Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: Nova Scotia Enacts Canada’s Last Fixed-Date Election Law

Nova Scotia’s Failed Fixed-Date Election Bills, 2007-2014

No province has agonized over fixed-date elections like Nova Scotia. Its House of Assembly has debated several private members’ bills to establish fixed-date elections and almost joined in the first wave of legislation back in 2007 and then almost joined the second wave of fixed-date legislation in 2013. But three successive ministries of the three main Canadian parties between 2007 and 2015 – those of Conservative Rodney MacDonald (February 2006 to June 2009), New Democrat Darrell Dexter (June 2009 to October 2013), and Liberal Stephen McNeil (October 2013 to February 2021) – all declined to table such legislation. More extraordinarily still, a Liberal backbencher named Stephen McNeil introduced the first bill in 2007 yet ultimately decided as Premier in 2013 and 2014 not to support two Conservative private members’ bills ostensibly because he had not decided upon establishing the schedule in spring versus fall.[1] But on 8 April 2015, Premier McNeil announced that his government would not table legislation to enact fixed-date elections in Nova Scotia because they were not fit for purpose.[2] He said:

“What we are seeing is the fixed dates haven’t been working, so when we amended the legislation we didn’t put one in. Legislation across the country hasn’t resulted in fixed election dates, that’s the issue. We’re not in the business of creating legislation that people don’t adhere to or wouldn’t be adhered to in this province.”

McNeil abruptly shifted course on 8 April because of what two of his opposite numbers had just done. Alberta enacted its fixed-date election law in 2012, and Prince Edward Island’s dates back to 2008, yet these laws did not prevent Wade MacLaughlan, Liberal Premier of Prince Edward Island, from obtaining a snap election on 6 April and Jim Prentice, Conservative Premier of Alberta, from doing the same on 7 April.[3] This double act also marked the first two occasions where Premiers obtained snap elections in majority legislatures – the very scenario which the modern incarnation of fixed-date election laws would supposedly always prevent after Chretien’s successive snap elections in 1997 and 2000. The previous early dissolutions and snap elections under fixed-date election laws in Canada in 2008 and Ontario and Quebec in 2014 occurred in minority parliaments.

But Nova Scotia, which had long stood as the last redoubt of the old ways, became the last jurisdiction in Canada to enact a fixed-date election law on the Fifth of November 2021. After twenty years, fixed-date election laws have now completed their long march through the legislatures. It began with British Columbia in 2001 and ended with Nova Scotia in 2021.

The Lead Up to Tim Houston’s Victory and the New Law

Since 2007 when the General Assembly first considered fixed-date elections legislation, Nova Scotia has held general elections:

  • 9 June 2009: New Democratic Majority
  • 8 October 2013: Liberal Majority
  • 30 May 2017: Liberal Majority
  • 18 August 2021: Conservative Majority

Stephen McNeil advised the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the 62nd Legislature on 30 April 2017, Nova Scotians elected their 63rd Legislature on 30 May 2017,[4] and Elections Nova fixed the date for the return of writs on 9 June 2017.[5] Nova Scotia’s Elections Act stipulates that the writ must last a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 46 days, but polling day must fall on a Tuesday.[6] Taken together, all this means that the 63rd Legislature would not have expired by efflux of time until 9 June 2022 and that Nova Scotia could have held its next election as late as Tuesday, 19 July 2022. The previous legislature contained an ample buffer for the pandemic. But this was not to be.

Stephen McNeil announced on 6 August 2020 that he intended to resign as Premier as soon as the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia elected a new leader.[7] Liberal MLA Iain Rankin seized victory from the backbenches on 6 February 2021,[8] and speculation about an early election began immediately. CBC News declared: “But if [Rankin] is to implement the kind of policy he referenced in his campaign, at some point he will need to seek a mandate from all Nova Scotians through a general election.”[9] Lieutenant Governor Arthur J. Leblanc appointed Rankin as Premier and swore in the new ministry on 23 February 2021, and the Rankin ministry continued the 3rd session of the 63rd Assembly in one last spring sitting from 9 March to 19 April 2021.[10]

Conservative MLAs on the opposition benches began opening speculating that Rankin would seek an election that spring as early as 24 March.[11] On 31 March, Conservative MLA Kim Masland decried “underfunding Elections Nova Scotia in what appears to be an election year,” to which Liberal Minister Labi Kousoulis replied, “I can say that in terms of bringing an election forward, Elections Nova Scotia will be adequately funded.”[12] Conservative MLA Karla MacFarlane made a declaration on 7 April 2021 – which turned out to be correct – that “Nova Scotians will not elect a Liberal government in the next election.”[13] This speculation reached a fever pitch by 13 April when Tim Houston, then Leader of the Opposition, acknowledged it. New Democratic MLA Claudia Chender then accused Houston of “remind[ing] us that we’re going to an election” a dozen times in that day’s proceedings.[14] The next day, Kousoulis all but admitted (in politicianspeak) that the Rankin ministry would go to a general election soon: “In terms of coming to an election, we are talking about [a] track record of how our province is doing or looking at our deficit now.”[15] The last day of the sitting, session, and legislature on 15 April contains dozens of references to the impending election.[16] But in this case, the opposition did not goad the new premier into calling an early election (as Stockwell Day foolishly dared Jean Chretien to do in 2000); Rankin seems to have decided that for himself, probably out of a general sense that he ought to “seek his own mandate,” as journalists would usually say. But this came into conflict with a more important goal of not plunging Nova Scotia into an unnecessary election during the pandemic, especially given that the legislature could have continued for another year.

Despite all the signs which had emerged by late March that Rankin would go to the polls earlier than necessary, the Premier repeatedly denied that he would advise the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the legislature for a general election even as late as 19 June, while simultaneously standing behind a podium and in front of the flags of Canada and Nova Scotia and announcing that his government would abolish fares for all intra-provincial ferries. “We thought we could even the playing field and make transportation more accessible to rural Nova Scotians,” said Rankin in what was totally not a campaign-style announcement.[17] Rankin emphasised to CTV Atlantic, “My main priority, to be clear, is the safety of Nova Scotians.” Rankin stood behind another podium and in front of the flags of Canada and Nova Scotia once more two days later but insisted, “I’m not thinking about an election today.”[18] Finally, on 17 July 2021, Rankin emerged from Government House in Halifax and joked about his own transparent dissembling from the month before: “I guess that this is the worst-kept secret in the province. I visited the Lieutenant Governor this morning and asked him to dissolve the House for the call of a general election, because I believe that we can embrace this province’s future.”[19] The writ lasted 30 days.[20]

Rankin Definitely Not Making Obvious Pre-Writ Announcements on 21 June 2021.

Rankin Definitely Not Making Obvious Pre-Writ Announcements on 19 June 2021

But Nova Scotians decided to embrace a future without Iain Rankin as Premier. Tim Houston led the Conservatives to winning 31 out of 55 seats and a parliamentary majority on 17 August.[21] The Lieutenant Governor swore in Houston as Premier along with the rest of his ministry on 31 August 2021[22] and convened the 1st session of the 64th General Assembly on 24 September 2021.[23] Rankin initially fought to remain as leader of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia but announced on 5 January 2022 that he would resign the leadership, presumably at some point later this year.[24]

The Debates and the Act

Premier Houston took the exact opposite approach of Premier Silver in Yukon, who ran on fixed-date elections but then tabled his bill over four years after the previous election. Houston opposed the early dissolution and argued in June, before the writ had started, that Nova Scotia should have adopted this policy long ago. And on 13 October 2021, he introduced as Bill No. 1 of the 1st session of the 64th General Assembly legislation for fixed-date elections.[25] (Incidentally, this would suggest that Nova Scotia’s General Assembly either never adopted or at some point abolished that old tradition of introducing as Bill 1 an assertion of the independence of the houses of parliament from the Crown, an assertion which, in any case, made less sense following the emergence of Cabinet Government). The bill then underwent extensive debates at both Second Reading on 14 October and Third Reading on 29 October.[26] Unlike the other provinces and territories, Nova Scotia’s House of Assembly has exercised its collective parliamentary privilege in a most asinine  manner and refuses to make the transcripts of its committees part of the public record. So I cannot tell you how appeared before committee as expert witnesses or what questions MLAs asked of these witnesses. However, the Committee of the Whole House released three amendments, all of which the Conservative majority rejected. The bill therefore passed in its original form and received Royal Assent on the Fifth of November 2021.[27]

Nova Scotia’s fixed-date election law now appears as section 29A of its Elections Act:

Fixed election date

29A (1) Nothing in this Section affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the House of Assembly at the discretion of the Lieutenant Governor.

(2) Subject to subsections (3) and (4), and the powers of the Lieutenant Governor referred to in subsection (1), notwithstanding any other enactment, each general election must be held on the third Tuesday in July, in the fourth calendar year following election day for the most recent general election.

(3) Where the Chief Electoral Officer is of the opinion that a Tuesday that would otherwise be election day is not suitable for that purpose, including by reason of it being in conflict with a day of cultural or religious significance or a federal or municipal election, the Chief Electoral Officer shall choose another day in accordance with subsection (4) and recommend to the Governor in Council that election day be that other day, and the Governor in Council may make an order to that effect.

(4) For the purpose of subsection (3), the Chief Electoral Officer may, notwithstanding clause 29(b), choose as an alternative ordinary election day one of the seven days following the Tuesday that would otherwise be election day.

(5) In the case of a general election under subsection (2), an order may not be made under subsection (3) within seventy days preceding the Tuesday that would otherwise be election day.[28]

Tim Houston’s inexplicable decision to schedule general elections every fourth July generated significant controversy; an astonishing 17 out of 55 MLAs participated in the debates at Second Reading, and 14 spoke during Third Reading. All Liberal and New Democratic MLAs professed to support fixed-date elections in principle, but they unanimously objected to scheduling them in July in practice. Houston refused to budge.

Houston introduced the bill at Second Reading in October 2021 and spoke as if prime ministers and premiers had not obtained twelve snap elections between August 2008 and August 2021 notwithstanding fixed-date election laws and as if fixed-date election laws only existed as an ideal without messy practical problems. He also ignored that his predecessor Stephen McNeil had abandoned fixed-date elections specifically because Prentice and MacLaughlan both brazenly secured early dissolutions of their respective majority parliaments in two days in April 2015. Instead, Houston spoke as if he were Gordon Campbell introducing the first fixed-date election law in 2001. He repeatedly emphasised the “certainty” that a fixed-date election law would bring Nova Scotia. Better still, the legislation would not only “bring predictability” but also “level the playing field” and “save money.”[29] Houston continued:

“Overriding all of that, what legislating a fixed election date will do is take away any perceived advantage by the government, that the government has in controlling the timing of the next election. We all know that governments sometimes pick a date that they think benefits them. Snap election, high in the polls, whatever the case may be, they know something bad is coming, whatever the case may be.”[30]

This observation sounds all the more extraordinary coming from a new premier who only just took office because his predecessor had called an election fully one year earlier than necessary and then lost it. Houston then almost seemed to mock and taunt the opposition over scheduling elections in mid-July: “We can haggle and critique the date that’s picked but for me – and I’m sure we will hear a bit of that – the reality is that this province now has a fixed election date.”[31] Liberal MLA Angela Simmons objected to scheduling elections in July, which would, in her estimation, “suppress voter turnout.”[32] She also (correctly) reminded the Premier that Nova Scotia did not yet have a fixed-date election upon Second Reading of a bill.[33]

Conservative MLA Tom Taggart emphasised that Elections Nova Scotia has recommended fixed-date elections for years and quoted from the Chief Electoral Officer’s Annual Reports from 2016 and 2017 to that effect. In 2016, the CEO noted in his report to the Speaker of the House of Assembly: “Because Nova Scotia does not have a fixed provincial election date, we must be prepared at all times to deliver a general election.”[34] In 2017, the CEO further observed:

“A constant election readiness state is necessary without a fixed election date. Elections Nova Scotia targeted interim readiness dates in March and September to help ensure election sub-projects are complete when an election is called. Election processes and materials must be in place and returning officers selected.”[35]

But Taggart ignored the most revealing sentence in the excerpt which he quoted. The Chief Electoral Officer said that Elections Nova Scotia was preparing for general elections in either March or September, for polling days therefore in April or October – not for mid-July! Elections Nova Scotia’s planning for elections in the spring or fall also better aligns with the two annual sittings that the House of Assembly Act requires. Taggart boasted that “fixed election dates would eliminate these logistical challenges.”[36] In his estimation, holding elections in mid-July would prevent provincial elections from overlapping with municipal and federal elections. True enough, but other provinces have already worked out ways of preventing overlapping elections. He also noted that voter turnout had increased in the estival election of 2021 compared to the previous vernal election in 2017, though he did not specify that this increase means 55.67% versus 53.4%.[37]

Liberal MLA Braedon Clark remarked, “I’ve heard no compelling reason from the Premier or anyone else as to why a Summer election forever makes sense.”[38] New Democratic MLA Lisa Lachance pointed out that scheduling elections in July would “put post-secondary students at a huge disadvantage.”[39]

Becky Druhan, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, countered the opposition’s claims that scheduling elections in July would cause voter turnout to decline. She noted that “voter turnout in Nova Scotia has been diminishing for decades,” which Elections Nova Scotia’s statistics confirm.[40] Druhan then argued that voter turnout has declined across Canada despite the universal adoption of fixed-date election laws that that the timing of elections has little or no effect on voter turnout. Statistics from the provinces and territories support this claim. Yet Druhan then contradicted her own (correct) argument and concluded that a fixed-date election law would “support voter engagement and increase turnout” in Nova Scotia, unique amongst all the provinces and territories.[41]

Unlike most MPs today, Durhan can form eloquent and coherent sentences and chains of reasoning more in line with the quality of rhetoric from the mid-20th century than what passes for parliamentary debate thereafter. She sounds through the Hansard far more articulate than every other MLA who spoke on this issue, which made her allegations on Nova Scotia’s uniqueness all the more jarring and disappointing. She accepted the premise that fixed-date election laws which schedule elections in the spring and fall have had no effect on voter turnout but then asserted that scheduling elections in mid-July would increase voter turnout in Nova Scotia.

“I would suggest that the timing of this will not discourage voter turnout whatsoever. I would suggest as well, as the members opposite have pointed out, many other jurisdictions have fixed election dates and most of them are not in the Summer. If we were to look at their turnouts, I suggest they would be equally unimpressive. The fact that they have fixed election dates, none of which are in the Summer, really doesn’t warrant us following that model. I think we can do better. […]

I think the establishment of fixed election dates in Nova Scotia will make our election process more fair for all parties and for all candidates. It will strengthen voter confidence in our election process and I submit it will support voter engagement and increase turnout. It will enable better advance planning by Elections Nova Scotia, resulting in cost savings to taxpayers.

What is the problem with our current state? What is the problem with fixed election dates? Why do we see such voter turnout? When election dates are left to the discretion of the government, the perception – rightly or wrongly – is that elections are called when they are politically advantageous to the party in power. At times, elections have been called on that basis. They have been called suddenly and unexpectedly to catch opponents off guard; they have been announced at times that challenge preparation by opponents or hinder the ability to provide comments to the media; and they have been timed to take advantage of changes in opposition leadership.

The repercussions of these practices go well beyond creating an advantage for the government or the incumbent. It is well-recognized by constitutional scholars and experts on democracy that this abuse of discretionary election dates leads to voter cynicism over the fairness of our electoral process and the motives of our elected officials.

This, I submit, is what’s causing the decrease and the unfortunate turnout that we see. These practices leave the public thinking that elections are not about good governance of the province or the needs of the electorate, and that cynicism is what’s leading to low voter turnout. Fixed election dates will mean predictability and stability in the election process.”[42]

Druhan of course never acknowledged that prime ministers and premiers have called 12 snap elections between 2008 and 2021 notwithstanding the fixed-date election law already in force in their jurisdiction. Only the Premiers of Saskatchewan have managed to resist the temptation to call snap elections since enacting so-called fixed-date elections; even then, Saskatchewan’s legislature still had to re-schedule the election originally marked for November 2015 to April 2016 and then alter the default schedule from November to October starting in 2020. Nothing smacks of greater cynicism than denouncing cynicism whilst simultaneously supporting one of the most cynical forms of legislation of the 21st century. Druhan offered no explanation in support of Nova Scotian Exceptionalism and why Nova Scotia alone would stand out as the only one of fourteen jurisdictions in Canada where fixed-date elections would somehow increase voter turnout. This sort of bizarre parochialism, where politicians see their province or territory as unique and immune to the trends which affect the other provinces and territories, crops out again and again in the Hansard across the country, which in and of itself ironically discounts any notion of uniqueness.

Liberal MLA Zach Churchill, who also served in the Liberals ministry recently defeated, argued that the House of Assembly should strike up a committee that would consult Nova Scotians on the best time to schedule general elections because of the difficulties encountered in the summer election just held[43] – the one which the Liberals called when they could have waited another year. To that end, the Liberals introduced an amendment in Committee of the Whole that would have gutted Houston’s bill to say the following:

29 A (1) The Election Commission shall recommend a date for fixed-date elections.

(2) The Election Commission shall conduct public consultations and present its recommendations to the Chief Electoral Officer on or before November 15, 2022.

(3) The Chief Electoral Officer shall table the recommendations referred to in subsection (2) before the House of Assembly if it is sitting or, where it is not sitting, at the next ensuing sitting.[44]

This was simply not serious. The amendment, defeated on 26 October, would have necessitated passing another separate piece of legislation in of after November 2022 to implement fixed-date elections.

In contrast, the New Democrats offered a reasonable amendment that would have preserved fixed-date election in principle, which they support, and brought Nova Scotia’s legislation in line with what the other provinces have done since 2012. New Democratic MLA Kendra Coombes suggested that the fixed-date elections should occur in either the spring or fall, when voters pay more attention to politics.[45] The New Democrats then tabled an amendment that would have scheduled general elections starting on 21 October 2025 and the third Tuesday in every fourth October thereafter, unless this date would overlap with a scheduled federal election, in which case Nova Scotia would delay its general election until the second Tuesday of the following May. The New Democratic amendment would therefore have adopted the same measure that Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island pioneered in 2012 and 2013. British Columbia passed a similar provision in 2017 where the premier, in consultation with the leaders of the opposition parties, would select a new date. But the Houston ministry would have none of it, and the Conservative majority defeated this amendment on 28 October 2021.[46]

Other premiers proved more accommodating under similar circumstances. For instance, in 2008, New Democratic Premier Gary Doer introduced fixed-date election legislation which would originally have scheduled Manitoba’s general elections for the second Tuesday in June, starting in 2011, which would, in turn, have meant dissolution and a writ in early to mid-May.[47] Conservative and Liberal MLAs in opposition argued that scheduling campaigns in May and June could prove disastrous because southern Manitoba tends to flood in spring. Jean Chretien’s snap election in 1997 corresponded rather inconveniently with Manitoba’s “Flood of the Century,” which almost overwhelmed even the Red River Floodway. (I lived in Winnipeg at the time, though Charleswood, thankfully, sits on ground high by Manitoban standards, and our basement did not flood). Doer agreed to this reasonable amendment and re-scheduled general elections on the first Tuesday every fourth October instead.

Third Reading takes up much more time in Nova Scotia’s House of Assembly than in all the other lower houses that I’ve studied, with 14 MLAs talking through 50 pages of Hansard.[48] Liberal MLA Kelly Regan excused the length of her remarks by pointing out that “the Committee of the Whole House on Bills does not show up in Hansard”,[49] which makes Nova Scotia an an oddity within Canada. Regan stressed that the Liberals support fixed-date elections in principle but oppose scheduling them in July. She also asserted that despite Premier Houston’s assurances at Second Reading, no one had consulted Elections Nova Scotia on scheduling general elections in July. Houston never provided a rationale in support of estival elections, and Regan drew her own conclusions: “the Premier wants to have a Summer elections because the Progressive Conservatives tend to win Summer elections. And why do they tend to win Summer elections? Because younger people don’t come out to vote.”[50] It is ironic to say the least that the Liberals would denounce summer elections as a form of voter suppression that benefits Conservatives given that the previous Liberal Premier Iain Rankin decided to hold an election in August 2021, even though he could have waited up to June 2022 and thus held an election in either the fall of 2021 or early spring of 2022. Regan concluded that April, May, or June in spring or September, October, or November in fall provide the best times to schedule general elections, and the fact that all other provinces and territories have done so supports her claim as a practical matter.[51] Yet by making this argument, Regan tacitly criticised her own party leader for having forced an election in August 2021!

The Rankin ministry and Liberals said that they wanted to hold an election in between waves of the pandemic, but by that logic they should have waited until April or May 2022. Ben Jessome, a Liberal MLA and Minister of the Public Service Commission under the recently departed Rankin ministry, spoke more frankly about the timing of the election that Premier Rankin precipitated in August 2021; like a good Millennial, he prefaces “truth” with possessive adjectives – and not merely once:

“I’m going to speak to my truth and frankly, the elephant in the room for me that I think some have acknowledged was that the Liberal Party called an election in the Summer. We did that. My truth is that I had started preparing for an election in January of this year, anticipating through conversations with colleagues on all sides of the House that we would go into an election campaign in the Spring. That’s my truth, that’s what I understood to be the reality that we were facing and so I was preparing for a Spring election.

Mr. Speaker, the other piece of my truth in facilitating that and in participating in that Summer election was what I hoped to be an anomaly in the universe, namely the COVID-19 pandemic and the fourth wave in Nova Scotia. I sincerely believe that that was a main contributor as to why our government decided to facilitate the Summer election. I sincerely believe that there was a meaningful justification around trying to engage voters at a time when the pandemic caseload was suppressed. Was it ideal? Frankly, it was not.”[52]

I can picture him munching on avocado toast as speaks “his truth.” But perhaps Jessome had spoken against the unnecessarily early election at cabinet, if Rankin ever put the question to his colleagues at all; dissolution remains, after all, a de facto decision by the prime minister or premier alone in Canada (except for in Northwest Territories and Nunavut).

Gary Burrill, leader of the New Democratic Party, expressed his frustration with Premier Houston’s refusal to explain why mid-July works best:

“I, too, would like to make a few comments on this legislation as it stands to establish permanent fixed mid-July elections in our province. May I say first that I feel as though in the course of this debate, the Premier has become an expert at arguing against positions which nobody has taken. Over and over again, in the course of these discussions, when the case has been made to him for the multitude of reasons why July is a poor time to have elections, his response when the evidence is presented to him is: It’s important to have fixed dates; we’re going to have fixed dates; fixed dates will be an improvement, et cetera – as though there were anybody remotely in view who is against having fixed dates for elections in Nova Scotia.

There isn’t anybody remotely in view in that category. The Liberal Party is in favour of fixed dates. The Progressive Conservative Party is in favour of fixed dates. The New Democratic Party is in favour of fixed dates. The Independent member is in favour of fixed dates. […] The issue is a date for fixed elections which is sensible. […]. None of these criteria is met by a fixed election date in the middle of July.”[53]

Burrill concludes that scheduling general elections in July, with a writ over Canada Day, amounts to voter suppression at worst and folly at best: “Even if we take the Premier at his word that there is no nefarious intent here in terms of an agenda of voter suppression, the very best that could be said about setting a permanent fixed election date in mid‑July is that it is ill‑conceived and thoughtless.”[54]

New Democratic MLA, Ronnie Leblanc, added: “The Summer election date is a terrible date. Terrible. I believe when I first heard of it, and no disrespect, but I thought it was a joke, to be honest.”[55] Suzy Hansen, also of the New Democratic Party, argued that scheduling elections in July would deprive secondary students the opportunity of “ever again” participating in a mock election through the Student Vote Program.”[56] But Hansen need not despair: given that every province, except Saskatchewan, which has enacted a fixed-date election law has held at least one snap election, the odds favour a resurrection of the Student Vote Program. New Democratic MLA Lisa Lachance believes that holding elections in July would make voting difficult for “over 55,000 post-secondary students in Nova Scotia.”[57]

Another New Democrat even tried to segue her opposition to the summer schedule through a weird flex about climate change. Susan Leblanc complained: “the idea of getting out to vote on a blistering hot day, as August 17th was this year, is a lot. It’s a lot to ask.”[58] She continued:

“My point in saying all this is that July is hot, and hot can be dangerous. Report after report talks about the importance of assessing risk and being ready for the worsening effects of climate change. So if we are serious about elections, if we are serious about democracy in this province, then we will not pick the hottest, most dangerous month of the year – of the warmer months – to ask folks to go to the polls and to ask folks to work elections and to ask folks to volunteer on campaigns.”[59]

Leblanc has also joined the burgeoning ranks of Canadian politicians who have adopted this bizarre American usage of “folks” for “people.”

Derek Mombourquette, Minister of Energy and Mines under the Rankin ministry and currently the House Leader of the Liberal parliamentary party, believes that this fixed-date election law will become the object litigation before the courts. “I’m no lawyer” – always the best way to preface your forays into legal matters – “but I think it’s very easy for somebody to challenge this decision.”[60] He added:

“I think it’s going to be very easy for somebody to challenge this decision, and somebody probably will come forward and challenge this decision, and they’ll base it on the fact that they never went out when you’re picking the date to hold an election, a democratic process. Somebody, I predict, is going to challenge this decision. They will, and you can avoid all of that by just going – I’m not telling you what date. That was the whole focus for us from Day 1. Whatever that date is, let Nova Scotians decide what that date is. It wasn’t about October or the weather or the Spring. It was about go out and consult. Do it right, because, number one, we want people to have the feedback, but number two, for me this is going to be challenged by someone. There is no question that we will be talking about this again at some point in this mandate.”[61]

Even if, say, Democracy Watch or other recidivist litigants try to challenge this legislation in court, they will fail. The superior court in Nova Scotia would build upon the five other rulings from 2009 to 2021 in which the Federal Court of Canada, Federal Court of Appeal of Canada, Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal, and New Brunswick’s Court of Queen’s Bench all ruled snap elections as non-justiciable political questions; certainly, the courts in Nova Scotia would recognise the authority of the legislature to pass a law scheduling an election in x or y month – even July. However, Mombourquette might be right that the legislature itself will amend this provision, probably as soon as another party takes power in Nova Scotia.


Nova Scotia departs from all the other provinces and territories by deliberately scheduling its election in mid-July. All 14 jurisdictions in Canada have now enacted fixed-date elections, and nine of them (Canada, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland & Labrador, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) scheduled their elections every fourth October. British Columbia also in 2017 switched its schedule from May to October. New Brunswick schedules its elections at the end of September, which is very close to October. Yukon just selected early November, which means that most of the writ encompasses October. But Ontario bucked the trend; it started out scheduling its elections in October but in 2016 switched to early June. This made Wynne’s snap election for June 2014 official, and Ontario held a scheduled election in June 2018. Barring any last-minute legislation from the Ford government, Ontario seems poised to hold another election in June 2022. Alberta adopted not a specific date like “the third Monday in October every four years” but instead a range from 1 March to 31 May within which the Premier can select a date every four years. The scheduled elections therefore cluster either in spring or fall. In addition, all the provinces which schedule their elections in October have now enacted provisions to postpone their general elections by a few weeks or up to six months if they would otherwise overlap with a federal general election, while Ontario, Alberta, and New Brunswick have not.

No other legislature dared schedule general elections in the short Canadian summer and interrupt one of the long weekends in July or August with campaigning. More strangely still, setting the date of the next provincial general election for 15 July 2025 means that the 64th General Assembly will be dissolved between 30 May and 15 June (since the writ must last between 30 and 46 days) and will therefore end up living only 3 years and 9 months instead of 4 years. Nova Scotia’s House of Assembly must by statute hold two sittings per calendar year, one between 1 January and 30 May, and another between 1 September and 31 December.[62] Depending on how the Houston ministry sets the parliamentary calendar in 2025, the spring could see a lengthy pre-writ of a month or two before the writs are proclaimed and the election officially begins. Houston’s insistence on scheduling general elections in mid-July also contradicts the purpose of this same provision of the House of Assembly Act, which presumes that the General Assembly will stand either adjourned or prorogued from 1 June to 31 August each year. Furthermore, this strange estival schedule would either force the Premier to wait until September to recall the General Assembly, or to recall the General Assembly in August and further ruin the short Nova Scotian summer with more politics.

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[1] CBC News, Premier Stephen McNeil Eyes Fixed Election Dates,” 3 December 2013.

[2] CBC News, Nova Scotia Government Balks at Fixed Election Date,” 8 April 2015.

[3] CBC News, “P.E.I. Election Called for May 4: Premier Wade MacLaughlan Calls Long-Expected Spring Election,” 6 April 2015.

[4] Richard Woodbury, “Nova Scotians Go to the Polls on May 30,” CBC News, 30 April 2017; “Nova Scotia, N.S. Reg. 90/2017: Proclamation, Dissolution of General Assembly and Fixing Dates for Writs of Election and Ordinary Polling Day,” in Royal Gazette, Part II – Regulations Volume 41, Number 10 (Halifax: Queen’s Printer, 12 May 2017), pages 445-446.

[5] Elections Nova Scotia, 40th Provincial General Election: May 30, 2017 – Statement of Votes & Statistics, Volume I (Halifax: Chief Electoral Officer, September 2017), page 1-15.

[6] Elections Act (Nova Scotia), chapter 5 of the acts of 2011, s.29(b).

[7] Taryn Grant, “Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to Step Down After 17 Years in Politics,” CBC News, 6 August 2020.

[8] Michael Gorman, “Iain Rankin Will Be Next Premier of Nova Scotia,” CBC News, 6 February 2021.

[9] Michael Gorman, “Nova Scotia Premier-designate Iain Rankin Inherits Big Challenges,” 7 February 2021.

[10] Nova Scotia, Premier’s Office, “New Premier, Cabinet and Vision for Nova Scotia,” 23 February 2021.

[11] Murray Ryan, “Government Motions: Res. No. 229, Estimates: CWH on Supply – Referred – Notice given March 23/21” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 63rd Assembly, 3rd Session, 21-07 Friday, 26 March 2021, page 617. “It would certainly seem that there is change in the winds and the only explanation is that there is an election brewing.” Ryan was a Conservative MLA.

[12] Kim Masland and Labi Kousoulis, “FTB – Elections N.S. Budget Reduced – Explain” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 63rd Assembly, 3rd Session, 21-09, Wednesday, 31 March 2021, page 714.

[13] Karla MacFarlane, “Government Motions” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 63rd Assembly, 3rd Session, 21-12, Wednesday, 7 April 2021, page 972.

[14] Claudia Chender, “Public Bills for Third Reading: Bill No. 4 – Biodiversity Act” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 63rd Assembly, 3rd Session, 21-16, Tuesday, 13 April 2021, page. 1237.

[15] Labi Kousoulis, “Bill No. 105 – Financial Measures (2021) Act” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 63rd Assembly, 3rd Session, 21-17, Wednesday, 14 April 2021, page 1370.

[16] Nova Scotia, Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 63rd Assembly, 3rd Session, 21-20, Monday, 19 April 2021.

[17] Kyle Moore, “Are Nova Scotia’s Funding Announcements the Sign of an Election Coming? Premier Rankin Says No,” CTV Atlantic News, 19 June 2021.

[18] CTV Atlantic News, Another Spending Announcement Raises Expectations of N.S. Provincial Election,” 21 June 2021.

[19] The Coast, Iain Rankin Makes the Nova Scotia Election Official for August 17, 2021 Voting Day,” 17 July 2021; Nova Scotia, Premier’s Office, “General Election Called for Nova Scotia,” 17 July 2021.

[20] Nova Scotia, “N.S. Reg 112/2021 – Proclamation, Dissolution of General Assembly and Fixing of Dates of Writs of Election and Ordinary Polling Day: Order-in-Council 2021-204 dated July 17, 2021,” Royal Gazette, Part II – Regulations Volume 45, Number 16 (Halifax: Queen’s Printer, 17 July 2021), 280.

[21] Elections Nova Scotia, “August 17, 2021 Nova Scotia Provincial General Election Results,” 2021.

[22] Nova Scotia, Premier’s Office, “New Cabinet to Deliver Solutions for Nova Scotians,” 31 August 2021.

[23] Nova Scotia, Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st Assembly, 21-21, Friday, 24 September 2021.

[24] Michael Gorman, “Iain Rankin Makes Pitch to Remain as N.S. Liberal Leader,” CBC News, 10 December 2021; Michael Gorman, “Iain Rankin to Step Down as N.S. Liberal Party Leader,” CBC News, 5 January 2022.

[25] Tim Houston, “Introduction of Bills: No. 1, Elections Act (amended),” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st session, 21-03, Wednesday, 13 October 2021, page 33.

[26] Nova Scotia, “Public Bills for Second Reading: No. 1, Elections Act (amended),” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st Assembly, 21-04, Thursday, 14 October 2021, pages 145-181; Nova Scotia, “Public Bills for Third Reading: No. 1, Elections Act (amended),” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st Session, 21-13, Friday, 29 October 2021, pages 918-968.

[27] Nova Scotia, “Bills Given Royal Assent,” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st Session, 21-17, Friday, 5 November 2021, page 1380.

[28] Elections Act (Nova Scotia), chapter 5 of the acts of 2011, s.29.

[29] Tim Houston, “Public Bills for Second Reading: No. 1, Elections Act (amended),” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st Assembly, 21-04, Thursday, 14 October 2021, page 145.

[30] Houston, “Second Reading,” 146.

[31] Houston, “Second Reading,” 146.

[32] Angela Simmons, “Second Reading,” 149.

[33] Simmons, “Second Reading,” 150.

[34] Elections Nova Scotia, Annual Report of the Chief Electoral Officer, 2015-2016, 3.

[35] Elections Nova Scotia, Annual Report of the Chief Electoral Officer, 2016-2017, vii.

[36] Tom Taggart, “Second Reading,” 154.

[37] Taggart, “Second Reading,” 154; Elections Nova Scotia, “Figure 1: Percentage of Votes Received by Party, 1960-2017” in 40th Provincial General Election, May 17, 2017 – Volume I : Statement of Votes and Statistics (Halifax: Chief Electoral Officer, September 2017), 1-6.

[38] Braedon Clark, “Second Reading,” 155.

[39] Lisa Lachance, “Second Reading,” 158.

[40] Becky Druhan, “Second Readign,” 159.

[41] Druhan, “Second Reading,” 159.

[42] Druhan, “Second Reading,” 159-160.

[43] Zach Churchill, “Second Reading,” 179.

[44] Nova Scotia, “Bill #1 Elections Act (amended), Changes Recommended to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills,” CWHB Lib-1, 64th Assembly, 1st Session, 26 October 2021.

[45] Kendra Coombes, “Second Reading,” 164.

[46] Nova Scotia, “Bill #1 Elections Act (amended), Changes Recommended to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills,” CWHB NDP-1, 64th Assembly, 1st Session, 28October 2021.

[47] Manitoba, Legislative Assembly. The Elections Amendment Act, Bill 37, 39th Legislature, 2nd Session, 2008.

[48] Nova Scotia, “Public Bills for Third Reading: No. 1, Elections Act (amended),” in Hansard: Debates and Proceedings, 64th Assembly, 1st Session, 21-13, Friday, 29 October 2021, pages 918-968.

[49] Kelly Regan, “Third Reading,” 919.

[50] Regan “Third Reading,” 919.

[51] Regan, “Third Reading,” 922.

[52] Ben Jessome “Third Reading,” 945.

[53] Gary Burrill “Third Reading, 923-924.

[54] Burrill “Third Reading,” 926.

[55] Ronnie Leblanc “Third Reading,” 932.

[56] Susan Hansen “Third Reading,” 935.

[57] Lisa Lachance “Third Reading,” 944.

[58] Susan Leblanc “Third Reading,” 955.

[59] S. Leblanc “Third Reading,” 955.

[60] Derek Mombourquette “Third Reading,” 964.

[61] Mombourquette “Third Reading,” 964.

[62] House of Assembly Act, Revised Statues of Nova Scotia, chapter 1, section 8(2).


About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
This entry was posted in Dissolution, Fixed-Date Elections. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: Nova Scotia Enacts Canada’s Last Fixed-Date Election Law

  1. Rand Dyck says:

    While this article reveals James’s usual mastery of his subject, it encourages us to delve into the debates of the Nova Scotia legislature if we are searching out humorous relief from COVID or for evidence that climate change truly affects every political issue under the sun!


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