Friday, December 29, 2006

Kingsley quits

Late yesterday, Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, tendered his resignation to the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate two years before the compulsory retirement age of 65. He had been on the job for seventeen years and during that time presided over five elections, a national referendum and dozens of by-elections.

His most significant reform was the permanent voters' list. No longer were people enumerated door to door every election; instead the list is now updated through income tax records (via a voluntary check off) and provincial vital statistics. Some say this has led to a decline in voter turnout because there is no longer that personal contact from non-partisan local people who remind voters "that time" is coming. In the modern age of communcation, however, door-to-door information gathering become rather quaint. I actually participated in the final enumeration in 1997 gathering information from my neighbours, and people seemed actually enthusiastic that Canada was getting out of the Stone Age.

Kingsley also kept politicians on their toes, constantly reminding them about the rules and the need to change them not for their own benefit but for that of the democratic process ... and was also a dedicated researcher, not only leading Canadian observation of elections in emerging democracies but putting out numerous newsletters about what works and what doesn't. For example, he issued a cautionary tale not that long ago about the pratfalls of voting online.

Kingsley made the job of election referee fun when it is anything but, and in that respect Stephen Harper will have a very difficult choice to make to nominate a successor. Since the job is one of a handful that requires ratification by Parliament since it and not the Government is the employer (among the others are the Auditor-General and the Information and Privacy Commissioners) Harper is duty bound to consult with the opposition leaders to find someone who can fill the post without any bias whatsoever, as the Chief Electoral Officer is actually required by law to waive his or her right to vote during the term in office. Given an election can happen at any time, he has to act fast and the appointee ready to go at the provocation of a sneeze.

No matter what personal feelings Harper may have about Kingsley he can't get revenge by appointing a hack. The job in question is not a patronage appointment. Unlike other countries -- even many parts of the United States -- elections here are seen as clean and we need to continue that. That goes without saying but it still needs to be said.

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1 comment:

Devon Rowcliffe said...

One thing's for certain - members of the Rhinoceros Party will be glad to see the back of him!