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Sunday writ drop would start most expensive campaign in Canadian history

Prime Minister Stephen Harper steps out of his residence at 24 Sussex drive Monday June 9, 2014 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper steps out of his residence at 24 Sussex drive Monday June 9, 2014 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/7/2015 (1703 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — While most Manitobans are lounging on their docks and digging in their gardens this weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper might try to quietly pull the plug on this Parliament.

Local candidates and MPs began scrambling Wednesday morning as word hit Harper had planned a Conservative party rally for Montreal Sunday night and was preparing to possibly ask Gov. Gen. David Johnson to dissolve Parliament Sunday.

Harper himself refused to offer any clues during a rare interview with Bloomberg News Wednesday.

"I don’t speculate and I particularly don’t speculate on my own actions," he said. "Obviously there is an important decision coming up for Canadians Oct. 19."

But even the fact of his doing a one-on-one interview with a national media outlet launched the tongues wagging.

Conservative sources told the Free Press nothing was certain but there was activity from the people who would be in the know.

Longest, priciest campaign

If Harper calls the election Sunday, it would start the longest, and most expensive, electoral campaign in Canadian history. There will be 79 days of campaigning before the vote Oct. 19.

Until now, the longest campaign was 72 days in 1917 during the First World War. The average is 38. The minimum is 37. There is no maximum.

Most local candidates seem to be planning for Aug. 9 and some are even still on vacation. But signs are on order, volunteers are being trained, offices are being rented.

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin, who said with a tough challenge from Liberal Robert-Falcon Ouellette on the table he will have to be out the door the minute the campaign begins.

Martin said having such a long campaign is unnecessary, and is a political move by the Conservatives to take advantage of their bigger bank accounts, and will be costly for taxpayers.

"I will be spending twice as much money as I wanted to," Martin said. That includes renting a campaign office as of Aug. 1, instead of Sept. 1, adding an entire month’s rent to the bill.

Extra campaign days raise spending limits

As long as he, or any candidate, gets 10 per cent of the vote in a riding, taxpayers will cover 60 per cent of his expenses.

Since the Conservatives passed new election rules last year, every extra day of a campaign increases the spending limits for parties and candidates. Parties, which would have been able to spend $25.4 million if they run 338 candidates, will be able to spend an extra $675,000 for every extra day beyond the 37-day minimum. Over a 79-day campaign that adds up to an additional $28.4 million per party.

If they get at least two per cent of the vote nationally, taxpayers will rebate them half of whatever they spend. For the three main parties, that could add $81 million to the election cost right there. Candidates could spend as much as $900,000 more every day in total, adding an estimated $30 million more to the cost of the election for taxpayers.

None of that includes the added costs to Elections Canada to run a 79-day campaign, hiring staff and renting office space and equipment for more than an extra month.

The 2011 election cost taxpayers just shy of $300 million. The 2015 election could cost twice that.

Martin said it would just prove the Conservatives have no qualms making taxpayers foot the bill for their political ambitions.

"It’s the polar opposite of being frugal he said."

Why go now?

So why go now? The Conservatives have the deepest pockets of any party and can more easily afford a longer campaign. At the end of 2014 the Conservatives had $11.6 million in cash in the bank compared to $8 million for the Liberals and $2.5 million for the NDP. Conservative riding associations had another $19 million, compared to $8 million for the Liberals and $4.4 million for the NDP.

In Manitoba, at the end of 2014, the Conservatives had more than $100,000 in cash on hand in five ridings and more than $60,000 in the bank in four others. The Liberals and NDP had no ridings with more than $100,000, and the Liberals had only one with more than $50,000. The Liberals had less than $10,000 in the bank in seven ridings and the NDP had less than $10,000 in eight.

Not all the riding associations have reported their 2014 figures.

Even if the opposition parties could afford this campaign, the cost will deplete their resources leaving them more vulnerable in the next election especially since most signs right now point to a minority government result on Oct. 19.

Winnipeg North Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux and Selkirk-Interlake Conservative MP James Bezan both said they don’t expect to really ramp up their campaign efforts until after Labour Day no matter when the writ is dropped but both acknowledged longer campaigns put pressure on finances, on volunteers, on everything.

Still, Lamoureux said even though the Conservatives may have the financial edge in a longer campaign, he thinks it’s better to call it sooner because the playing field is more level. The government, he said, can’t announce any more infrastructure money as they have been in every community for the last few weeks. They can’t use taxpayer money to pay for their ads anymore.


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