The CBC is reporting that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will call upon Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament either on Sunday or Monday to schedule an election for October 19. Harper’s Conservative government has been in power since 2006 and gained a majority in the House of Commons in the last election in 2011.
Now everyone is expecting an October 19 election now that Canada and most of the provinces have fixed election dates (relatively speaking) like they do down here. But I think that people are taken aback that he is planning to call the election within a matter of days. Traditionally, Canadian election campaigns take about five weeks. So under ordinary circumtances, Harper would have called the election either September 13 or 14. But a recent change in Canadian electoral law allows increases in elections spending if the campaign runs beyond 37 days. Up until now, Canadian political parties were restricted to a spending limit of $25 million regardless of the duration of the election campaign. Given that the Tories very likely have more money to spend, this could benefit them down the stretch. If Harper sees fit to have Parliament dissolved on Sunday, the election campaign could last 79 days.
However, if I were in Stephen Harper’s shoes I would wait until after Labor Day to visit Rideau Hall. First, people don’t like election campaigns in summer. I know this because I worked on one in Ontario in 1990 that ousted the Liberals and brought the NDP to power in what was probably the most mind-boggling provincial election in Canadian history until the NDP’s triumph in Alberta this past May. True, a lot of the anger directed towards David Peterson and the Liberals in 1990 was due to the fact that he called the election two years early. But at the same he called the election in late July in the midst of summer vacations and I also remember people at the doorstep being quite annoyed with that as well. At least in Canada, politics and summer don’t mix.
Second, I don’t think a long campaign benefits the incumbent party in a parliamentary election whatever the season. Although the Tories did have a five point jump in yesterday’s Ipsos poll to 33% to put them behind Thomas Mulcair’s NDP by one point, with the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau falling four points to 25%, I don’t think the Tories should be jumping for joy especially if Liberal numbers continue to skid. If the Liberals continue to fall in the polls this means the anti-Tory vote is coalescing around the NDP and voters are getting ready to “throw the bastards out.” What would be ideal for the Tories is if the opposition vote were divided, as was the case when the Tories under Brian Mulroney were re-elected during the free trade election of 1988. But I suspect the longer the campaign the more room there is for mistakes. Yes, those mistakes could be made by the NDP, which could cast enough doubt to keep them from reaching power for the first time. But if mistakes are by the Tories during the campaign, then the longer the white heat of scrutiny is shone upon them the more painful the burn.
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