What is a Writ, and why is it dropped?

Trent Ernst, Editor

On April 16, the writ dropped, dissolving parliament and initiating the start of the election.

But what is a writ? And why is it dropped? Never fear, because the Tumbler Ridge News has the answers.

First things first: the dissolution of parliament. Generally, the writ dropping is considered the end of the previous parliament, but it isn’t. The confusion lies in the fact that the two happen at basically the same time, but the dissolution of parliament happens before the writ is dropped. It is the Lieutenant Governor — the Queen’s representative in the province — that both dissolves the parliament and issues the writ, which marks the start of the election, not the end of the previous sitting of parliament.

Okay, so what is a writ?

The writ, or rather, writs, are official documents, technically called a “writ of election.” As you probably gathered from the fact that the word comes from the same root as the word “write.”

There is a writ issued by the chief electoral officer for each and every electoral district that sets the date of issue, which must be the same for all 85 writs, specifies the general voting day and directs that the writs of election be returned.

But the first writ, the one that drops, is issued by the Lieutenant Governor of BC to the chief electoral officer to issue writs of election for all electoral districts.

The writs are then signed by the Lieutenant Governor and the chief electoral officer. A writ is sent to the returning officer in each electoral district, issuing the authority to hold an election.

Once the Writ is dropped, the election begins in earnest.

But why is it dropped? That one’s a little more tricky, and the most definitive answer we could find was also the most bland. It comes from the scintillating Textbook on Legal Language and Legal Writing by Prof. Dr. K. L. Bhatia, who writes: “The phrase derives from the fact that to hold an election in a parliamentary system the government must issue a writ of election.”

Fascinating. More interesting is the Eric Nicol’s Canadian Politics Unplugged, where he opines that it is essential “that the election not conflict with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dropping the puck outranks dropping the writ.”

But wait. If election season only started last week, what were all those politicians doing before hand?

Well, yes, Candidates have been maneuvering for position for the last few months, but the official campaign brings with it some significant changes.

The pre-election campaign period is basically the two months before April 16. During that time, the parties are limited to the amount of money they can spend, about $1.15 million. After, the limit jumps to $4.6 million.

Individual candidates can spend about $73,000 during the pre-campaign period and the same amount during the official campaign. That includes everything from TV ads to renting offices.

Once the writ drops, third-parties are not allowed to spend more than $3,140, or about $156,900 across the province, on campaigns that might influence the election. Before and after the election, these organizations can spend as much as they like. They must also register with Elections BC if they want to sponsor election ads.

While there are already four candidates, there is a chance that one of BC’s 25 or so other parties might run a candidate in Peace River South. They have until April 26 to file their nomination papers with Elections BC.

Voters, on the other hand, have until April 23 to register. After that, Elections BC produces a voters list of the approximately 3.2 million eligible voters and sends cards to each and every one of them, telling them where to vote.