With the House of Commons now in summer recess, politicians from all parties will be out hitting the barbecue circuit, and most importantly, honing their messages before they return in the fall, when the unofficial election campaign will begin in earnest.
True, the election is not set until the fall of 2015, but all parties will be in full-force election mode over the course of that year, crafting their political ads, building up their campaign war chests and trying to attract possible star candidates.
The Liberals have already snared the likes of Andrew Leslie, the former head of the Canadian army, and distinguished author and journalist Chrystia Freeland. But they also have an advantage over the Tories. With Trudeau having a realistic shot of at least being in a minority situation, the Liberal leader can entice higher-profile candidates into the party fold with promises of cabinet posts, said Peter Graefe, an associate professor of political science at McMaster University
"The Liberals are in a nice spot in that they have a weak bench but a good shot of forming government, “he said. “So if you were someone who had a high-profile career and thinking about getting into politics, the path is kind of open,” Graefe said.
The NDP, which could maintain official opposition status, will also be in a position to attract a higher grade of candidate, he said.
Money, of course, will also be key, and fundraising — a non-stop endeavour — will kick up a notch to ensure the parties are flush with cash by the time the campaign begins.
Before Prime Minister Jean Chrétien exited the political scene in 2003, he left the Conservatives with an unintended gift — new campaign finance rules that would ban corporate donations. The Tories, who traditionally relied mostly on personal donations, adapted well to the new rules. It also gave them an advantage over the Liberals, who had to struggle to raise funds.
Tories fundraising champs, but Liberals gaining
But that advantage has narrowed, as the Liberals under Trudeau seem to have found their fundraising footing.
Reports for the first quarter of 2014, filed with Elections Canada, showed that the Tories were still the fundraising champs, taking in almost $4.6 million.
While the Liberals raised almost $3.8 million, that was more than double their take during the same period last year. As well, the number of Liberal donors was up more than 12,000 from the same period last year, while the Conservatives lost about 7,000 donors.
Meanwhile, the NDP raised over $2.5 million, up from $1.6 million in the first quarter last year and with an increase of 3,000 donors. But the party also faces a $1.17 million bill from the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy that claims they must pay that money back for ineligible mass mailouts.
"The Conservatives and Liberals will have pretty full war chests," Graefe said. "The NDP will have the capacity to run a full campaign but they’re obviously a bit less financially prepared. This latest issue with the Board of Internal Economy is not going to help their situation, but I’m sure they will spin it into a fundraising opportunity as all parties do these days, or push it past the next election."
Bernie Morton, Canadian editor at Campaigns & Elections Magazine and former campaign manager for Peter Kent, said the Liberals, who are still forming their political messaging, will have to raise more money than the Conservatives, who have basically narrowed down what their messaging is going to be.
“[The Conservatives] are not going to have to spend as much money on focus group testing, as much money on the creation of political ads and trying them and see what sticks," he said.
"The Liberals will likely have to spend more money to try and get it right. Meaning they will need more," he said.
Harper's story won't change much
As for what that Conservative messaging will be, Sandford Borins, professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's story isn't going to change much.
"It’s going be 'the same wise economic management.' The twist this time will be ‘wise economic management and we’ve eliminated the deficit,’ and adding to that, presumably if the economy still chugs along nice, some tax cuts.
“The question is what the two opposition parties will construct in terms of their narrative.”
Although Trudeau has said he won’t be releasing the Liberal Party platform until 2015, he's hinted he will be making a play for the progressive vote, having already taken a firm stance on abortion by stating that Liberal MPs elected in 2015 will vote along pro-choice lines.
Mostly, Trudeau will have to fend off attacks from the Conservatives, who will try to drive home the message that he is an untested leader.
"I think what Trudeau has to his advantage is he’s emerged relatively unscathed from two rounds now of attack ads," Borins said. "I think that’s really important."
While Mulcair has been lauded by political pundits for his performance during question period, it's doubtful that's reached the public at large, most of whom are indifferent to the daily verbal scraps in the House of Commons.
"I don't think he's told his story," Graefe said. "I think he's been successful in increasing people's respect for him.… I don't think they understand who he is or what he stands for exactly."