On this subject, I raised the ire of various journalists who accused me of that cardinal sin of pedantry. If I’m pedantic, then they’re obtuse. To declare that a law has been amended even before the government has tabled the bill is sloppy, imprecise, and fundamentally unserious reporting. By this logic, the Star and the Post must report that cannabis has already been legalized merely because the Trudeau government has stated its intention of tabling legislation to that effect in 2017. In any event, this shall be my last update on this subject of the media’s bizarre coverage of this issue, because the bill changing the scheduled date for the next provincial general election has now become law.
As of 8 December 2016, parts of the Election Statute Law Amendment Act have entered into force, including section 7, which states that Ontario’s “general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in June in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election.” This amendment means that the current 41st Parliament is now scheduled to live for closer to four years instead of four and one-half years, as it would have been scheduled to endure under the old law just replaced. Prior to 8 December 2016, no one could have accurately reported that the next general election was scheduled for June 2018 instead of October 2018, but various journalists and media outlets did not let accuracy and facts stop them from reporting otherwise.
But as the experience of the last eight years has demonstrated, fixed-date election laws merely limit the maximum life of a parliament and do not prescribe a minimum lifespan. As such, the Premier could advise the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the 41st Parliament early, well in advance of the scheduled dissolution on 7 June 2018. The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s website confirms this interpretation, which is based on fact, experience, and the principles of Responsible Government (though Her Honour needs to update her website now that the legislature has amended the scheduled date!):
“The Lieutenant Governor may therefore dissolve the Legislature on the advice the Premier in circumstances outside of the fixed-date election timeline, such as if:
- The Government loses a vote of confidence in the Legislative Assembly
- The Premier is of the opinion that circumstances warrant the calling of a general election.”
Given that First Ministers have been known to wield dissolution as a weapon against restless or disloyal cabinets, we should never forget that this option exists.