Harper triggers marathon election campaign ahead of Oct. 19 vote
Published Sunday, August 2, 2015 6:48AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, August 2, 2015 9:36PM EDT
Stephen Harper has launched one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history, ahead of an Oct. 19 vote.
Harper travelled to Rideau Hall where he submitted a writ of general election to Governor General David Johnston, touching off an 11-week election campaign that is expected to carry a hefty price tag for taxpayers.
In his speech, Harper framed the election around the key issues of the economy and national security. He blamed outside factors for Canada’s five straight months of economic decline, saying his party’s choices “have been prudent, and our actions have been disciplined.”
“Now is not the time for the kind of risky economic schemes that are doing so much damage in other parts of the world,” he said.
Harper also raised the spectres of the Islamic State and “Russian aggression” as possible threats to Canadian national security. “It’s not time for political ineptitude, inexperienced governments or ideological refusal to act,” he said, in his French-language speech.
Later in the day, Harper brought up many of the same issues at a campaign event in Montreal, while emphasizing the Conservatives’ support for Quebec nationalism and the province’s unique culture.
“After nearly 150 years, Francophones and Anglophones continue to work together by going back to our roots and electing a Conservative majority government,” he said. "(Conservatives) have acknowledged that, within a united Canada, Quebecers are a nation. It’s an expression of a deep pride in our past and trust in our future.”
“Never let anyone tell you that Conservative values are not Quebec values,” he said. “It’s simply not true.”
Harper also took the opportunity to criticize rivals Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, saying that neither could be trusted with Canada’s future.
The Conservative Leader first took aim at Trudeau for his opposition to Canada’s role in the global coalition against ISIS.
“Maybe (Trudeau) thinks he can just charm ISIS like he thinks he can charm Iran,” Harper said.
Mulcair’s promise to raise taxes on businesses, Harper said, would send Canada in the same economic nosedive as many other countries around the world.
“Our future is not a lottery,” he said. “It’s not time to neglect our economy.”
Speculation was running rampant earlier in the week, with many anticipating an election call on Sunday. It wasn’t until late Saturday night that they confirmed the trip to Rideau Hall on Harper’s agenda. The Conservatives were expected to seek a longer-than-normal election campaign period, which would allow them to take advantage of new election spending rules.
New election campaign rules allow each candidate to spend up to an additional $675,000 after the first 37 days of the election campaign. The Conservatives have squirreled away a sizable election war chest for this campaign, and they're expected to use the extra spending period to put pressure on their more money-conscious rivals.
The official election period will be 78 days long.
The 38th day of the campaign will come on Sep. 9, meaning all parties will be able to push their messages a lot harder after Labour Day.
Harper defended the expensive election call when questioned by reporters, saying the move is to make sure all parties operate “within the rules, not using taxpayers’ money directly.” He went on to accuse the other parties of having already started their campaigns before the official election call.
He also defended his party’s superior fundraising machine, saying that his advantage will exist no matter when he calls an election. “Everybody should finance their own campaign and everybody should operate under the law,” he said.
Speaking shortly after Harper’s election call, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair slammed the Conservatives' economic record. He also accused them of using government resources to advertise their policies.
“Mr. Harper’s priority is to spend millions of dollars on self-serving government advertising and an early election call,” he said in Gatineau, Que., not far from Parliament Hill.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe opened his campaign by attacking Harper and Mulcair for refusing to participate in a broadcast consortium debate. He also accused Harper of giving himself a “partisan advantage” using public funds.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May dedicated her campaign to the memory of Flora MacDonald, the trailblazing former Progressive Conservative MP who died at the age of 89 a week ago. "She was my friend, but also, for all of my life, my role model," she said at her campaign kickoff in Sidney, B.C.
May added her own criticism to the chorus of voices slamming Harper for his early election call. She said it’s "fair" for Harper’s Conservatives to head into the election with a financial advantage, but unfair of him to suggest taxpayers won’t be helping to foot the bill.
Speaking from Bloc headquarters in Montreal, Duceppe blamed Harper for what he said will be the longest, most expensive and least-debated campaign in Canadian history.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was en route to B.C. at the time of the election call, but he offered his campaign remarks shortly after landing in Vancouver. In his speech, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of being “tired, out of ideas and disconnected from reality.” He also attacked Harper's economic record and vowed to fight for the middle class.
“You grow the economy by strengthening the middle class and those hoping to join it,” Trudeau said.
The track record going into a long campaign
Harper's Conservatives have been in power since winning a minority government in the 2006 election. They won a second minority government in 2008, then seized a majority in the last election, on May 2, 2011. After four years and a few seats shuffled in byelections, the Conservatives finished this session of Parliament with 159 seats in the House of Commons. That was down seven seats from the general election results in 2011.
After serving as Leader of the Official Opposition for nearly four years, Thomas Mulcair will enter his first election as leader of the New Democrat Party, which held 95 seats on the day Parliament was dissolved.
Justin Trudeau will also be a newcomer to the federal election race as a party leader. He will attempt to improve on the Liberal Party's 36 seats in the last Parliament.
The Liberals were the only major federal party to add to their seat totals through byelections during the last session of Parliament. They started the session with 34 seats and improved to 36, while the Conservatives lost seven seats and the NDP surrendered eight. The Bloc Quebecois also saw its numbers cut in half, from four to two.
The Green Party won one seat in the 2011 federal election and added a second when former NDP MP Bruce Hyer joined their party.
Parliament also wrapped up with two members of the Forces et Democratie Party, eight independent MPs and four vacant seats. Three of those vacant seats belonged to Conservative Party MPs and one seat belonged to the NDP.
The latest poll from Nanos Research shows the three major parties in a dead heat heading into the election. The poll asked respondents which two parties they would vote for in their area.
The results show the Conservatives holding a miniscule lead over the NDP and Liberals, with 2.2 percentage points separating the first- and third-ranked parties. (Poll methodology below.*)
*Dual frame (land + cell) RDD telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians – four week rolling average of 250 interviews week conducted between July 5 and 31, 2015. The margin of error for a survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. Full poll.