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The Globe and Mail

Whatever happened to fixed-election dates?

Yee haw! Another election heading our way. Why, it's been nearly 2 1/2 years since the lads and lassies in Ottawa last tantalized the country with promises to be funded by us. I was starting to feel withdrawal.

But seriously, folks, this will make four cross-Canada treks to the polls in seven years, and one wonders why. What's wrong with minority government?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may blame opposition parties for toppling his government and forcing an election over what they call the Tories' "unprecedented … contempt of Parliament." But he's the same guy who was so desirous of snaring the power that comes from commanding a majority of seats, he called an election on his own in 2008, without a confidence vote in sight.

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He did that notwithstanding legislation brought in by his very self that set fixed, four-year terms. It's a good policy that enhances democracy by removing election timing from the whims of prime ministers. Yet Mr. Harper simply could not resist the lure of riding winds he thought were to his political advantage in 2008.

Nor, sadly, does it appear our own leader, Premier Christy Clark, will be able to turn her back on the siren call of an early provincial election, well in advance of the legislated, set date, May 14, 2013. B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to impose four-year terms. Now, we may be the first with a majority government to thumb our nose at the rule.

In other words, election laws are fine, unless leaders choose to ignore them.

Canada has had three minority governments since 2004 – one Liberal and two Conservative – and the country seems to have survived. In fact, it was a concerted opposition gang-up that forced the Tories to unleash their comprehensive stimulus package during the recession that they have been taking credit for ever since. Politics.

Expect huge doses of vitriol over the next six weeks, when oft will be heard a discouraging word, about the other fellows and Bev Oda. Don't expect much policy to break out.

Still, even the Conservatives may have run out of negative things to say about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. I hear their attack ads are down to dissing the guy for having two 'f's' at the end of his name.


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There is one big change in federal party backrooms out here in Lotusland, as candidates strap on their "the message, the message and nothing but the message" armour. For the first time in quite a while, perennial Liberal campaign mastermind Mark Marissen will be watching from the sidelines.

The personable Mr. Marissen, aka the father of Christy Clark's son Hamish, has left his consulting business for "a real job," sources say, that precludes participation in the coming fray. His ever-buoyant spin will be missed.


Bill Murray's version of Groundhog Day came late to Surrey this week. Not until Monday did Premier Clark, seven days into her new job, get around to re-enacting the Liberals' deja vu announcement of the $512-million expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital.

A quick glance at the website of Gordon Campbell MLA finds photos of Mr. Campbell doing the same thing in 2009. And the Libs promised it before that, and before that …

It was all too much, even for the local media. One publication ignored the event, the other ran the rehash as its second brief. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts did not attend.

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You know you're getting old, when figures you remember well pass on, and few seem to know who they were.

So it is with Frank Howard, a tough political warhorse and union organizer from the majestic Skeena region, who fought federal and provincial elections in this province for 30 years, winning most of them.

And he did all this after serving two years in the B.C. Pen for armed robbery. Not many can match that record of an ex-con going straight.

Mr. Howard cut his parliamentary teeth in the House of Commons as one of only eight CCF members who survived the John Diefenbaker sweep of 1958. They quickly became known as the "conscience of Parliament."

During his time in Ottawa, he campaigned relentlessly for prison reform and granting natives the right to vote. He also staged a successful filibuster to end the arcane need – believe it or not – for divorces in Newfoundland to be approved by Parliament.

All told, Mr. Howard contested 12 elections and won nine, serving 25 years in Parliament and the B.C. Legislature, none without speaking his mind. Despite his remarkable life, there was little notice when Mr. Howard died recently at the age of 85. There should have been.

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