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January 15th, 2015

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[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

UPDATE: See below for two points of clarification – on the indexation of third-party spending limits, and the scope of the limitation on fundraising cost exemptions.

RE-UPDATE: [Feb 2, 2015] On further examination of the legislation, Elections Canada lawyers believe the daily pro-rated value of the central and candidate expense limits should be increased by 1/36th for every day the writ period exceeds 37 days, not 1/37th.

Re-Up-UPDATE: [moments later] Never mind; 1/37th is the correct amount of the daily pro-rate. Mea culpa.

Anyone still debating the question of an early election date, versus a fall election date as planned, is completely missing the point. The question nowadays – thanks to a little-noticed amendment buried in the Fair Elections Act –  is not what day the election will be held. It's what day the election will be called.

Until now, most of the conventional wisdom has sounded a lot like the unnamed Liberal source quoted by Paul Wells the other day:

“They’ve got $40 million to spend,” my Liberal source said of his Conservative foes, who are still winning each quarter’s fundraising competition. “They can only spend $25 or $26 million in a writ,” that is, during a formal campaign period, because Elections Canada monitors these things closely. “Why would they go now?”

The reason it sounded that way is because – until now – such a calculation would have been right.

It depended on the fact that, while there was no legal limit on the length of the writ period, there was a hard limit on how much could be spent during an election campaign, regardless of its length.

A fixed expense ceiling, but no fixed length to the campaign. That was the system we used to have. Then we added a fixed end to the campaign period in the Accountability Act, but no fixed beginning. Still, the fixed expense ceiling served as a financial incentive not to drag it out too long, and keep the campaign affordable enough for every party to be on the same level playing field – at least during the writ period. If, as they say, "campaigns matter", then at least there was reasonably affordable parity for serious entrants during the period that mattered.

But the fixed expense ceiling was ended in the Bill C-23 (Fair Elections Act), as part of its massive rewrite of "Part 18 – Financial Administration" of the Canada Elections Act. The version adopted by Parliament is now published as Chapter 12 of the 2014 Statutes of Canada, and although its provisions haven't been consolidated into the online version of the Act yet, they did come into force on December 19, 2014. Here's the relevant section:

Maximum Election Expenses

430. (1) The maximum amount that is allowed for election expenses of a registered party for an election is the product of

(a) $0.735 multiplied by the number of names on the preliminary lists of electors for electoral districts in which the registered party has endorsed a candidate or by the number of names on the revised lists of electors for those electoral districts, whichever is greater, and

(b) the inflation adjustment factor published by the Chief Electoral Officer under section 384 that is in effect on the date of the issue of the writ or writs for the election.

Election period longer than 37 days

(2) If an election period is longer than 37 days, then the maximum amount calculated under subsaection (1) is increased by adding to it the product of

(a) one thirty-seventh of the maximum amount calculated under subsection (1), and

(b) the number of days in the election period minus 37.

A campaign has to be a minimum of 37 days – the day it's called plus 36 more. But it has no maximum length. So, in the olden days, you would have to take the campaign expense ceiling and make it last the length of the campaign, which meant that for well-funded parties with control over the election calendar, they'd delay the dropping of the writ as long as possible, and outspend in the pre-writ period trying to lay down the campaign narrative and define their opponents, knowing their less well-funded opponents had to keep their powder dry for the campaign whenever it came.

The extra-long campaign that spanned the Christmas holidays in 2005-2006, however, really stretched some parties' budgets. The need to make a fixed campaign budget last for a longer campaign led to a lot of the improvising that resulted in so-called In-and-Out scandal.

So naturally, the thinking would go, if you had a longer campaign you ought to be able to have a higher spending limit, right?

Except that having an unlimited pro-rated election campaign expense ceiling – without a limited campaign period – opens a huge back-door for a well-financed political party that controls the timing of an election to spend its opponents into the ground.

Setting a fixed election date in legislation was supposed to equalize the power over election timing between the government and the opposition. Everyone would know when the election was, and could plan accordingly. It didn't matter that no fixed beginning was set down in law, because the fixed election spending ceiling would keep the campaign relatively short.

But now, what's to stop the Prime Minister from calling the election on July 1st for October 19th? "Under the Canada Elections Act, nothing" replies Elections Canada spokesperson John Enright. "And the expense limits for parties and candidates would be pro-rated 1/37th per day for each extra day."

Wrap your mind around the implications of that one for a minute or two.

Suppose the national party's expense ceiling for a 37-day campaign works out to $26 million, as realistically ball-parked by Wells's source. The new provisions in the Elections Act mean that for every day longer than 37 days the writ lasts, the spending limit goes up by roughly $700,000.

For every extra week, then, it would increase by $4.9M.

An extra month? Add on another $21M.

Tack on the whole summer, for argument's sake, and suddenly you're looking at a 110 day campaign with a national expense ceiling of $77 million dollars to be competitive. Spending at those levels, given Canada's restrictive fundraising laws, is no longer an equalizer – it's a blunt instrument to beat your opponents to death and into bankruptcy with, and would leave the bankers to decide which of the government's foes to finance to the max to try and compete even remotely fairly.

And that would not even be the real limit, because the Act also exempted fundraising costs from the ceiling, and you can pack an awful lot of messaging and voter contact into fundraising, as anyone on the year-end party email lists could attest. [UPDATE: That was wrong. It exempts the costs of running a fundraising activity like a cocktail party, but the provision on telephone/email etc solicitation for funds was dropped.] (Not a lot of serious policy gets discussed, however, adding to the woes already identified by Chantal Hébert). And there would be no requirement to spread that spending out over the entire campaign period – instead you could just hold your fire and then dump millions and millions of dollars more in advertising into the final 3 weeks.

With $40M on hand – and remember that the Fair Elections Act did not impose any limits on the 50% rebate of those paid election expenses either – the Conservatives could now leverage that $40M with bank loans of a further $40M (secured by their rebate) to spend the limit, and still have money left over to transfer to their candidate campaigns  … who now would also have to cope with expense ceilings of three times their previous amounts. In other words, the typical candidate spending limit of $80K would in that hypothetical situation become nearly a quarter of a million dollars

And those candidates would have a much harder time than the parties to secure financing for the difference, thanks to the ridiculous and unworkable loan provisions also written into the Bill against the advice of such wild-eyes radicals as the Canadian Bankers' Association, who would have to administer them. The new regime requires bank loans to be guaranteed by a consortium of individuals each guaranteeing no more than their annual contribution ceiling MINUS the amount they'd already actually contributed in cash. No bank or credit union wants to issue a loan for $45,000 guaranteed by 30 people for $1,500 each. Not going to happen. So, if the riding association didn't already have most of the limit banked ahead of time, their candidate would be put impossibly behind the 8-ball in a mega-length campaign.

Now, there would be some down-sides to a mega-long election campaign from the governing party's perspective. For one thing, once a writ drops, most government advertising would have to cease, and most government-funded ministerial travel along with it. Cabinet ministers still managing complex, sensitive or risky portfolios (defence, security, or anything to do with financial markets or the price of energy are some contemporary examples) might have their attention impossibly distracted from either their role or their re-election. It would blow a huge hole into Elections Canada's own election budget, so I suppose there could be some public backlash as well, though the bet would be on it dissipating after a day or two. And long campaigns can be risky for incumbents.

But they're just as risky for challengers, especially ones who haven't personally experienced the pressure-cooker of a national campaign before. And the challenge of suddenly needing to raise and spend three times what you'd planned on might be insurmountable. Plus, Auditors-General don't usually release reports during election campaigns; just sayin'.

A final wrinkle is that the so-called "third parties" – groups who are not registered political parties, but who want to advertise during the election campaign, did NOT have their ceilings pro-rated. So, each group will have a hard $150K ceiling to work with for the entire writ period nationally, plus $3000 for any riding it wants to specifically advertise about, no matter how long or short the campaign. I expect a number of third parties – LeadNow.ca for example, or the pro-pipeline groups – have planned more expensive pre-writ ad campaigns that are not subject to those ceilings. But if the writ were issued early, all those ad buys would have to stop in their tracks. [UPDATE: of course those third party spending limits spelled out in the Act are at least subject to the inflation adjustment, so the Third Party national limit, for example is now over $200K.]

We'll get an early taste of what's to come with the required launch of the Peterborough by-election, which must be called by May 6. It has to be called by May 6, but the only restriction on voting day is that it be on a Monday at least 36 days after May 6. The first Monday at least 36 days after May 6 is June 15, but the Prime Minister could do what was done in Ottawa Centre before, which was to call an early by-election that then got folded into the general election campaign. This means the candidates in Peterborough should now expect to have to spend 4 1/2 times the old spending limit to get from May 6 to October 19. Same goes, though at a slightly lesser rate, for candidates in Sudbury (although notably, the Chief Electoral Officer still has not been notified by the Commons Speaker of Glenn Thibeault's January 5th resignation, so the clock hasn't started ticking on that riding's federal by-election just yet).

How the parties come out of this election financially will be critical to the future health of our democracy. Justin Trudeau has already signalled that he intends to turn his back on Jean Chretien's election reform of the per-vote subsidy. And unless any one party wins a majority of the 338 seats in the next House of Commons, the country could be back into an election again in 2017.

A democracy without a robust party system is a prime takeover target for monied interests. This is why all citizens should care so deeply about the fairness of elections. It sounds like it's all just dickering over inside baseball by party insiders, but it isn't. The political parties are the (for the most part, voluntary) bodies who identify, recruit, train and finance the candidates we all get to choose between on the ballot. Take away their level playing field, and you are only an election or two away from losing any real effective choice for yourself on that ballot.

Just because the Prime Minister could in theory call an election for the fixed election date early and spend his opponents into the ground, doesn't meant that he should, or would. A true leader is marked not only by his actions, but also his restraint and wisdom. Even though we fully expect the PM to vigourously contest the next election, he is no doubt also mindful of the fact that he's heading into the legacy stage of his reign.

For myself, I think the next Parliament should amend the Canada Elections Act again, to set a maximum length alongside the minimum length for a federal general election campaign period, and I hope to see that plank in one or more of the parties' election platforms.

————————-

As for all the #TeamSpring vs #TeamFall nonsense, I cannot bring myself to believe that the federal Conservatives would want to run an election campaign concurrently with either or both of the expected Alberta provincial election (mid-March call for a mid-April vote is the prevailing wisdom), or the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership contest which concludes the first weekend of May.

I also remember how all the expected fuss over the tell-all book by Julie Couillard on Maxime Bernier in during the 2008 election campaign amounted in the end to nothing more than a half-day story at most, so I think the potential impact of Senator Duffy's trial is being highly-overrated by people who spend too much time living and breathing the Ottawa narrative.

Everyone I've spoken to who's in a position to know, or who knows someone in a position to know, says that the next federal general election will be held on Monday, October 19, 2015 as stipulated in the Canada Elections Act. Until now, however, no-one's thought to ask them when it will be called. Hopefully that can be rectified soon.


41 Responses to “Re-up-UPDATED: How a little-noticed clause in the Fair Elections Act up-ends all conventional election timing speculation”

  1. Bjk says:

    Excellent analysis Alice. One consideration to a government that may be considering a 80-90 day campaign is it would mean they would not be able to use the levers of government during that time as per the ‘caretaker convention.’ I admit I’m slowly moving to the October camp and this article may push me all the way there.

  2. AEK says:

    Sure would be useful if you would just provide a brief summarized answer for those who don’t care to read about every step of your ingenious investigation.

    So, what’s the answer?

  3. Johnny B Liberal says:

    AEK, Either the author is paid by the word count or he has to meet the publisher’s minimum word-count quota. Both get you an essay when a short paragraph would do much better.

  4. hollinm says:

    Sounds like a lot of conspiracy stuff. It’s amazing how the media, pundits etc. always want to put negative motives on this PM. Their hatred for him is so deep they can’t think rationally. Its unfortunate.

  5. Glenn says:

    Good article. I bet many politicos are not even aware of this news. Makes you want to donate…lol

  6. Fred says:

    AEK you have attention deficit disorder. Not everything can be reduced to an info picture on Pinterest.

  7. Dave Coleman says:

    Wow. I gave up reading this “analysis” about a third of the way through. What a waste of time for the person who wrote it. “I am a paranoid Harper hater,” would have been a lot more to the point. Anyway, money is greatly overestimated in its effect on elections. The “Yes” side outspent the “No” side by 10 times in the referendum on Mulroney’s constitutional proposal, yet the “No” side came back from an initial polling deficit and won massively.

  8. Nelson Wiseman says:

    Hi Alice,
    Wonderful material and analysis. I’m going to use it in class.

  9. Ruth McVeigh says:

    Alice, who has a steel-trap mind for this kind of thing, has put her finger on a real problem. It may look like a lot of reading, but a summary just wouldn’t be as clear. I hope all those who really care about this country will take the time to thoughtfully read this expose of a sneaky little pitfall contained in the ‘Fair Elections Act”.

  10. Daisee says:

    The exploitation & sneaky undemocratic tricks of these con-men just takes my breath away.

  11. Barbara Tattershaw says:

    to AEK…..read the column….it’s worth it. If you must have a fast conclusion, read the last 3 paragraphs. To hollinm….not up to your usual cracker-jack rebuttal. Alice is a wonk…not a hater.

  12. fmpsportsguy says:

    Two things to point out, the FIRST one being VERY important in deciding WHEN the Conservatives will call an election, is the harpers governments Legal challenge still before the courts. They are fighting against Canadians living aboroads right to vote.

    The second point, which hasn’t got much press is “The Penashue Clause” which now makes it easier for Conservative candidates to overspend and get off sctott free!

    Recourse of contestant for fault of financial agent

    476.88 A nomination contestant may apply to a judge for an order that relieves the contestant from any liability or consequence under this or any other Act of Parliament in relation to an act or omission of the contestant’s financial agent, if the contestant establishes that

    (a) it occurred without his or her knowledge or acquiescence; or

    (b) he or she exercised all due diligence to avoid its occurrence.

    The contestant shall notify the Chief Electoral Officer that the application has been made.

  13. Nancy Crouse says:

    This maniacal fascist has rigged the so-called “fair elections act” to his advantage. This is how a fascist calculates the advantage of his re-election. This man is the most despised, the worst PM and least democratic PM this country has ever had the misfortune of electing via apathy!

  14. Colin says:

    Wow! Great analysis indeed. This is great news. I was chuckling as I was reading, thinking of which genius thought of adding this clause. Quite Machiavellian. lol

  15. Makesyouwonder says:

    In other words, the Cons are being criticized for being good at raising money. I guess the idea is that parties should reduce themselves to the lowest common denominator: be lazy and raise as little money as you can. This essay is another form of whining by the Liberals and NDP and their jealousy and envy of the Conservatves’ financial prowess.

  16. William says:

    You mentioned the Ottawa Centre by-elections which got rolled into the general, also worth noting Harper himself has rolled by-elections into generals, in 2008 (guelph, westmount-Ville marie and saint-lambert). Among Liberal circles at the time, lot of people thought Harper called general because Libs were expected to do well in the byelections and didn’t want to give Libs momentum. Wonder if we could see the same thing – call the byelections and then the general or not based on perceived momentum and outcomes in them. The vacant seats of Peterborough, Sudbury and potentially Mississauga-Brampton South are all known to known to be various flavours of swing seat (Peterborough in particular) so if you were looking to dip your toe in the electoral waters months before a general, I could think of worse seats to do it in.

  17. Louis Morin says:

    Interesting analysis Alice. It all comes down to winning the election – strategy,
    strategy, strategy – organization, organization, organization, money, money and more money.

    I’m of the opinion that Harper will resign allowing for a “National Conservative Leadership Convention and Legacy show” leading directly into the election date hoping to create a party momentum in the campaign. It could be successful unless we start countering it right now.

    Just a hunch!

  18. Hey everybody. A lot of new readers at Pundits’ Guide today (and yes, it’s been awhile since I had the chance to write).

    One thing we try to avoid here is egregious partisan rhetoric. “Maniacal fascists” for example. I’m not a “Harper-hater”, hollinm – heck I used to work on the same floor in Confederation Building as the Prime Minister when he worked for Deborah Grey, and we always got along well personally.

    Really, there are a million sites on the internet where people can insult one another. Here we try to examine the facts and the law and the numbers, and see what it means strategically. I do have an opinion on this particular amendment, and suggest a change to it, but have never wanted to create and share this site except as a tool for everyone involved politically to use equally.

  19. DBM says:

    AEK –

    Let me try to sum it up for you:

    By pro-rating spending limits over the length of the election, and not imposing a maximum election length, the Fair Elections Act creates a loophole that may make our next election less fair.

  20. David says:

    I doubt this is “a little-noticed clause”. I am sure that every party read the financing clauses in detail and clearly understood the implications. The Liberal party’s change of heart must clearly indicate they see advantage in this for them. However, it was little-noticed by many others. Thank you for the article. However, it doesn’t speak as much to me about the current Conservative ruling party, or the Liberal party as it does about the political media. That most of the political media didn’t read the election financing clauses after all the recent controversy says a lot about how much they like to talk and how little they apparently like to read. That may be too unkind a comment, but it isn’t the first time I’ve seen evidence of this sort.

  21. Terence Quinn says:

    As usual this “Party Of One” is always looking for a way to cheat. Calling this the fair elections act is the same as Harper being a transparent PM. It is time the Canadian electorate wakes up to the devious tactics he uses all the time. His efforts to by pass the constitution with many laws that have all been challenged at the SCC is a testament to his poor ethics.

  22. Janice says:

    I suspect by bringing this to light now, BEFORE the Cons have a chance to implement the scheme, should deter them just a wee bit, so thank you. I agree, this clause needs to be amended asap after the election (along with the hundreds of other amendments, deletions, and reinstatements that will be required to salvage our Canada).

  23. Craig says:

    I find it disturbing the way our system has been increasingly Americanized under Stephen Harper’s reign. We now have long, drawn-out multi-million dollar election periods that basically start a couple of years before the actual election. The Conservatives start launching ads against the new Opposition leaders, and continue them right through till the election. That’s not the way it was done in Canada historically. Advertising hardly ever took place in the Pre-Writ period. Not having any restrictions on spending during the Pre-Writ period makes a mockery of the Election Spending laws.

  24. David R Mann says:

    The law of unintended consequences. Il ya une tempête à venir.

  25. robert ede says:

    You are tops in details! So thorough.

  26. Paul McKivett says:

    Alice, excellent analysis as always. I will be directing my fellow President’s to your site (I always do!) but even more so at our Campaign College in Vancouver this w/end.
    On another note, Tim Kane’s papers are in to the Green Light Committee and we are hoping he will be ‘green lighted’ ( give me the good old days when the Riding President ruled ;-) !) and a Nomination meeting held sometime in Feb for Saanich – Gulf Islands. Stay tuned, I’ll email you when we have a date.
    And yes, folks, please keep the discussion to the subject and take the rhetoric to other sites. David and Craig I concur with your comments, though David, it is the first I have read of this but perhaps the National Campaign Committee is aware and just not broadcasting the fact. I may learn more this w/end.

  27. Fenton says:

    One further consideration in any decision on whether to use this lever may arise from the press gallery – or, rather, the news organizations employing Parliamentary journalists. To be a serious player you need to have someone on every plane, and this travel must be paid for. Having gone through this painful exercise many times managing newsroom budgets, I can attest it was a painful exercise even in fatter times. Every day the writ is extended creates a larger hole. Whether the Conservatives would be willing to try playing through the racket on this issue that arises from the eponymous audience of this blog may be a significant decision factor.

  28. MS says:

    If I had to guess, I’d say we might be in for a slightly longer election at the scheduled time. Instead of 36 days, let’s say 45 or so, ending at October 19th.

    This has many of the benefits listed above for the Conservatives. They’ll be able to plan the whole period in advance; the other parties will be scrambling and wrong-footed from the start, trying to turn a 36-day plan into a 45-day plan. They’ll be able to spend the full amount allotted; the other parties will be scrambling. And so on. And yet it isn’t lengthy enough for the country to feel like it has been abandoned, that no one is at the tillers of government (the downsides listed above). The media might call it an “unusually long election” but won’t start calling a “Conservative election trick” or anything like that (which they very well might if it were 110 days).

  29. The downsides for the Conservatives outweigh the upsides methinks — especially given that the Liberals are now almost matching the Conservatives in fundraising each quarter. Would affect third parties the most, but very likely never will until the next Dec.-Jan. election period when the writ period is extended because of the holidays (and for no other reason). Many other measures much more worrisome in (and not in) the so-called “Fair Elections Act” — see them at: http://democracywatch.ca/20140428-conservatives-go-halfway-to-making-fair-elections-act-fair/ and http://democracywatch.ca/20140408-democracy-watch-proposes-10-key-changes-to-committee-to-make-the-so-called-fair-elections-act-actually-fair-and-10-other-priority-changes-to-make-federal-elections-actually-fair/

  30. Duff, then “methinks” you haven’t thought about that point long enough. The spending limit would be raised by $4.9M million a week — that’s what the Liberals were lucky to raise in the 4th quarter of last year. And you’re basing your historical assessment of them matching the Conservatives quarter for quarter on what, a year or so?

  31. Observant says:

    I’m suspicious…. and I suspect that Harper will call an election asking for a renewed mandate based on the Spring Budget PLUS the extension of the Canadian mission against ISIS/ISIL which includes air force plus boots on the ground together with the US and to take the fight to the jihadi terrorists.

    It will be something like a “Guns & Butter” election…. and if there is another domestic terrorist attack, that will top it off..!!!

  32. jeremy says:

    wow a lot of dumb comments i read. this reader is not harper hater, she’s just writing what has been written into the new election act. If you consider transparency from a journalist on a law that was written by the gov’t , hating on that gov’t then you are a bigger part of a problem then you know. Or you’re a paid shill to say these things or a brainwashed swill willing to believe anything.

  33. Shadow says:

    Pffft don’t you know the real speculation is whether we have an election based on the legislative fixed date or the constitutional fixed date ?

    Put me down for team spring 2016 with an early pre-election budget that has all the goodies that won’t be available this year because of the price of oil.

    Only half joking.

  34. Dan Cummings says:

    Would the election writ be dropped on, say, July 1st, after the Canada Day spectacular on Parliament Hill for October 19th?

    Hard to see why. Pre-writ spending is unlimited. All those summer BBQs won’t be on the books. TV ads, blimps, billboards are all open season.

    That’s why some MPs and otherwise nominated candidates already have well-stocked campaign offices. Twitter has been reporting them. Rent is not on the books until drop of the writ.

    But the gist of this article is appreciated. Drop the writ 2 weeks early you’ve got 14 X 1/37th of your budget extra to spend. Those are the days when spending ordinarily doesn’t ramp up to full-blown so you can spend more heavily later. Tactically, it could be a way to trap some parties into declaring pre-writ spending into the writ. But the Parties are all well-financed by the taxpayer and donors, so I’d see it as unlikely. Although, the extra whining wouldn’t gain much traction for any Party wanting to be taken seriously.

    However, if you’re the Government it does give you some control over timing that was thought lost with a fixed date, and if you found out some advertising was locked in and you called the election date itself to be 2 weeks early you could disrupt things. But all of the people involved, in every party, in every riding, will be at full stress level by July. And I think that means the Le Mans start won’t have any slowpokes…

  35. ANNA says:

    The information about third parties is not quite right. The limits on third party advertising spending was modified in bill c-23 by changing the time reference. The phrase “during the election period” has been deleted so that advertising spending before the “official Campaign” period will count towards the limit. The limit captured all advertising “in relation to a general election.”

  36. Anna says:

    Alice — The information on third party limits is also wrong vis a vis the longer than 36 day spending limit.
    Bill C-23 attached the same per-day pro-rated increase to third parties.

    The most important issue on third parties, I think, is the removal of the official campaign as the period during which election advertising spending limits apply. This change was done at the request of the Chief Electoral Officer who argued that the limits are meaningless if any political entity can spend as much as it wants any time except for the “official period.” (political parties excluded of course!) Prior to Bill C-23 the relevant clause read:
    “A third party shall not incur election advertising expenses of a total amount of more than $150,000 during an election period in relation to a general election.” Bill C-23 amended this definition by deleting the text “during an election period,” thereby making the limit apply to all election advertising incurred in relation to a general election. A corresponding amendment was made for election advertising incurred in relation to a by-election.
    Question is –who is going to monitor and enforce this mess.

  37. Anna, I’m not sure you’re correct insofar as the final version of the Bill, but will double-check it again.

  38. Anna, I have spoken with Elections Canada again on this matter. We believe the concept of inflation adjustment and pro-rating are what’s being confused here.

    The election expense limit for third parties, as with those for registered parties nationally, candidates locally and nomination contestants, are all adjusted annually based on an inflation factor that comes into effect on April 1, and is published by the Chief Electoral Officer in the Canada Gazette. That has been the procedure spelled out in the Act for years now, and hasn’t changed.

    What HAS changed is the move from a fixed limit (regardless of campaign length), to a variable limit based ON campaign length — but NOT for third parties, only for candidates and registered parties (it’s irrelevant for nomination contestants). Unfortunately, no corresponding limit was placed on the length of the campaign, so a campaign could theoretically go on forever and the spending limit increase accordingly.

    To others who are not “getting” the reason why a party might not prefer to spend an unlimited amount pre-writ, I ask you: if parties have an equal spending limit during an election campaign which is astronomical, is that really a level-playing field? And if they don’t, but one party could spend all of it, and if that party chose to spend all of it in the final weeks of the campaign, is that a level playing field? I submit to you that it is not.

    The system in place until the last election meant that – whatever the pre-writ spending – at least there was parity during the five or so final weeks of the election campaign. The new system now in place cannot guarantee that at all, which is why I still maintain that a maximum length should be legislated for the writ period the next time the Elections Act is opened up.

    But, to return to your point, third parties WILL have a fixed limit during the campaign (and for the six months ahead of it, effectively). It’s just that the fixed limit is inflation-adjusted up from what is in the Act. This means that if an election were called now, the national ceiling for a third party to spend would be $201,900 and within a single riding it’s $4,038. These figures come from Elections Canada as of this afternoon, fyi.

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