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Canada’s Election 2011: Take a page from the NFL’s rulebook

Can Canada learn from the NFL?

On March 26, 2011, Canada’s Liberal, New Democratic, and Bloq Quebecois parties voted against the annual budget proposed by the ruling minority Conservative Party. In result, Parliament lost confidence in the ruling party and called an election. This is the fourth election in seven years, which were held in 2004, 2006, 2008, and now 2011.

The ruling Conservative Party is claiming this current election is “reckless” and a “threat to Canada’s economic stability”. I am not sure that these claims are completely true, but they can be considered. The Conservative Party has held a minority government since the 2006 election which the opposition parties were unable to change in 2008, and from what the current polls are showing, there doesn’t seem like there is going to be much change this time around either.

I fully respect the fact that Canada is a democratic country and having the right to vote and choose our government should be cherished (as many people are fighting and dying right now around the world for that right). At the same time, elections are costly to the country in many ways and if a forced election (not being one held due to the 5 year time-span running out) doesn’t produce change, the parties who called the election should be held accountable. This applies to all parties, not just this singular case in history with the Liberals, New Democratic and Bloq, but any parties who vote for a non-confidence.

Federal elections in Canada are estimated to cost around $300 million. If that expense leads to a new ruling party, that is fine and proves that the cost of an election was justified. If that expense results in the ruling minority party getting a majority government, that is fine as well because we are still seeing a change from what we had, despite that being the opposite of the desired result of the opposition. But if the result is another minority Conservative government, the cost of the election should be accounted for by someone.

The conversation came up this weekend over dinner, and a few options were thrown around. The best option was one pulled directly from the NFL rulebook. In the NFL, when one team’s coach disagrees with a call the referees made, they are able to challenge the call on the field. When this happens, the referees gather around a TV screen on the sidelines and look at the play in question to decide if the call should be changed or not. If the coach who challenged the call is correct, the ruling on the field is overturned and the teams keep playing. But if the coach is wrong, and the referees made the right call the first time, the call is left as it was and the team whose coach challenged the call is stripped of one of their time-outs.

Now imagine this exact situation but in the context of Canadian politics. The football teams are the political parties, the coaches are the party leaders, and the referees are the Canadian voting public. In the current political situation, the call on the field happened in 2008 when the voters chose a minority Conservative government, and the opposition teams coaches have agreed to throw the challenge flag and ask the public to review it. So, if the voters decide that the ruling on the field stands (another Conservative minority) there has to be a penalty assessed to the opposing teams.

This is the tricky part, what should the penalty be? Originally I thought that the opposing teams should be assessed a penalty that would kick out a member or two from the opposition parties and give the minority ruling party more voting power in the House of Commons. After thinking about this a bit I realized this rule would undermine the democratic principles of the country, as it would be stripping one constituency of their elected representative. This would be equivalent to deducting points from a football team if they lost a challenge. Not going to fly.

A more practical option would be to strip the opposition parties of some funding for the next election. In Canada, each party gets $2 per year for every vote they received in the previous election from the federal budget (taxpayer money). Maybe the best way to dissuade political parties from throwing the “parliamentary challenge flag” and calling elections when the result is likely to be the same as what previously existed, would be to reduce the amount of funding they get from $2 to $1 per vote. As the elections are predicted to cost the Canadian taxpayers $300 million, this could ease the expenditures of a election that results in no change.

That being said, this type of penalty should not occur when the election is brought up due to constitutional rules that require an election every five years. This rule will only be applied if it the election is brought on through a vote of non-confidence.

Maybe it is a crazy idea, but I think the NFL has a good system going right now, and I don’t like to see Canadian taxpayers’ money being wasted. If the Canadian political landscape changes due to this election, then the whole thing was justified; if not, someone should be held responsible and this should be the case for all political parties.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattFOTB

  1. David
    April 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    This is ingenious, and maybe your best article yet. The problem is that the only way to pass this kind of legislation would be if the Conservatives had a majority, and that would immediately trigger a backlash accusing them of weakening the ability of opposition parties to compete in elections.

    You’re correct though…it would just be nice to have some sort of penalty for parties that are throwing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars away, when pre-election polls are showing that the status quo is likely to continue.

  2. April 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    I have to give some cred to Kyle Tower, we were hammering the idea out at Chiantis over the weekend.

    Ya, I think it would be suicide for any party to try to pass that kind of legislation unless they have a majority.

    At the same time, this rule shouldn’t take away from any democratic integrity of the country, but should just ensure that major democratic decisions are made when there is a need for them to be made.

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