Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Governor General David Johnston Sunday morning to officially start Canada's 42nd General election. Voters go to the polls Oct. 19.

ELECTION 2015: Campaign officially underway, spending limits kick in

Stephen Harper's Conservatives gain edge by launching longest federal election campaign in modern history: political analyst

Federal election lawn signs have begun to sprout now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has fired the starting pistol on what will be a 78-day campaign, the longest in modern history.

The prime minister visited Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall Sunday morning to dissolve Parliament and begin the election set for Oct. 19.

The voting day had been fixed in legislation and party leaders had been in campaign mode for weeks, but dropping the writ this far ahead means spending limits will be in force for much longer than the typical 36 days.

That will give a financial advantage to Harper and the Conservatives, according to SFU political scientist Patrick Smith.

“They certainly have the largest war chest,” Smith said. “Money matters in politics.”

He predicts the Tories will far outspend their rivals and might be in a position to blitz advertising channels late in the campaign when NDP and Liberal coffers may be nearly exhausted.

A campaign more than twice the usual length means a spending limit twice as high – more than $50 million per party – that only the Tories have a realistic shot at fully exploiting.

“They have more money than the other parties so they can withstand a longer race.”

The early writ drop means third party advertising – such as union-funded anti-Tory attack ads by Engage Canada – will now be subject to a tight $200,000 spending limit, largely clamping down on their influence.

That was a key motivation for starting the campaign now rather than waiting, Smith said.

“It shuts up third party advertising and at the moment they see that as problematic.”

A long, financial war of attrition on the hustings could have ramifications beyond who actually wins the election.

Smith currently predicts a Conservative minority. In that scenario, he says, a cash-depleted or possibly indebted opposition will be less inclined to topple a minority Tory government and force a new election.

“They’re not likely to try to trigger an election in the first six months, so that helps stabilize a Conservative minority,” Smith said. “So people who think about the longer game will be thinking about those kinds of things.”

The longest campaign in more than a century will also mean higher costs to taxpayers.

Elections Canada’s costs will be higher to mobilize staff earlier.

And more spending than usual by the parties would translate into a higher government subsidy back to the them for use in future campaigns.

As for significant issues, Smith expects the federal push for new oil pipelines across B.C. will hurt the Conservatives in this province.

But he said the slowing economy will be the dominant issue on voters’ minds in deciding which party to support.

Another month of economic contraction could make a suspected recession official by September.

Smith isn’t sure that would necessarily be bad for the PM.

“If the economy is bad, do we have to stay with Harper because he’s the best man to manage it or does he get the blame?”

The bigger danger for Harper is that “once people start humming the change tune, it’s pretty hard to reverse it.”

For the Conservatives to win even a minority, the Tories may need the anti-Harper vote split as evenly as possible between the Liberals and NDP, Smith said, and many votes bled off by the Greens as well.

He thinks the Conservatives will struggle to hold onto their seats in B.C.and the Greens may take another seat or two from the NDP on Vancouver Island.

“These things could become more significant if we end up in a minority government with different permutations and combinations.”

VIDEO: Stephen Harper launches 11-week federal election campaign

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says most political parties have already started campaigning ahead of the October 19th federal election. Stephen Harper says officially launching the election forces the campaigns to be done within the rules (via The Canadian Press)

Just Posted

Trial dates set for three men accused of 2017 killing near Hope

Lawyers for the accused appeared in Kelowna at B.C. Supreme Court on Monday

Abbotsford council OKs bus-to-SkyTrain plan

Fraser Valley Express would begin running to Lougheed Station by start of 2021

Wildfire threatens weekend campers at Chehalis Lake

The fire started on the north side of Chehalis Lake Saturday

Chilliwack car show cancelled due to weather forecast

Popular Village Classic car show will not be rescheduled, say organizers

Agassiz author pens a kingly book

Long-time writer and producer Alexander Hamilton-Brown just finished his first novel

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques returns to Earth, sets Canadian space record

Native of Saint-Lambert, Que., set a record for longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days

Poll: Rising gas prices force B.C. residents rethink summer road trips

63 per cent of respondents reported gas prices are impacting their day-to-day finances

PHOTO: Moose cow and calf relax in Williams Lake flower garden

The homeowners got a surprise when they checked their most recent surveillance footage

Two in hospital after plane crashes in Okanagan Lake

RCMP say wheels left down caused landing plane to overturn on lake

Eight in hospital after two crashes on Coquihalla Highway north of Merritt

Drivers are expected to be stuck for up to 90 minutes

The world’s Indigenous speakers gather in B.C.’s capital to revitalize languages

Organizers estimate about 1,000 delegates from 20 countries will be at the conference

Join talks on international treaty: B.C. First Nations mark ‘historic moment’

Representatives of the Ktunaxa, Syilx/Okanagan and Secwepemc Nations participated

Companies need clearer rules on workplace relationships, study suggests

One-third of Canadians have been in love at work, and half say no policy on the matter exists

Grey-haired bank robber hit with dye pack in Langley heist

Police are looking for an older man who may be stained with dye

Most Read