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PM Stephen Harper Triggers Canada's Longest Election Campaign Since 1872, Amid Faltering Economy

The Conservative Party is looking for a fourth mandate after nine years at the helm of Canada. The vote is Oct. 19.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Photo by David Kawai

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the beginning of the 42nd Canadian federal election this morning, vowing that the two-and-a-half month campaign would be necessary for voters to differentiate between his party and its rivals.

With Canada accustomed to short, month-long campaigns, this 78-day affair — the longest since 1872 — promises to test both the patience of the country, and the prime minister's record itself.


"This is an election about leadership on the big issues that affect us all: our economy and our nation's security. It's an election about who will protect our economy in a period of ongoing global instability and secure Canada's future prosperity, and it's an election about who will make the tough calls to keep our country safe," Harper told assembled media in Ottawa today.

"A national election is not a popularity contest."

Today's announcement set the tone for the grueling campaign, which pits Harper, 56, against left wing NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Polls suggest it will be a tough election for Harper's Conservative Party, which has been in power for nine years and is staring at a much bleaker economic picture than when he won his first majority in 2011.

While high oil prices had generated huge growth, primarily in the province of Alberta, GDP growth projections for the Canadian economy have slowly slipped alongside the stagnating price of petroleum. The Canadian dollar has dropped to its lowest level since 2004, closing as low as 76.40 US cents.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has projected that Canada's economy will grow at just 1.5 percent this year, putting it in the back of the pack amongst industrial nations.

Numbers from the Canadian government show that the economy has shrunk for five straight months, raising the possibility that Canada will sink back into a recession.


The latest federal budget, hit by significantly lower revenue thanks to the sluggish economy, returned the country's books to deficit, due in large part to billions of dollars in tax giveaways to families.

Sources told VICE News that Harper had intended to unveil Canada's signature on the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Friday, but negotiations broke down before the weekend. Reports indicate that a big barrier in the talks is Ottawa's instance on protecting supply management for dairy.

Related:Justin Trudeau, a Contender for Canadian Prime Minister, Wants to Change the Way People Vote

At the campaign kick-off, Harper ignored the setbacks and insisted that Canada's growth is the best amongst its trading partners, and that the budget is, in fact, balanced.

The prime minister had spent the weeks leading up to the official announcement preparing for the campaign.

On Saturday, his health minister unveiled a new task force created to take aim at advertisements for marijuana dispensaries, while repeatedly calling-out the Liberal Party, which supports marijuana legalization.

On Friday, Harper announced the extension of a training mission in Eastern Europe, designed as a show of force against the Putin regime. That, along with the fight against the so-called Islamic State, are likely to be headline issues for the campaign.

And the Conservatives are the party best positioned to reap the benefits of a longer campaign, thanks to changes they brought in that allow parties to spend more money, depending on the length of the campaign.


Usually, in a five week contest, spending per party is capped at roughly $20 million. This battle will enable parties to dole out nearly $50 million over the course of the election — and the Conservatives are by far the best financed political machine, meaning Harper will likely outspend his opponents by a comfortable margin.

In addition, third-party advertisers, who have mostly been union-funded political action committees, are governed by strict rules and harsh spending caps during an official campaign, which means they'll be all but banned from advertising at all.

Related:Left-Wing Contender to Lead Canada Accused of Once Wanting to Be a Conservative After Surge in Polls

The three main parties have swapped places in the polls over the last several months, but the Conservative leader currently sits neck-and-neck with Mulcair in the most recent surveys.

But frustration and anger with the prime minister has also registered high in recent weeks.

The campaign promises to be a tightly scripted and controlled affair. Harper's communications policy during his time in government has sought to marginalize journalists, often banning them from official announcements and forbidding them from asking questions at events they are permitted at.

During the campaign, reporters will be allowed to ask five questions of the PM at certain events — four will go to the media touring with the Conservative leader, a privilege which will cost upwards of $70,000 per reporter over the length of the campaign, and one will go to a local reporter.

The public, meanwhile, will not be permitted near Harper without a specialized bar code. Conservative staffers will vet each and every member of the public that wishes to attend Harper's events. "You need to have been invited and if you don't have a ticket you're not getting in," party spokesperson Kory Ten told media.

Mulcair and Trudeau also launched their campaigns on Sunday, with the NDP leader delivering a speech in Quebec — where he refused to take questions from reporters — while the Liberal leader held a press conference in Vancouver, before attending the city's Pride parade.

The first leaders debate is scheduled for Thursday. The election is Oct. 19.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling