Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Benefits of a Long Campaign

At several points during the election campaign I thought, "Thank God we have eleven weeks," or "How could we have done this in six weeks?" As you may recall much of the conversation at the beginning of the campaign was about the fact that the 2015 federal election was the longest campaign in modern history and therefore the most expensive campaign that would greatly expand the spending limits. Despite the added costs and challenge I think it is hard to say that the public did not benefit from a longer campaign.

This was the first election that I worked very closely with a campaign. I have volunteered on a few campaigns, but this was a different level of immersion entirely. I believe that the higher voter turnout, up to nearly 69%, can be attributed in part to the longer campaign. One of the first things you learn in a campaign is that voter contact is key to turning out your vote. Campaigns had eleven weeks to reach out to voters, compared to the usual six weeks. Add in the fact that election advertising had much longer to reach a greater number of Canadians and the media had more time to inform voters about the campaign and the issues. Every once in a while I'd hear a story about a voter who didn't know that there was an election on.

The short campaign benefits the incumbents disproportionately. In an era before fixed election dates this was even more the case. Incumbents can quickly secure their nominations, usually unchallenged and go on with the rest of the campaign. Challengers have to be invited to compete in a nomination contest, sign up members, hold a meeting and then try to bring together the local party afterwards. This directly affected Brampton South, my riding. The NDP did not nominate a candidate until August 17th. We were working towards an August 30th meeting when the election was called. The reason for the delay is quite simple. There are rules governing how the nomination meeting has to be run, such as at least two weeks notice to party members before holding a meeting sent by mail. Not to mention candidates need to sign up new members and want more time.

The longer campaign also made it a better, more substantial campaign. The initial "gotcha" stuff got out of the way pretty early, which in a standard campaign would have dominated the early third. Several substantive issues came to the forefront during the campaign including the Duffy trial, the Syrian refugee crisis, niqab and civil liberties, and debts and deficits. Historically our elections often only revolve around an election or two, but in the last campaign there was enough time to present a number of competing visions for Canada. The longer campaign also allowed time for more debates and gave local organizers more opportunity to prepare for their own.

It is not all upside, of course. The longer campaign means a heavier burden on candidates and volunteers. One of the most troubling stories during the last election for me was that an NDP candidate in Saskatchewan has to resign as the candidate due to financial pressures. Being a core volunteer for 11+ weeks was certainly challenging for me. Remember that candidates often have to take a leave of absence from work and are living off debt or savings during a campaign, or a spouse's single income. A longer campaigns, if not considered carefully, will exclude less well off candidates from running.

Overall I think it's clear that the benefits outweigh the cost and that perhaps as a country we should move the minimum length of an election 50 days. Though if we do other related parts, such as funding , need to be re-examined.

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