The 2015 federal election will require political parties to work harder than ever to capture the attention of the electorate. This story is part of Adam Radwanski's new assignment looking at how the party machines across the country are preparing.
To make a long story short, it's a change to political financing rules that effectively facilitates a much longer writ period than previously. That's because there is no longer a hard cap on campaign spending by each party, regardless of how long a campaign lasts – something that made really long campaigns impractical for all concerned. From now on, instead, the spending limit for each party will rise proportionate to the number of days the campaign goes above its 37-day minimum.
Ms. Funke estimates that an extra week of the writ could raise the spending cap by somewhere around $5-million per party, and an extra month by over $20-million. And she speculates that, while keeping the scheduled election date of Oct. 19, Stephen Harper will seek to begin the official campaign period early – presumably some time in August – because it would enable his Conservatives to take advantage of having deeper pockets than the other parties.
Although that's certainly plausible, it's debatable just how much extra advantage it would give the governing party. Even if the writ isn't dropped until September, it's a safe bet that the campaign will be unofficially under way through the summer. And that should give the Tories plenty of opportunity to capitalize on their money advantage, while the other two parties have to be more frugal so they can spend the limit after Labour Day.
There is, though, another potential incentive for the Prime Minister to launch the official campaign earlier than he needs to.
More so than before other recent elections, the Conservatives are braced for an onslaught of third-party advertising taking aim at them. They have already told supporters that unions – which are currently fired up over controversial legislation that would force them to publicly disclose details of their spending, along with another bill that could make unions harder to form and easier to decertify – will make every effort to drive them from office. Environmental groups, and other interests rankled by Mr. Harper's agenda, can be expected to do likewise.
But almost everything the third parties do, which beyond advertising can also include door-knocking and other organizational efforts, will have to be before the election is officially called. That's because outside organizations are limited to spending just $150,000 each during the writ– a relatively tiny amount that, as Ms. Funke notes in her post, isn't pro-rated to the length of the campaign under the new legislation the way partisan spending is.
In other words, if the Tories are at all concerned about the potential impact of negative third-party ads heading into the campaign, they now have the opportunity to cut off those ads early without significantly impacting their own ability to spend.
To be clear, there has been no indication the Conservatives are planning on an especially long writ. At least some of them would argue that no summer advertising, when people in the real world are off enjoying the warm weather and doing as much as they can to ignore politics, is likely to move a lot of votes. And if summer ads do have value, it bears noting that starting the writ early would presumably mean less opportunity to continue flooding the airwaves with theoretically non-partisan government ads.
Tories from Ontario, though, might point to what happened in the summer of 2011. At its outset, the provincial Progressive Conservatives had a significant lead; then the union umbrella group Working Families Coalition spent millions of dollars on television ads attacking PC Leader Tim Hudak, while the governing Liberals did a big buy reintroducing Dalton McGuinty. It struck many Tories as an unlikely coincidence that by the start of that fall's provincial campaign, polls showed the Liberals – who would go on to win a minority government – had pulled even.
Mr. Harper is not Mr. Hudak, and the labour movement is different nationally from provincially, and again we're really in the realm of speculation here. But if you start from the premise that the Conservatives must have facilitated longer writ periods to try to gain some sort of advantage, the capacity to curb pre-election third party efforts is as good an explanation as any.