OTTAWA—Canada’s political leaders fired their opening salvos on Sunday, Aug. 2, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled the trigger on a marathon election battle that’s expected to rank among the longest, costliest, and most caustic in the history of Confederation.
Harper is set to play his card as Canada’s best economic manager while NDP leader Thomas Mulcair aims to show that he’s ready to become the country’s first NDP prime minister. Both leaders have done their best in recent days to overlook Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party, currently trailing the pack but with the three parties all in striking distance of winning a minority government.
A national election “is not a popularity contest,” Harper said, presumably referring to Trudeau, who must use the next 11 weeks—election day is Oct. 19—to silence a persistent charge that he’s more sizzle than steak.
Mulcair is urging Canadians to put an end to nearly a decade of Conservative rule.
Middle class families “can’t get ahead” and Harper’s plan for the economy “isn’t working,” he said Sunday in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Parliament Hill.
Mulcair isn’t the only one taking shots at the Conservatives’ economic record. Trudeau, trying to reclaim some of the lustre he had when he first took the helm of his party, is also looking to poke holes in the Harper government’s economic record.
The Conservatives intend to grow the economy by making “wealthy people wealthier,” Trudeau said Sunday in Vancouver.
Harper, who called the Oct. 19 vote a “critical decision” on the future of the country, tried to frame the ballot-box question as who should be in charge of managing the economy, creating jobs, and overseeing national security.
Heading into the campaign, opinion polls suggest the Conservatives are lagging Mulcair and the NDP, with the Liberals running third. That means that for the first time since anyone can remember, all three main parties have a legitimate shot at forming a government.
And if Sunday was any indication, the road to victory in October will be paved with economic promise—particularly for working families and the shrinking middle class.
But Harper may be over a barrel when it comes to the sinking price of oil, said Charlie Bjerrisgaard, a network consultant at Scotia Capital who was visiting Ottawa from Keswick, Ont.
“Do I think Mulcair or Trudeau could do better? No,” Bjerrisgaard said. “It’s just the nature of the beast with the oil.”
Harper’s political opponents savaged him for calling the campaign so early. Harper said he did it to keep the other parties from currying favour with voters on the public dime.
His critics, however, say he did it so the Conservatives could make best use of their financial advantage, having out-fundraised the other parties.
The longest campaign in more than a century promises to be the most expensive ever. Combined, the parties could each spend more than $53 million on their national campaigns, and candidates on average about $214,000—more money than they’ve ever been able to spend before.
With files from The Canadian Press