So far, the Liberal bus tour is something of a phoney war. Most New Brunswickers, the conventional wisdom goes, have yet to tune in to the campaign, and the Graham campaign reflects that: the pace is not too gruelling (9 a.m. starts yesterday and today, wrapping up around 7 p.m.) and the agenda can't really be called packed.
I can't say for sure what's happening on the PC bus (I'll be there in two weeks) but the Liberals are using their pre-Labour Day swings to buck up their grassroots campaign volunteers (hence the frequent stops at the official openings of riding campaign headquarters) and test out the organizational machinery to ensure it runs efficiently and on time.
Still, it fits into an overall strategy. One of the rule changes in place for this election is that registered voters can cast their ballots anytime during the writ period. That means now. Motivating the troops also involves encouraging them to get supporters to the polls early, meaning there'll be less to do in the final, intense weeks of the campaign -- and those votes will be locked in, in case there's a sudden twist in the election narrative that rattles party support.
Riding the campaign bus for a couple of days, a journalist is struck by some of the odd conceits of the leader's tour, such as the "requirement" that candidates from around a given area converge for a tour event with the leader. In some cases, a candidate can eat up an entire morning driving to and from a 30-minute whistle stop appearance at which their name is sometimes never mentioned. In a 32-day campaign, that's time that you can't get back, and that might be better spent knocking on those doors again.
Another strange tradition is the "requirement" that the party leader visit all 55 ridings during the campaign. Both the Liberal and PC campaigns feel they must be able to say they visited every riding at least once.
Whether this is effective use of the leader's time is debatable: there are some ridings the PCs will simply never win, and likewise there are constituencies that will be forever out of reach for the Liberals (1987 being an obvious exception). If candidate Joe Whatnot loses by 20 votes in Upper Valley-The River, his or her leader may regret not having spent an extra evening there instead of appearing with a hopeless candidate in the Other Party bastion of Cityville West.
But that's the nature of the New Brunswick campaign: ruthlessly efficient, but still somewhat bound to observe certain traditions, come what may.