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Fixed versus flexible election terms: explaining innovation in the timing of Canada’s election cycle

Author

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  • J. Stephen Ferris

    () (Carleton University)

  • Derek E. H. Olmstead

    () (Carleton University)

Abstract

This paper argues that there is an efficiency gain underlying the recent adoption of legislation calling for a fixed 4-year governing term by the federal and most provincial governments in Canada. The efficiency gain arises from foreclosing an externality produced by the Canadian constitutional provision that sets a maximum length for a legislative term (5 years) while allowing the governing party (through the Governor General) to dissolve the House early. Because the opportunistic use of surprise can improve the governing party’s probability of winning, strategic choice can lead to elections being held at times that most disadvantage the incumbent’s rivals. Evidence from Canada is introduced suggesting that federal elections became less predictable through successive reductions in the campaign time given to competitors, thus raising the cost of this externality. The same reasoning suggests that the party most likely to propose this legislative innovation will be the party in opposition rather than in power and/or the new leader of an established party facing loss in the upcoming election. By fulfilling the fixed term even when it could benefit by calling the election early, the party establishes a precedent that raises the political cost to others of cancelling the fixed term legislation.

Suggested Citation

  • J. Stephen Ferris & Derek E. H. Olmstead, 2017. "Fixed versus flexible election terms: explaining innovation in the timing of Canada’s election cycle," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 117-141, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:copoec:v:28:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10602-017-9237-y
    DOI: 10.1007/s10602-017-9237-y
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. J. Stephen Ferris & Marcel-Christian Voia, 2019. "Elections, Economic Outcomes and Policy in Canada: 1870 - 2015," Carleton Economic Papers 19-11, Carleton University, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Fixed election dates; Discretionary election times; Time inconsistency; Institutional externalities;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty

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