Welcome to the longest and most expensive election campaign in recent history
Prime Minister Stephen Harper left Rideau Hall this morning with Governor General David Johnston’s approval to drop the writ and Canadians are now officially headed to the polls on October 19. For the first time since fixed election date legislation was brought in by the Conservative government, a fixed election date has been followed.
This campaign is set to span 11 weeks, or 78 days, and will be the longest and most expensive in recent history. This campaign will allow each party to spend upwards of $50 million and each of them will be reimbursed for every 50 cents they spend on the dollar. A typical 35 day campaign would usually cost taxpayers $375 million. Add 30 new ridings and double the days, add the 50% reimbursement to party expenses and right off the bat we see where this is going…
Do we really need a 78 day campaign? No. Most previous campaigns have lasted an average of 37 days and all has been fine. In fact, the campaign has been ongoing for the past few months. Just because Harper launched the campaign this morning doesn’t mean the interview attack ads will suddenly appear.
Being a prudent fiscal manager, Harper could have waited until September to make the call but instead, he chose to make the call now. His justification was he wanted all parties to follow the rules. That’s a fair point, coming from the leader with the worst track record on following election rules.
“I feel very strongly…that those campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law. That the money come from the parties themselves, not from government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources.
In terms of the advantages this party has, in terms of the fact that we’re a better financed political party, a better organized political party, and better supported by Canadians — those advantages exist whether we call this campaign or not.
What we do by calling this campaign is making sure that we are all operating within the rules and not using taxpayers’ money directly.”
There hasn’t been an election yet where the Conservatives have followed election law. In 2006, the Conservatives were penalized for their in and out scandal. In 2008, various campaign spending limits were broken and Harper’s former Parliamentary Secretary Dean Del Mastro was recently arrested for breaking electoral law in that election. In the last election, more than 200 ridings were hit with a barrage of misleading robocalls and Conservative MP Peter Penashue accepted 28 illegal donations. Penashue was eventually defeated in Labrador by Liberal Yvonne Jones.
Legalities aside, today we got a glimpse of how the federal leaders plan to kick off their official campaigns.
Stephen Harper continued his five question tradition after his address, where he highlighted security against ISIL, fiscal prudence and economic stability as the main reasons to give him and his Conservative Party another mandate. Meantime, Harper has already stated his limited attendance in electoral debates.
Thomas Mulcair skipped Vancouver Pride to be in Gatineau to respond. His speech cited his party as the party of change and highlighted economic growth, environment stewardship and renewed accountability as reasons to give the NDP the first chance for government. As soon as the speech ended, unlike Harper, Mulcair refused questions. The second surprising tactical move since he decided to only participate in electoral debates where Stephen Harper attends.
Justin Trudeau responded four hours later in British Columbia to stay true to his commitment to participating in Vancouver Pride. His speech cited his party’s commitment to creating economic growth, reestablishing economic fairness and environmental stewardship as reasons to give the Liberals a mandate. He took shots at Harper’s “failed plan” and Mulcair’s “mirage” and cited that unlike the other leaders he was willing to take as many questions as the media wanted to throw at him.
For the next 11 weeks, anything can happen and we will soon see how this election will shape up. The polls indicate the race will be close. The first debate where all the major leaders will be present begins Thursday August 6. But despite all the uncertainties, there is one certainty: this will be the most expensive election in recent history with a length that is unnecessarily long and it will be taxpayers who foot the bill.