There will be a long, hot summer of election campaigning, and the Conservatives have the home-field advantage.
They can use your money, and the megaphone of government spending announcements, to be heard in ways that other parties cannot. And you will hear them. Often.
Stephen Harper's Conservatives are preparing a slew of infrastructure announcements, cutting ribbons on projects across the country. There's been a slowdown in such projects, but now the gates are opening, mere months before an election.
That's a powerful edge, and it matters more this year than ever before. The law setting a fixed election date for Oct. 19 has brought year-long electioneering to Canada, and political parties have for months been doing campaign-style events, making platform announcements and running election ads.
But summer is traditionally a dead season in politics. Canadians turn off TVs and head to cottages and vacations. Ratings go down. There's less attention paid to the news, and politicians. Even those TV and radio ads that all three major parties are running will air much less in July and August, because voters aren't listening.
It's different, however, when a cabinet minister shows up in your town, stands beside a Conservative MP or candidate, and announces a $50-million local road project. The local radio station or paper will be there. People will talk.
That provides visibility. It helps blunt attacks from the NDP and the Liberals, who say they'd spend more on infrastructure. And it helps the Conservatives bolster a central message that they keep taxes low but deliver tangible benefits.
Offering tangible things is the incumbent's advantage. Only the governing party can announce a project, and make people think it's real, not just a promise.
And those infrastructure announcements won't be one-offs. Mr. Harper's government will spend millions of public funds on Economic Action Plan ads, reinforcing the narrative that the Conservative government is doing tangible things to help the economy and communities.
The downside is that the country's multibillion-dollar infrastructure needs require sober long-term plans, and it's dangerous to subjugate that to campaigning. So far, relatively few projects have been rolled out under the $14-billion, 10-year New Building Canada Fund, announced two years ago. When infrastructure announcements are a campaign tool, there's a temptation to delay until the timing fits the politics, or conversely, to rush half-baked plans out before voting day.
There's also the temptation to fund more eye-catching projects, rather than what's most needed. In May, the government announced a separate program to mark Canada's 150th anniversary, which will fund community projects like renovating hockey arenas.
Of course, it's not a new political tactic to pump out spending announcements before an election campaign. That's old-school politics. The innovation is that it's coming in a key period in a new kind of election year.
With the Oct. 19 election date set by law, all three parties knew they faced a long, three-part campaign that would start with a prepositioning period from late last year till the end of June, and end with a sprint from Labour Day to election day. But there's two months of summer in the middle. The parties can't go silent, because it's an election year, but can't burn up too much of their money when people pay less attention.
What to do? The Liberals and NDP plan to slow down their ad spending. They're unlikely to try to attract attention by announcing major parts of their platform. They have limited means to get out their message.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is planning to do some mini-versions of campaign touring, then go quiet for some periods. He'll tour Southern Ontario intensively for about 10 days in July, party officials say, partly to reach a key area, and partly as a campaign practice run.
But it's a lot of work to get noticed, let alone persuade of the time-for-a-change message. In reality, opposition parties must hope their message gets across before Canada Day, and that voters talk about it over their summer barbecues.
Mr. Harper's Conservatives, meanwhile, have a bigger incumbent's advantage than ever before. They can use a summer spree of announcements to send a message to voters while their opponents save their pennies, and struggle to be heard.