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Representative assemblies can be elected for a fixed term (the United States House of Representatives has a fixed term of two years), or for a maximum term with the provision for an early election.
British derived parliaments have usually had maximum terms which, depending on the parliamentary system, have varied between three to seven years. Few parliaments run their full term and are dissolved earlier at a time when the government of the day considers it appropriate to hold a general election (see dissolution ).
In British Columbia, as in all Canadian provinces, the discretion to advise the calling of an election has been a powerful weapon in the armoury of the premier to use for partisan advantage. But, since 2002 and the bringing into force of the Constitution (Fixed Election Dates) Amendment Act of 2001, the timing of general elections in British Columbia has been fixed for ‘…May 17, 2005 and thereafter on the second Tuesday in May in the fourth calendar year following the general voting day for the most recently held general election’ ( Constitution Act (British Columbia) section 23(2)). Note that the lieutenant governor can still dissolve the legislative assembly before that date (see section 23(1)) but the circumstances required for this to occur would have to be either that the parliament had become unworkable because of split in the governing party or coalition , or that a strong willed premier was willing to call a general election notwithstanding the ‘fixed’ date.