The last Federal Election that we had in 2015 was remarkable for many reasons and we saw many things that we hadn’t seen before that had an effect on the result of the campaign. But probably the biggest thing that affected the end result of the 42nd General Election was its length.
In an attempt to gain an advantage over their opposition and to allow them to spend more of the deep, deep war chest, the Harper Conservatives dropped the writ on that campaign on August 4th. That created a 78 day long election campaign, by far the longest Canadian election campaign since 1872. That 78 days topped the next closest modern campaign, which was 12 days shorter in 1979 when the Joe Clark government fell and Pierre Trudeau won re-election.
While the Conservatives got to spend a lot of money in that campaign (as did the other parties) all that extra time came back to bite them in the rear end. Thanks to the length of the campaign, that gave motivated progressives more time to get behind a single party, which turned out to be the Liberals. If there had been a normal 36-day campaign, the chances that the Liberals would have jumped from third to first would have been far lesser. Also the length of the campaign made it harder to keep important volunteers and campaign workers engaged and going, which left all parties in a harder position at the end.
In hindsight the 2015 election taught all parties a good lesson about the length of campaigns and why it’s important to take that into consideration. It was with that in mind that I noticed two stories come out this morning that touch on that very topic of campaign length and potential effects it may be having for the Fall:
These two stories point to two different issues, but all come back to the lessons from 2015. For the current Liberal government, it seems that they’ve learned from that experience and have decided to try to go with a shorter campaign, much closer to the legal minimum of 36-days. As the Hill Times piece points out, this gives less time for unpredictable moments to happen in the campaign and have an affect. That doesn’t mean that they won’t happen, but this is more about minimizing risk than eliminating it. This is the strategy of a front runner, which makes sense given the current circumstances.
But what also jumped out at me were the comments from former Conservative staffer Fred DeLorey, when he pointed out how long campaigns wear out campaign volunteers. That is true for all parties, but it’s interesting given the current circumstances. Remember Manitoba just went into a provincial election this week, with a vote on September 10th. That campaign was launched by Manitoba Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and in contravention of the spirit of Manitoba’s fixed date election laws, dropping the writ a full year before Manitobans were supposed to go to the polls.
The reasons for this were extremely flimsy and completely done for partisan advantage, but in doing so they’ve created a big headache for the Federal Conservatives in that province, who expect to make gains in the province. Conservative MP James Bezan is even quoted in the CBC piece talking about the problems and confusion this is causing him and the worries about volunteer fatigue. That’s an added complication that was brought on the Conservatives by their own provincial cousins, which surely doesn’t help.
They believe that motivation to vote out the Liberals will be enough to make up the difference but that’s far from guaranteed. History shows us that the fatigue issue is a real thing and thanks to this Manitoba election, citizens of that province are going to have 70 days of election action to deal with. So the threat of fatigue is real folks, and all because of an election called that shouldn’t have been.
After October 21st we’ll see how much of an effect the length of the campaign and fatigue will factor into the end result, but this is the point of the game we are at, where we weight and measure these concerns. Getting these small details right can be a boost to a party’s chance but as we saw in 2015 with the Conservatives, getting them wrong can have a big negative effect. Which will it be in 2019? It’s too soon to tell but we’ll surely have opinions on it after election day and we know the end result.