OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper may request a federal election call as early as Sunday, Aug. 2.
Sources tell The Huffington Post Canada that the Conservative Party is planning a rally in Montreal Sunday evening — a natural stopover for Harper after taking a stroll to the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa and asking for Parliament to be dissolved.
The rally will be held in the riding of Mount Royal where the Tories are hoping to pick up a seat from the Liberals after popular MP Irwin Cotler announced he will not be running again.
The Conservative government wants to conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks in Hawaii before heading off on the campaign trail. It is still possible the election call will be postponed if a TPP deal isn’t reached by Friday, a source said.
In an interview with Bloomberg Wednesday, Harper was mum.
“I don’t speculate, and I particularly don’t speculate on my own actions,” he said.
An early election call would help the Tories blunt third-party attacks — such as the current Public Service Alliance of Canada campaign — and force their political opponents to spend money they do not have fighting a longer campaign.
A 78-day campaign would mean spending by third-party groups, which can now spend unlimited amounts, would be capped at $433,849 nationally, and no more than roughly $8,677 allowed to be spent in any one riding.
More important, it would also mean political parties can spend roughly $28 million more on their national campaign — bringing their total election spending cap to slightly more than $53.4 million.
The Conservatives' Fair Election Act increased spending limits by $685,000 for each day past a 37-day period.
It also increased the amount of money candidates can spend on their local races. A candidate in the Toronto riding of Eglinton–Lawrence, for example, would be able to spend $206,858 during a 78-day campaign rather than the previous cap of $98,125 for a 37-day campaign.
A longer campaign with a larger spending cap gives an advantage to the Conservatives who have continuously led fundraising efforts. Elections Canada data show that the party has raised slightly more than $69 million since 2012, while the Liberals have raised $41.8 million and the NDP almost $28.2 million.
An analysis by the Canadian Press of riding associations across the country also showed the Tories have much more money in the bank. At the end of 2014, Conservatives electoral district associations had more than $19 million in their coffers, while the Liberals had about $8 million in net assets and NDP associations had more than $4.4 million.
The Liberal party’s national director Jeremy Broadhurst told HuffPost it’s “no secret” the Tories have more money and that an early election call changes the party’s calculations. But he noted once the writ is dropped parties enjoy a public rebate on their expenses which means they can spend more than they might otherwise have done on pre-writ campaigning.
“There is no doubt that the Conservatives wrote a set of rules that they felt was going to advantage them,” Broadhurst said.
“We have a plan and a direction we want to go, and we can’t let them panic us out of the plan and course that we have set,” he added. “It would be irresponsible to say [we] have to match them dollar to dollar … We have to be smarter with our money and more efficient, and we will be.”
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s close advisor Geoffrey Chambers told HuffPost said he hoped the party’s base would react to “this extremely unfair” move and give the NDP a bit more cash.
“But we have enough money to run a good campaign,” he said. “It may be less intense in the front-end ... We will probably not be in a plane until the day we were planning.”
Chambers thought the campaign would be mostly fought on television through negative ads.
“They have $20 million that other parties don’t have to put in wall-to-wall TV ads,” he said. “It’s their style and it’s their last move.”
The federal election will be held on Oct. 19.
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