The longest election in Canadian history?

This morning, the prime minister visited the Governor General to dissolve parliament, which means Canadians will be going to the polls on October 19th.

At first glance, what’s unusual about this election is its length: 11 weeks. 78 days seems like an awfully long time—even excessive given that the last election lasted only 37. I remember it vividly, back when I was fresh out of university and working for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, when the minority government was defeated in a motion of non-confidence.

But just how out of place is this historically? I crunched a few numbers.

You can download my data, here.

While we now have fixed election dates in Canada, it turns out there are no determined lengths for campaigns. The only instruction we have is that the campaign must be a minimum of 36 days, with no set maximum.

Since 1867, the average campaign length since has been around 51 days, dropping to 37.5 days since 1997. What caused the drop? Amendments to the Elections Act were made in 1996 to reduce minimum election calendar from 47 to 36 days, which helps to explain recent trends.

So will this be the longest election campaign in Canadian history? Not quite—but it will be the longest since the 1872, before Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador joined confederation. Spare a thought for the volunteers, campaign workers and journalists who will endure 14-hour days with few weekends off. It’s going to be a long 78 days.

The enemy of the good

Over the past few months I’ve been advocating for electoral reform in my home province of Prince Edward Island. On the heels of a provincial election and a controversial coin toss to decide a tie, I wrote that “a coin toss is not just a deeply flawed method for choosing a politician, but a symptom of a larger problem,” making the case to reform our tired and broken first-past-the-post voting system.

Luckily the issue has gained steam in the province, with a steady stream of op-eds, panel discussions (more on that later) and debate in the legislature. In Saturday’s Guardian, Alan Holman very clearly laid out the options Islanders have when it comes to electoral reform. One of the problems with the debate, however, is that it often gets framed as a question of proportional representation (P.R.) versus the status quo.

Holman was right to point out there are many ways to elect politicians, and whatever system we use greatly affects the quality and makeup of our legislature. There are a number of advantages associated with P.R., but what he said next was prescient — and something that has been on my mind for some time:

“While many Islanders feel there’s a need for change they should keep in mind a couple of old adages; perfection is often the enemy of progress, and incremental change is usually the most successful.”

There is a real opportunity and appetite for reform in the province. Just 10 years ago, P.R. was soundly rejected by islanders for a variety of reasons. If we fail to truly consider real, meaningful and straightforward alternatives like ranked ballots (often called preferential voting), Prince Edward Island may miss out on this window to adopt a more progressive voting system.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says “better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

Let’s not make perfect the enemy of the good.

Frontier College

For about 18 months I’ve been volunteering with a national literacy organization called Frontier CollegeFounded in 1899, the “college” was established to educate migrant labour as the country expanded westward. They would send university students to frontier camps across the land “where they laboured with fellow workers in the daytime and taught them at night. By 1913, these ‘Labourer-Teachers’ taught in boxcars, tents and cabins in almost every province of Canada.”

It was an effort to respond to the dangerous working conditions in labour camps which drew heavily on immigrant labour. The remoteness of the camps meant that workers had no access to education which was traditionally provided by schools and churches. As a result, most workers were caught in a cycle of economic insecurity, often with no exit in sight. You can read the full history if you like, here.

Far from working with miners in the wilderness, I work with students in Halifax’s North End on Gottingen Street. Today, I received a lovely message from the mother of a learner I’ve been tutoring throughout the spring. She improved her math test scores from 45 to 58 to 78 per cent. A great note to end the school year on.

Omar’s victory belongs to you

A few months ago we launched a petition on calling on the Canadian government—and in particular Public Safety Minister Vic Toews—to repatriate Omar Khadr. Senator Roméo Dallaire led the charge, with the support of Khadr’s legal team and a small group of committed supporters.

Since 2002, Khadr has been a polarizing figure in Canada. A child soldier, he was recruited at 13, and shot and captured at 15 in a firefight in Afghanistan. Over the course of a decade, his rights under international humanitarian law were summarily denied despite repeated federal and supreme court rulings in his favour. Most recently, the 26-year-old was the last western prisoner in Guantanamo Bay.

Since we started the petition, 35 000 individuals around the world have added their voice to the call. This—along with interventions from his legal team and the US government—helped bring Khadr’s case to the political forefront once again. On Saturday, we learned Khadr had been transferred to Millhaven in Bath, Ontario.

Here is our response to the tens of thousands who signed.

From: Matt Campbell via
Subject: Omar’s victory belongs to you
Date: 4 October, 2012 12:12 PM EDT

It finally happened. After more than a decade in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, Omar Khadr is home.

Early Saturday morning, the former child soldier and Canadian citizen was transferred to a maximum-security prison near Kingston, Ontario, where he is now in the hands of correctional services.

Over the past 10 years, Omar Khadr’s rights have been violated time and again. He has been denied the right to due process and a fair trial, the right to protection from torture, and the rights stemming from the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict.

While it’s still early, and the road ahead is long, what’s clear is the political battle is now over.

Thank you for joining us and over 30,000 Canadian users—along with global citizens from over 90 countries—in our call to repatriate Omar Khadr. This victory is yours as much as it is Omar’s.

Regrettably, the Canadian government has continued to demonize Khadr in an effort to undermine his rehabilitation. Canadians ought to expect more from their elected officials.

Against all odds, Khadr has been a model prisoner and a keen student. He has the right to prove himself. Now, he will finally have that chance.

This development is long overdue—but it is an unmistakable step towards protecting human rights and the rights of children in armed conflict. And it marks the end of a decade-long national embarrassment.

For now, let us wish Omar well.