Why would the governing party in a Westminster parliamentary system ever surrender the right to choose the timing of the next election in favour of a fixed electoral cycle that precisely dates future elections? This analysis suggests an answer relation to Canada’s recent (2007) adoption of a four year fixed governing term by arguing that the institutional combination of a fixed maximum (rather than minimum) term and the right to choose the next election date allows opportunism to generate an externality that can result in election calls arising too soon. Evidence from Canada is introduced consistent with the cost of that externality rising through time. In such circumstances a change in institutional rules that sets a higher minimum term would realize net social advantage. The approach also suggests that as the efficiency potential of a fixed term comes to dominate the status quo, it will be the political party with relatively little success in using election timing for electoral advantage that will initiate change. The true test of the efficiency hypothesis will come only with the election of an opposition party. While the current elimination of discretion may seem desirable when in opposition, the desirability of may well change when in power.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Election rules, time inconsistency, institutional externalities
Publisher Department of Economics
Series Carleton Economic Papers
Ferris, J.S. (2013). Fixed versus Flexible Electoral Cycles with application to the recent change by Canada’s Federal Government (No. CEP 12-04). Carleton Economic Papers. Department of Economics.