Canadians are on vacation, says Chris Cochrane, and they likely won't pay attention “until the last couple of weeks of the campaign” (photo by Eric Michiels via Flickr)

Election 2015: political science prof on war chests, tactics and end games

“The strategy here certainly isn’t to get more people paying attention,” Chris Cochrane says

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for an election Sunday he set off the longest federal election campaign in more than a century. With the election set for Oct. 19, 2015, this campaign will last 11 weeks – compared to roughly five weeks in recent years.

Writer Noreen Ahmed-Ullah spoke with Associate Professor Chris Cochrane in the University of Toronto’s political science department about why the Conservatives called the election so early and how people are reacting to the move.

When Harper called the election he said it was in part to limit spending by third parties. Others have said it’s because his party has the most money to spend. What do you think?
In all likelihood, most of the third party spending in this election campaign would have been in the direction of the NDP and the Liberals, certainly against the Conservatives. That may seem to the Conservatives to be a door that they’ve shut for the Liberals and the NDP. Restricting third party spending could be a big part of his calculation.

The second point that’s been raised is that the Conservatives have a decided cash advantage over the other parties. But the other parties should have enough money to be able to launch a pretty competitive campaign even if it’s extended over a long period of time. I can’t see this exceptionally long campaign period starving or breaking the bank of the parties as it has been insinuated in some of the coverage. Nonetheless, the Conservatives can spend more than the other political parties.

The third thing is that it may well be the case that the Conservatives actually want Justin Trudeau to be out on the campaign trail for a longer period of time. They actually want people to see more of him, they want him to have to answer more questions about policy, and especially if you look at the polls in the last month and a half, the Liberals have been sinking. There may well be a sense within the Conservative party that the more people see of Trudeau and the more he’s tested, the less likely people will be to vote for him. So this may be a way of forcing him to get out and get under the public spotlight.

Wouldn’t taking down Trudeau help the NDP?
I think the Conservatives see the Liberals as a longer term threat to their own position in Canadian politics. The NDP isn’t so much of a threat. They may beat them in an election. They may beat them in a couple of elections, but it’s unlikely that the NDP is going to draw considerably from a Conservative support base.

How will a longer campaign affect the public?
It’s the summer. People are doing other things. They’re at the cottage. They’re on vacation. They’re doing summer stuff. It’s not going to be probably until the last couple of weeks of the campaign when people start to come on line and pay attention.

The strategy here certainly isn’t to get more people paying attention. My guess is the strategy here is to gain a little bit more control over what’s happening in the political landscape in terms of third parties and also shedding more light on Trudeau.

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