Local federal candidates react to long campaign period

After meeting with Governor General David Johnston on August 2nd, Stephen Harper stood before press cameras to tell Canadians the federal election was officially underway.

The writ was dropped weeks ahead of schedule, creating the conditions for the longest campaign period in modern Canadian history. Kootenay-Columbia incumbent Conservative candidate David Wilks, the ridings only candidate to not hold any public campaign events prior to the writ drop, said his team has quickly adjusted to the fast-paced tempo of a campaign.

Our campaign office is now open, Mr. Wilks said. We are looking at strategy now, since I dont have to focus on government affairs and I can instead focus on the campaign.

Though the campaign will span an unprecedented 11 weeks before election day on October 19th, Mr. Wilks said most Canadians wont notice the difference.

To be quite honest, I think most Canadians are still in the summer holiday mode until after the September long weekend, Mr. Wilks said. We will take it slow at the beginning, and then go from there.

Even with his commitment to starting slow, residents across the riding will likely notice far more lawn signs with Mr. Wilks name on them than any of the other candidates over the next few weeks, indicative of the incumbent candidates natural advantage.

The difference between my campaign and the other campaigns is that I have signs available from the 2011 election, Mr. Wilks said. Because there are two new candidates… they have to have all of their signs made, whereas we could get signs out relatively quickly.The two new candidates are Don Johnston of the Liberal Party and Wayne Stetski of the NDP.

In response to the early writ drop, Mr. Johnston stressed the increased cost to taxpayers.

According to Elections Canada, a regular 37-day campaign costs taxpayers approximately $375 million. This years 78-day marathon could approach $500 million in Elections Canada spending.

It is a tragic waste of public money to lengthen the campaign by that much, Mr. Johnston said. We do not understand the rationale for doing this, but the Conservatives have shown they are quite happy with spending Canadian taxpayer money in support of their strategic objectives.

As far as his campaign strategy goes, Mr. Johnston said the longer period does not change anything. Aside from Mr. Wilks, every candidate in the riding has been campaigning at least part-time for months.

Going into the fall, there will be more events and all-candidate forums, Mr. Johnston said. This additional month does not add any value to the democratic process.

Green candidate Bill Green shared Mr. Johnstons lack of enthusiasm for the long campaign period. He said voters enjoying their holidays are not going to want to think about the election until the summer is over.

I think it will end up as a six-week campaign, starting in September, Mr. Green said.

Mr. Green said the decision to create a more expensive election period does not surprise him, since the Conservative government has already been promising large grants and funds for expensive projects across the country over the last two months.

Despite all the announcements, people are sick of a government who has preached fiscal restrain and then tried to use taxpayer dollars to buy votes, Mr. Green said.

Mr. Greens criticism comes at a poignant time, since Mr. Wilks recently reportedly admitted to overstating funding for projects around Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks by $32.6 million. The Revelstoke Mountaineer reported Mr. Wilks unveiled $156.6 million in funding for the parks on July 16th, even though $32.6 million of that total had already been granted in 2014.

Throughout the national parks, I dont think anyone could contest that the government has provided a significant amount of money, Mr. Wilks said when asked about the overstatement. The total is close to $240 million when you look at the four national parks in the riding.

Now that the campaign period is officially in session, Mr. Green said the scope of Wilks funding announcements are not going to be relevant.

The campaign is not going to be about how much each candidate can spend, but instead how much we can connect with individual voters on their doorsteps or at community events, Green said.

Mr. Stetski, contrary to his opposition, said there is a definite bright side presented by a longer campaign period.

The good part of the whole thing is it will provide a long period of time for the candidates to personally talk to constituents from around Kootenay-Columbia, Mr. Stetski said.

Still, Mr. Stetski said 11 weeks is a long time for voters to remain engaged and interested.

In terms of the length of the campaign, I am thinking people will get as tired of the campaign as they are of Stephen Harpers government, Mr. Stetski said.

The candidates are now in the process of organizing debates across the riding to discuss this campaigns major political issues.

My goal is to participate in as many debates as possible where all four candidates are there, so that the people of Kootenay-Columbia get to see all the potential MPs at once, Mr. Stetski said.

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