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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.

The Canadian Press

Life is filled with unintended consequences.

Canada has had fixed federal election dates for nearly a decade. While that's sometimes proven more notional than binding, the certainty of a vote on Oct. 19 means that the election campaign has already begun. It started months ago. Officially, however, the election won't begin until the writ is dropped, some time after Labour Day. And that means that, officially, Canada's laws on campaign spending don't entirely apply, even if the campaign is already on.

In the U.S., which has long had fixed election days, presidential runs are launched years before voting day. Something similar is happening in Canada. A hard rain of attack ads is steadily falling, and lots of cash is being splashed around on the crypto-campaign.

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All of which is fine, except for one thing: none of it is being counted under the spending caps that will suddenly and magically appear in the final innings of the game, in the 36 or so days leading up to the vote. The old rules are pretty clearly outdated.

We already have a robust regulatory regime governing how parties may raise funds and from whom. There are also detailed rules on how much they can spend, at least during an election. It's just that the definition of "election" needs to be updated.

We're also seeing more third-party groups advertising for and against particular causes and parties. There are some restrictions on how they do this and how much they spend – but again, those largely apply during the old-fashioned election period of six weeks or so, not the new reality of campaigns lasting for months. It's one more area where the law no longer reflects the modern calendar.

Current spending limits should extend well beyond the official writ period; in a world of quasi-permanent campaigns, rules should apply for more than that short expanse of time.

Campaign finance has been the subject of multiple reforms in recent decades and has typically been a multi-partisan cause. Liberals and Conservatives together brought about the changes of the last decade, including lowering contribution limits and ending corporate and union donations. After the election, more work will need to be done.

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