Canada embarks on marathon campaign

Early election call will carry an extra cost of more than $100 million for Elections Canada

They’re off and running. But this federal election campaign will more closely resemble a marathon than a sprint.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid a visit to Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall Sunday morning to dissolve Parliament and officially start the campaign for the election set for Oct. 19. That campaign will now last 78 days, more than double the typical 37-day campaign.

Anyone who’s switched on a TV, picked up a newspaper or listened to the radio could be forgiven for believing that the campaign has already been running for months. What’s different now is that once the writ has been officially dropped, a whole new set of rules kicks in. So why fire up the campaigns now instead of five weeks out from the election as has previously been the case?

Upon leaving Rideau Hall, Harper told reporters that “It’s important that these campaigns be funded by the parties themselves rather than taxpayers.”  Well that certainly makes sense … if only it were true.

Elections Canada estimates a traditional 37-day campaign costs the government agency about $375 million, and this year’s longer conger is expected to add more than $100 million to that tab. The longer campaign will also double the $25 million spending limit on political parties, with taxpayers on the hook for reimbursing up to half of what political parties spend on a national campaign.

But, hey, what better way to start an election campaign than with a misleading statement, so we can can cut the prime minister a little slack on that one. The real benefit of the early election call is to Harper’s Conservative Party, which is sitting on more cash than all of its rivals combined. And the onset of the campaign follows a flurry of spending announcements by the governing Tories that would have made Santa proud.

But politicians can be expected to use any situation to their advantage. And now that the race is on, it’s the voters who will set the course for how it finishes.