Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald fought for re-election and B.C. voted for the first time as a province of the dominion.
You have to go that far back, to a five-year-old Canada, to find an election as long as this one, which earns the 42nd general election an early place in history before the action gets going.
The campaign was unofficially underway for months, and rumours of an early call have circulated almost as long. Why not suit up? The old rule about avoiding summer elections (call them at your peril) no longer applies because everyone’s connected almost all the time.
For these and other politically strategic reasons that come under scrutiny, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid his visit to Rideau Hall on Sunday to have Parliament dismissed for the election. Spanning 11 weeks, this one’s about twice the length of the typical 37-day federal campaign.
“Everyone’s been campaigning for a while, so for them to make it official, it’s just a date,” said Green Party candidate Matt Greenwood.
“Certainly there have been rumours, but for a few weeks we knew it could be moving in this direction,” said Tory MP Cathy McLeod. Entering her third federal campaign, she spent the day organizing and attending a birthday party in Kamloops.
Going in, McLeod is campaigning confidently on the government’s economic and fiscal track record despite the current tough times in some sectors.
“I think that’s certain to be to our advantage. We managed to negotiate a way through the recession. The cost of oil is certainly creating challenges, but our economic record remains strong,” she said, noting that they posted a $3.3-billion budgetary surplus in the first part of 2015.
Why not try the economic stimulus approach again?
“We had significant stimulus to the economy,” she said, citing universal child care benefits that were recently sent out and to Trans-Canada Highway upgrades east of Kamloops.
Once again, realtor Deborah Petersmeyer is McLeod’s campaign manager in this election, one that McLeod sees as critical to the country’s future.
“I think our team is driven. Retaining our focus, meeting as many constituents as possible and getting out in the riding,” she said of her basic strategy for re-election.
Greenwood last ran for the Green Party in 2006 and has been involved with the party steadily since then. He recalls later working on the campaign of Elizabeth May, the first Green MP, as perhaps the best moment of his life, “definitely a campaign to remember.”
“We’ve been working pretty hard on both fundraising and internal support structure,” Greenwood said. He will carry on, as he describes it, “making a case for the important things people ought to be considering in this election.”
Specifically, he sees great promise in electoral reform this time around with support from three parties now that the Justin Trudeau has added it to the Liberal platform. That could spell the end of first-past-the-post and what some believe could be a badly needed reinvigoration of politics in Canada after years of sliding voter participation.
The Green candidate also plans to focus on the Tory record in office and feels he has lots to work with. Greenwood argues that the Harper Conservatives are not at all conservative in the classical, small-c sense of the word, and the timing of the election call is another example.
“The Conservatives say, ‘Just look at our record.’ I’m going to be encouraging people to do just that as a lot of things have received less notice than they should have.
“With this election call, the taxpayers of Canada are hit. Stephen Harper is spending $100 million of taxpayers’ money primarily for his own party’s benefit.”
New Democrat candidate Bill Sundhu and Liberal Steve Powrie both suspected there could be an early election call, a moot point considering they, too, have been busily campaigning all along.
Sundhu declared his candidacy more than a year ago and began readying his campaign in January: “You have to be prepared.”
“In that time I’ve been working hard and divesting myself of my legal obligations,” said the Kamloops lawyer. “For a long time, we didn’t know whether there was going to be a spring election.”
“This is somewhat of a change from the past with fixed elections dates,” he said, noting that the federal government has been spending public money on promoting programs while reserving its own coffers for attack-ad campaigns.
Jobs and the economy are front and centre in his eyes, but he takes issue with a broad spectrum of Conservative government measures. Specifically, he describes the Anti-Terrorism Act passed earlier this year, the muzzling of government scientists and criticism of Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as “typical of the authoritarian tendencies of the Harper government.”
A self-described “policy wonk,” he intends to go after the government’s track record, citing corruption and mismanagement. And he isn’t assuming the NDP has an early advantage with its rise in Alberta and Quebec.
“As I always say, polls go up and polls go down, but I see the NDP sticking with its policies to connect with voters, and it’s about change. I believe Stephen Harper’s plan just isn’t working and Canadians are ready for change.”
“We’re busy,” said Steve Powrie. The school teacher turned politician wasn’t waiting for the writ to be dropped, either.
“We have something going on pretty much every day, whether we’re holding events or visiting the rural areas. We’ve been gradually ratcheting up for the past couple of months.”
Powrie describes himself as always a centrist, his beliefs rooted in reason and logic, preferring not to be hemmed in by precise ideology.
“When you’re a centrist, you have a lot more room to move.”
He, too, doesn’t put a lot of stock in polling, particularly with the effectiveness of conventional phone polling called into question. Instead, he looks to trends in polling. He doesn’t seen the NDP government in Alberta as representative of that party’s rise.
“That was more about giving Mr. Prentice a kick in the pants. I think part of what that reflects is an appetite for change across the country. Most people are out kicking tires.”
And they’ve got a lot more time to stroll the lot in this campaign.