With Labour Day behind us, it’s official. Summer is over. Our attentions turn from patios, warm temperatures and cool drinks to longer nights, shorter days and falling leaves. And a federal election.
For politicians, campaign workers and political pundits, Tuesday marked the beginning of the “real” election campaign. All the prior campaigning was interesting but as Dr. Phil would say, now it’s time to get real.
Despite the fact this is the longest federal election campaign in modern Canadian history, there hasn’t been a great deal in terms of substantive policy announcements. There have been a lot of boutique announcements. For example, the federal Tories have announced the extension of tax credits for mineral exploration and expanding the country’s broadband Internet network for remote regions. The NDP meanwhile has been busy saying little, as well. More money for Sport Canada to help disadvantaged youth and an increase to the guaranteed income supplement for the poorest of the elderly. And for the Liberals, the policy announcements have included a tax benefit for teachers for $150 to buy school supplies and increasing services to vets.
Notwithstanding Thursday’s somewhat delayed response from all three parties on the refugee crisis, there has been little substantive discussion about issues many Canadians and Manitobans view as important. Such as health care. Such as Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terror bill. Such as aboriginal affairs. Such as climate change.
This is going to change.
Speculation is that one of the reasons Prime Minister Stephen Harper dropped the writ so early, prompting this extraordinarily long campaign, was because by doing so, it would allow him to spend more money on political advertising. Changes to the election rules mean campaigns have even higher spending limits, putting the maximum at about $51 million, double what it would be with a “normal” campaign. And the Conservatives can pay for it. According to reports, the Conservatives ended 2014 with almost $31 million in their coffers, including national and riding-level funds, compared with about $17 million for the Liberals and $10 million for the NDP.
So you can expect to be pummelled over the remainder of the election campaign by telephone calls, brochure drops and Tory ads, many of which are expected to be negative.
However, the early election call did not necessarily do Mr. Harper any favours. While the Mike Duffy fraud trial is now in recess until after Oct. 19, there were still some revelations that may have hurt. Indeed, the insistence of a PMO insider that he never a read a line in an email from Nigel Wright that said he had personally repaid the senator’s expenses earned Mr. Harper some scathing reviews. As well, for many political observers, the denial from the prime minister about his knowledge of Mr. Wright’s payment, particularly given his reputation as a micromanager, rang hollow.
Then, early last week, Mr. Harper had to finally admit that Canada is the only G7 country in a recession. When you’ve sold yourself as the best steward for Canada’s economy, that has to hurt.
Finally, perhaps the biggest issue to derail the federal election and to create considerable problems for the Conservatives is the Syrian refugee crisis. The photograph of the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach became a flashpoint for Canadians and an immediate headache for both Mr. Harper and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. Both interrupted their scheduled campaign announcements to do serious damage control.
But anyone thinking the Tories are out, relying on polls or tea leaves, should think again. There are far too many days left in this election and there are still some campaign surprises no doubt up Mr. Harper’s sleeve. It’s still anyone’s game.
And now, it’s time for us to really pay attention.
The above is an editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press (distributed by The Canadian Press).