BY POSTMEDIA NEWS
Much has been written and said about changes to the Elections Act that will affect voters. New identification rules mean you won’t be able to use your voter card as ID; vouching for other voters will be restricted; and the role of Elections Canada has been changed. Some of these changes have been challenged in the courts.
Other changes to the Elections Act, passed into law recently with the Fair Elections Act, means we can likely expect an early start to the election period. With the first debate of all the federal leaders set for Aug. 6, don’t be surprised to hear the election has been called shortly after. Here is why.
1. The longer the campaign goes, the more money parties and candidates can spend, and they get 50 per cent of whatever they spend from taxpayers.
The spending limit on past elections was fixed. This time, every additional day above 37 days, the party and candidates can spend an additional 1/37th of that limit. That is approximately $685,000 a day for the party and over $900,000 a day for the candidates in all 338 ridings combined. For example, if the election starts on Aug. 10, an additional 29 days, the total party spending limit would go from $25 million to $45 million and total riding limits would increase from $34 million to more than $60 million. A combined $105 million per party. Although per-vote subsidies have been eliminated, the rebates that parties and local campaigns receive will mean the taxpayer could be on the hook for up to $53 million per party after this election, this on top of the estimated $300 million it costs to run the election itself.
2. Local riding associations/candidates cannot get loans.
In the past, when a candidate or local district association did not have the money raised to run a campaign, they could go to a bank and get a loan. Under the new rules, a loan can only be guaranteed by individuals who are not already donors, and to a maximum of $1,500. To get a $30,000 loan (a bare-bones campaign in most ridings), a candidate would need to find 20 individuals willing to sign for their $1,500 share of the loan. This is an advantage to district associations and candidates with more money raised; candidates who walk into the writ period with little fundraising could face a big challenge in meeting expenses.
3. A party can transfer money to a district association, and a district association can transfer money to another district association.
There are district associations that have a lot of money, more than they could possibly spend in a single election or two. There are also district associations that have less money who can accept transfers from either the central party, or from those richer associations. The cumulative effect of spending on advertising, signs, flyers, staff and other resources will be a tremendous advantage to the party with the most to spend.
4. There will be more numerous and more varied advertising.
Expect to see more ads, and different types of ads, in this election, as campaigns target segments of the population with issue-specific ads, or based on regional and local issues. In the 2004 election, you could expect to see five to 10 ads run nationally per party. As production technology becomes cheaper, we can expect dozens of ads online, on TV, or both. With district association limits now exceeding $200,000 and many costs fixed, expect to see more local and regional advertising.
5. Third party advertisements and PAC spending are limited during the writ.
Until the election is called, there are few rules on third parties. Political Action Committees (PACs) and other third parties can spend as much as they want to support their agenda. Once the writ of election is issued, spending limits become much more restrictive. A third party can spend a total of $205,800 across Canada during a 37-day campaign, and no more than $4,116 in any riding. Similar to the party and riding limits, this increases by 1/37th for every day the election is above 37 days. Even if the election is twice as long as that, the limits would increase by a fraction of increase to party and candidate limits. If there are more PACs opposing the current government than supporting it, an early election call will benefit the government.
The call of the election is of course up to one person, the current prime minister. Despite the fixed election date law, there are no rules on how long the campaign leading up to election day can be. With so many clear advantages to the party with the most money to spend, it’s not likely we will see a standard 37-day election.
As most of us enjoy the Civic Holiday with friends and family this Aug. 3, the federal parties will be gassing up the planes, polishing the campaign buses and dusting off their signs. Some of you may choose to ignore the campaign until after Thanksgiving, but hopefully the extra $75 million (give or take) it’s costing us this time will be enough motivation for more of us to get out and vote.
Quito Maggi is the CEO of Mainstreet Research