Ready to rumble?
Political parties prepare for lengthy election campaign ahead of Oct. 19 vote
In past election campaigns, the federal Conservatives were fond of scheduling their events early in the day, hoping to set the agenda and force everyone else to talk about their policy pronouncements.
On Sunday, Stephen Harper is widely expected to take that tactic to a whole new level.
By all indications, the prime minister is poised pay a visit to Governor General David Johnston to ask that Parliament be dissolved, kicking off what promises to be a long, hot leadup to the Oct. 19 federal election.
Harper is scheduled to attend a rally with Conservative faithful later that day in Montreal, kicking off a gruelling 11-week campaign that promises to be one of the longest and most expensive in Canadian political history.
“He’s playing agenda-setting,” Conservative strategist Tim Powers said Thursday.
“(He’s) trying to use his experience and also trying to use what resources the Conservatives have — which appear to be more than the other guys — to his advantage.”
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent said he believes Harper’s early-call strategy is more about trying to steer clear of some serious campaign-trail potholes, notably the Mike Duffy trial and the state of Canadian pocketbooks.
“I think ... he would think the longer campaign will enable him to get out from under some of the flak that is yet to come, likely on the Duffy trial and also on the downturn of the Canadian economy,” Broadbent said in an interview.
Duffy’s trial resumes Aug. 12 with the star witness: Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, the man who provided the embattled senator with $90,000 in order to pay back dubious housing and travel expense claims.
The other oft-mentioned advantage to the Tories of a longer campaign is the fundraising angle: the longer the campaign, the more money the parties are forced to spend.
The cash-rich Conservatives have been able to raise more fundraising dollars than the NDP and Liberals combined, but Broadbent said he is confident more money will pour in for the New Democrats once the official campaign is underway.
“The popularity of the NDP, everybody in the country knows, has been going up not just in recent weeks but in most recent months and that is generating ... increased donations to the party,” Broadbent said.
“I am absolutely certain, given my own experience as leader, once the campaign is officially launched, many people committed to the party will start donating.”
Indeed, that appears to have already started.
The party announced Thursday it raised nearly $4.5 million in the second quarter of 2015 — more than any quarter in its history.
The pre-campaign period, of course, is about more than just party coffers.
Observers point to a recent barrage of government spending across the country and a rush of government announcements on Twitter as signs a campaign is nigh.
New Democrat officials weren’t saying much Thursday about their Sunday plans, but Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is expected to hold an event in Vancouver prior to the city’s Pride parade if the campaign does indeed get underway.
Trudeau will then travel to the Toronto area ahead of the first leader’s debate, scheduled to take place Thursday.
Federal law requires campaigns to be at least 37 days long, but says nothing about a maximum length.
The Conservative government’s recent changes allow candidate and party spending to increase by as much as $675,000 for every day the campaign extends past 37 days.
Canadian taxpayers, meanwhile, will be footing the bill for millions in extra administrative costs and tens of millions more in rebates to parties and candidates for their additional election expenses.
Elections Canada estimates that a typical 37-day campaign would cost roughly $375 million to administer.
Regardless of the price tag, it’s money well-spent in the name of democracy, said the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, founded by Reform party godfather Preston Manning,
The cost of an election “is a drop in the bucket when you consider total government spending and the fact elections happen once every four years,” the centre said in a statement.
“One of the big benefits of a longer election period is that it allows for more debate on important issues and more engagement with Canadians.”