Flouting the conventional wisdom against summer electioneering and defying accusations of political opportunism, Stephen Harper today called a federal election for Oct. 19, 40 days earlier than he had to.
In announcing the election call at Rideau Hall, Harper squarely asserted a “devil you know” campaign theme. Speaking in French, Harper said Canadians have a “choice between a government that has proven itself and a dangerous choice.”
“This is no time for risky plans that could harm our future. This is not time for high taxes and permanent deficits. It’s time to stay the course,” he said, after formally asking Governor General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Harper said the election needed to be called now to ensure that campaigns — which are effectively already underway — will be conducted under the rules of an official campaign.[/quote]
Harper also spoke at length about the security threats posed by “Russian aggression” in Ukraine and the Islamic State abroad and at home.
Sunday marks the start of the longest federal election campaign in living memory. Harper said the election needed to be called now to ensure that campaigns — which are effectively already underway — will be conducted under the rules of an official campaign, ironically citing the expense to taxpayers as justification for a campaign whose length will cost them millions more than it otherwise would.
While Harper touted the government’s balanced budget — a balance that has recently been thrown into doubt by the slumping economy — Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair charged that Harper’s government had the worst growth record since the 1960s.
“He’s had eight deficits in a row and added $150 billion in debt,” the NDP leader said, launching his own campaign from Gatineau, Que., with Parliament Hill across the river as a backdrop.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“It is time for a new plan to grow the middle class and grow the economy.” – Liberal leader Justin Trudeau[/quote]
In an news release, Justin Trudeau reiterated his recent positioning of the Liberal Party as the most viable option for Canadians disenchanted with Harper. “We want change that will make a real difference in the lives of all Canadians – change that will help families make ends meet, put more money in their pockets, and bring this country together,” said Trudeau. “It is time for a new plan to grow the middle class and grow the economy.”
Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May are both in Vancouver today attending LGBT pride events.
Economy worse off than previously thought
After nearly a decade as prime minister, Harper will be seeking a second majority government from Canadians after leading the reconstituted Conservative Party of Canada to its first majority in 2011 following two Tory minority outcomes in 2006 and 2008. The Conservatives now hold 159 seats, the NDP hold 95 and the Liberals 36. There are eight independents, two Green party MPs, two Bloc Québécois, two Forces et Démocratie and four vacant seats.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Canada’s economy shrunk by 0.2 per cent in May. The figure, which bolsters the emerging economic narrative that the country is in a recession and undermines the Tories’ political narrative that it isn’t.[/quote]
Harper faces what, at this early stage, is an electoral landscape in which the man who appeared just one year ago to be his major political threat — Trudeau — has hemorrhaged 15 points in the iPolitics/EKOS poll since then and Mulcair is now the man to beat. Our latest poll, published Friday, shows Mulcair’s NDP at 33.8 per cent, Harper’s governing Tories at 30.1 per cent and Trudeau’s Liberals still trailing at 23.4.
Perhaps the more telling number was the GDP figure released Friday by Statistics Canada showing that Canada’s economy shrunk by 0.2 per cent in May. The figure, which bolsters the emerging economic narrative that the country is in a recession and undermines the Tories’ political narrative that it isn’t, is just the most recent sign that Canada’s economy has taken a bigger hit from the oil price crash than previously thought.
Since rumours of an early election began in Ottawa last week, Harper has been accused of exploiting a longer campaign to outspend his opponents. Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Friday that the 11-week campaign could cost taxpayers $125 million more than the 37-day campaign period required by law.
“Stephen Harper knows an early election call benefits him and the Conservative party while Canadians pay the price,” Garneau told reporters. “An early election increases election spending, that cap, by millions of dollars, allowing Conservative ridings to outspend opponents and essentially legalizing the overspending we’ve seen before,” he said.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca