Spring forward to by-election season (it will come eventually)

March 13th, 2014

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Wednesday's resignation from the House of Commons by Trinity-Spadina, ON NDP M.P. Olivia Chow to launch her mayoralty bid in Toronto filled in one of the last unknowns in the spring electoral calendar.

The first wheel was set into motion last November with the resignation of Macleod, AB Conservative M.P. Ted Menzies, followed by the surprise resignation of Fort McMurray-Athabaska, AB Conservative Brian Jean in January.

While Chow's resignation to run for mayor could hardly be called surprising, the exact timing had long been a source of speculation in Ottawa and elsewhere. But with all her serious known competitors in the race already, and with a Toronto mayoralty debate scheduled for the evening of March 27th at Ryerson University, Chow has decided to make it official.

Here's a rundown of the relevant dates:

  • Ted Menzies had said before the summer 2013 cabinet shuffle that he wouldn't be running again in 2015, but then announced on Wednesday November 6 that he planned to resign from the Commons immediately. He planned to resign on the Friday (November 8, the last sitting day before the Remembrance Day Commons break week), but the resignation was dated for Saturday November 9 and so notice of the vacancy was not sent by the Speaker's Office to the Chief Electoral Officer until Monday November 18 when the House got back.
  • Brian Jean announced his retirement on Friday, January 10, 2014, it took effect a week later on January 17, but again, the Chief Electoral Officer was not notified of the vacancy until January 30 — a full four days after the House returned from its Christmas break on Monday January 27.
  • Olivia Chow resigned from the House of Commons on Wednesday, March 12. As of late Wednesday evening, the resignation has not been posted onto the Parliamentary website. Although this might sound picayune, the difference between the CEO being notified on Wednesday vs Thursday is an extra week's delay in a possible E-Day. Should the Speaker not get around to notifying the CEO until the House gets back in two weeks, that's a further 2 weeks' delay still.

[As a sidebar here, I have to ask why all the daudling lately in the Speaker's Office about relaying resignations to the Chief Electoral Officer. The most I've seen in the past is a week or so's delay after an MP died, but never this long when one was resigning. Section 28(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act says that the Speaker is to advise the Chief Electoral Officer "without delay", but I guess timeliness is in the eye of the beholder. With all our modern technology nowadays, whether the Speaker is in Ottawa or not should not really make a difference here.]

2014 By-elections – Significant Dates (T-S early notification scenario)

    Macleod, AB Fort McMurray-Athabaska, AB Trinity-Spadina, ON
(A) Date of the vacancy: Sat Nov 9, 2013 Fri Jan 17, 2014 Wed Mar 12, 2014
(B) Date the Chief Electoral Officer was notified of the vacancy: Thu Nov 28, 2013 Thu Jan 30, 2014 Wed Mar 12, 2014
(C) First day the by-election could be called (11 days after (B)): Mon Dec 9, 2013 Mon Feb 10, 2014 Sun Mar 23, 2014
(D) 36 days after (C): Tue Jan 14, 2014 Tue Mar 18, 2014 Mon Apr 28, 2014
(E) Earliest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (D)): Mon Jan 20, 2014 Mon Mar 24, 2014 Mon Apr 28, 2014
(F) Last the by-election can be called (180 days after (B)): Tue May 27, 2014 Tue Jul 29, 2014 Mon Sep 8, 2014
(G) 36 days after (F): Wed Jul 2, 2014 Wed Sep 3, 2014 Tue Oct 14, 2014
(H) Latest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (G)): on or after Mon Jul 7, 2014 on or after Mon Sep 8, 2014 on or after Mon Oct 20, 2014

Trinity-Spadina late (more likely?) notification scenario

    Trinity-Spadina, ON
(A) Date of the vacancy: Wed Mar 12, 2014
(B) Date the Chief Electoral Officer was notified of the vacancy: Mon Mar 24, 2014
(C) First day the by-election could be called (11 days after (B)): Fri Apr 4, 2014
(D) 36 days after (C): Sat May 10, 2014
(E) Earliest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (D)): Mon May 12, 2014
(F) Last the by-election can be called (180 days after (B)): Sat Sep 20, 2014
(G) 36 days after (F): Sun Oct 26, 2014
(H) Latest date the by-election could be held (First Monday on or after (G)): on or after Mon Oct 27, 2014

Assuming the PM would call all three by-elections together, the available E-Days meeting the criteria for all 3 vacant seats are Monday May 12, Tuesday May 20 (the day after Victoria Day), Monday May 26, or Monday June 2, 9, or 16. I doubt by-elections would be called for June 23 or 30, or even July 7, so that leaves six likely by-election dates. And if the new MPs were to be sworn in and presented to the Commons before it adjourned for the summer, it would have to be one of the earlier dates rather than the later ones (though they could still be sworn in after the House adjourned).

Chantal Hébert rightly notes that these by-elections will be called in the wake of the Québec provincial election, where voters go to the polls on Monday, April 7, and which might be expected to set at least some of the agenda for federal voters to consider in their by-election ballot questions.

But in a large media market the size of Toronto, which will already be dominated by the early mayoralty air-war and pre-election positioning on the Ontario provincial scene, a federal by-election in Trinity-Spadina could easily be lost in all the cacaphony. For all the sound and fury we political junkies observed during the Toronto Centre by-election last fall, it's worth remembering that the average voter in that riding was probably barely aware it was happening at all.

On the Ontario provincial side of things, the provincial Liberal convention is slated for the weekend of March 21-23 in Toronto, with a budget to follow anytime in the four to six weeks after that. A Robert Benzie story from January in the Toronto Star suggested the provincial Liberals were looking at an election date of Thursday, May 29, which under Ontario legislation would have to be called on Wednesday, April 30, the week the legislature returned from its Easter break week. The legislature also passed a series of interim supply motions on February 25, covering the period from April 1 to Sept 30, 2014, so should a budget be delayed or fail to pass, at least the government could continue to function. This seems to imply a later rather than earlier budget, but there's probably also a lot of minority government head-fakery going around too.

That leaves us with a strategic calendar looking something like this:

  • Mon Mar 17 – Ontario legislature returns from one-week March break
  • Fri-Sun Mar 21-23 – Ontario provincial Liberal convention in Toronto
  • Sun Mar 23 – First day Trinity-Spadina federal by-election could be called ("early notification scenario") for an E-Day on or after Mon Apr 28
  • Mon Mar 24 – House of Commons resumes sitting after two-week March break
  • Thurs Mar 27 – First Toronto mayoralty debate potentially including Ford, Soknacki, Tory, Stintz and Chow
  • Fri Apr 4 – First day Trinity-Spadina federal by-election could be called ("late notification scenario") for an E-Day on or after Mon May 12
  • Mon Apr 7 – Québec provincial election
  • Tue Apr 8 – all hell breaks loose (kidding! … though maybe not, eh …)
  • Fri Apr 11 – Commons adjourns for two-week Easter break
  • Thu Apr 17 – Ontario legislature adjourns for one-week Easter break
  • Fri Apr 18 – Easter Friday
  • Mon Apr 21 – Easter Monday
  • Tue Apr 22 – (assume a new Québec government is sworn in this week or next)
  • Mon Apr 28 – House of Commons and Ontario legislature return from Easter break; earliest possible federal by-election date assuming all 3 ridings called at once, and CEO was notified by Speaker of Chow vacancy on the day it happened
  • Wed Apr 30 – the day an Ontario provincial writ would have to be issued for a Thurs May 29 general election
  • Mon May 5 – possible federal by-election E-Day, if CEO notified by Speaker of Chow vacancy the day after it happened
  • Sun May 11 – last day to call the Macleod federal by-election for an E-Day of June 16
  • Mon May 12 – possible federal by-election E-Day, if CEO notified by Speaker of Chow vacancy when the Commons returns on March 24
  • Fri May 16 – Commons adjourns for one-week Victoria Day weekend break
  • Sun May 18 – last day to call the Macleod federal by-election for an E-Day of June 23
  • Mon May 19 – Victoria Day
  • Tues May 20 – possible federal by-election E-Day
  • Mon May 26 – Commons returns from one-week break; possible federal by-election E-Day
  • Tue May 27 – Last day to call the Macleod federal by-election, period. (for an E-Day of July 7)
  • Thurs May 29 – Ontario Liberals preferred election day, according to January Robert Benzie story
  • Mon June 2 – possible federal by-election E-Day
  • Fri June 6 – last regular sitting day of the House of Commons for the spring
  • Mon June 9 – possible federal by-election E-Day; extended sitting days of the House of Commons begin for a two-week period
  • Fri June 20 – last scheduled day of extended sitting days on the Commons calendar
  • Tues June 24 – the first Fête Nationale after the Québec election.

Not to ignore Alberta readers, but all these eastern considerations only apply to the Alberta federal by-elections if all three vacant seats are to be called at once.

If instead the Prime Minister decides not to spring forward with all three now, but to fall back to an autumn call in downtown Toronto, he could have the Alberta by-elections launched as soon as his party's candidates are in place. More on the by-election candidates and nomination races next time.

7 Responses to “Spring forward to by-election season (it will come eventually)”

  1. Bruce Cox says:

    Excellent work Alice, nothing like having the facts in front of us. Two small pieces of conjecture: 1) by-elections are frequently held shortly AFTER a holiday weekend allowing for a long weekend of campaigning (altho Tuesday May 20 seems too close and would be brutal for Elections Canada’s scheduling of workers etc.) and 2) the Conservatives will want to call all three together to bury a loss in T-Spadina with victories in AB. A simultaneous by-election and provincial election in Ontario does not really impact Harper/Hudak as it does the NDP and Liberals.

  2. Brian Jean says:

    Nice work on all of the research and conjecture on dates. Just one point to make, in Alberta “Athabasca” is spelled with a “c” not a “k”. Also wanted to say thanks, as we very much appreciate you calling our home Fort McMurray and not “Fort Mac” as some do.

  3. Golly, you know I never noticed the “c” vs “k” spelling difference before, so I really appreciate your taking the time to point it out, Mr. Jean, and I’ll be sure to get it right in future.

    I will confess to saying “Fort Mac” colloquially in the past, but as it’s not the proper name of your city, that *probably* wouldn’t have made it into my blog — though for sure it won’t now, eh ;-)

  4. Shadow says:

    Alice nice piece about open noms on NNW.

    One thing I was wondering about, how would this have played out post-Chong’s reform act ?

    It will be interesting to see how Trudeau and his team vote on that legislation now.

    Everyone wants to be credited as fresh faced reformers but it seems there’s already a clique of people attached to the leader who enjoy his powers.

  5. David Young says:

    I wouldn’t count on Harper scheduling Trinity-Spadina at the same time as the two Alberta by-elections.

    In 2007, Toronto Centre became vacant on July 2 when Bill Graham resigned, but the by-election to replace him didn’t happen until March 17, 2008, more than 10 months later. Meanwhile the riding of Roberval-Lac St. Jean became vacant on July 29, 2007, and Harper called that by-election to coincide with two other by-elections already scheduled for Outremont and Saint Hyachinth-Bagot on September 17, 2007; less than 2 months later.

    Why the difference? Simple!

    Harper knew the Conservatives wouldn’t win Toronto Centre, but they could win Roberval-Lac St. Jean, which they did.

    He had far more to gain by being partisan-minded towards a seat the Conservatives could pick up as opposed to one they were never going to win.

    Harper knows there is far more to gain by delaying the vote in Trinity-Spadina and letting the Liberals and NDP tear at each other for as long as they can than scheduling the vote there earlier.

  6. Jon says:

    Hope Harper and his Cons get their rosy arseholes kicked big time.
    No respect for the Cohen Commission recommendations.
    No respect First Nations land rights. Aqua farms and their detrimental hideousness to be in the ocean…..too many viruses being spread to wild pacific salmon.
    No respect for land rights….trying to slam tankers and pipelines through…..The First Nations will resist Enbridge’s financial bribes and challenge successfully the stoppage of these traditional forms of energy which will eventually be replaced with alternatives….Too bad our tax dollars are wasted on Tar sands when many new options exist.

    BC will vote for a referendum to separate from Canada as they are rich in clean water, soil, air and Eco tourism. Hard earned tax dollars will no longer go to Ottawa and their egotistical politicians.

    Christie Clarke will be tossed for poor enviro decisions.

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