In a federal election, the “dropping of the writ” is the equivalent of the firing of the starting gun at the beginning of a race – it signals the official beginning of the campaign, in which parties, candidates and leaders are in full election mode and activating their plans to win your vote.
The media have been buzzing with news of the writ dropping on Sunday, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Governor General David Johnston to request the House of Commons be dissolved. The Governor General then issued a proclamation that the ‘writs of election’ be issued, formally kicking off the campaign leading up to the vote on Oct. 19.
The dropping of the writ means three things:
1. The official election begins
The formal campaign starts and the leaders really hit the road to criss-cross the country, meeting voters and promoting their platforms. There are campaign buses and sometimes campaign planes. It’s also when local candidates move into high gear, door-knocking and finding every opportunity to meet voters who live in their ridings.
2. The rules change
Rules specific to election campaigns kick in. Parties and candidates must abide by election-period spending limits and third parties must also follow rules about advertising during the campaign. Additionally, government institutions cannot advertise unless there is a public safety aspect or a legal obligation. I’ll dig into the details of campaign rules and restrictions more in future posts.
3. Government functions are stable yet stalled
Government doesn’t stop functioning during an election. You still have access to established government services and government staff throughout the campaign. Where government activity slows is around programs that have not been fully implemented or new projects and initiatives that require governing decisions. These will remain on hold until after the election, when the new governing party is sworn in and can offer direction based on its platform.
For businesses, the official writ drop signals when you should enforce your policy around political visits, review party platforms and watch for opportunities to meet local candidates. Even though this federal election campaign will run longer than most, time goes by quickly and it’s important to absorb as much information as possible to ensure you capitalize on opportunities to advocate for your business.
Fun Fact: You can show off your electoral knowledge by correcting anyone who talks about ‘dropping the writ.’ People in the know will tell you that’s incorrect phrasing. The proper phrase is “drawing up the writs of election,” reflecting the fact that there’s technically one writ issued for every riding in Canada. Former lieutenant-governor of Ontario David Onley has taken to Twitter to correct the record in recent days, saying that through three provincial elections, he never once dropped a writ but always had writs drawn up.