PM Harper signals start of Canadian election


Campaign promises to be nasty as all three parties have chance at power

By Barry Ellsworth

TRENTON, Ontario – The starter’s gun for the marathon that will be the Canadian federal election was fired Sunday, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling on the Governor General at his Ottawa residence to formally ask that Parliament be dissolved.

Normally, Canadian elections run 37 days between the start and Election Day. But this time, 78 days will elapse from Aug. 2, to Oct. 19, when Canadians cast their ballots for the reigning Conservatives, the official opposition New Democratic Party, the Liberals, or one of a trio of small parties – the Greens, Bloc Quebecois or Forces et Democratie.

The campaign will mark the second longest in Canadian history, with only the 89-day run in 1872 longer in duration.

Polls leading up to Sunday’s election call show all of the three main parties have a shot at winning – Conservatives are running for their fourth term and a victory would make Harper the first prime minister since 1908 to win four consecutive elections.

Because of the closeness of the horse race, Canada’s CTV News – the most watched TV news in the country – said Sunday that it is an “almost certain bet it will be the most vicious, no-holds-barred campaign Canadians have ever witnessed.”

Jeremy Broadhurst, the national director of the Liberal party, told CTV the campaign “will be unlike anything we have ever seen” and has “certainly got the potential to be the nastiest” in Canadian history.

Traditionally, Canadian federal elections do not feature the snarling attack ads that accompany campaigns next door in the United States. But during Harper’s time, the American-style campaign has gained ground, with personal attacks on individual leaders.

After visiting Governor General David Johnston – Canada is a Commonwealth country and tradition calls for the prime minister to ask the GG to dissolve Parliament, which officially marks the beginning of the election campaign – Harper made remarks to the media.

Conservatives have long boasted they are the party proven during their time in power to be the most capable of steering the economy and to keep citizens safe from terrorists.

“This is no time for risky plans that could harm our future,” Harper said. “This is time to stay the course and stick to our plan.”

The party leaders first debate will be Aug. 6. in Toronto.

Political pundits theorize Harper called the start of the campaign earlier because his Conservatives (also known as Tories) have by far the biggest war chest of the three legitimate contenders.

Party spending is capped at $25 million for a 37-day campaign, with $675,000 (or 1/37th) added for each additional day. So the 11-week duration will raise the spending limit to more than $50 million.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau are both entering their first election campaign as heads of their parties.

As Harper indicated by his remarks to journalists today, the economy is likely to be a major issue of the campaign. Canada’s economic growth has tottered over recent months.

Harper enjoys a majority government, but the polls indicate that may be reduced to a minority (or outright loss). If there is a Tory minority, there is the chance that the NDP and Liberals will form a coalition to take power from Harper.