer. (26)
Regardless of what the rest of the bill says, the following remains true in Canada:
1) The Crown can, at their discretion, dissolve parliament.
2) By convention, the Prime Minister can ask the Crown to dissolve parliament
3) A parliament has a maximum life of 5 years
So, what does Stephen's little "Third Monday in Every Fourth October" rule really do?
Nada - nothing. Zero. It's a cheesy little piece of window dressing that formalizes the notion that our elections are approximately every four years. The reality is that this bill isn't any kind of electoral reform of any consequence. The Prime Minister can still ask the Governer General to dissolve parliament when it's convenient.
There isn't a word in the bill that places any restraint on the Prime Minister in this regard. So, even though Elections Canada now has a "known target date", they really don't.
So - where's the reform?