PEI

Federal election 2015's long campaign takes toll on finances, volunteers

The 11-week federal election campaign period is creating financial challenges for some candidates, spending opportunities for others, and stretching human political resources on P.E.I. to their limit.

Some campaigns holding cash and volunteers in reserve, others turning away from traditional advertising

According to returns filed with Elections Canada, the Conservative riding association in Egmont brought in more than any other riding association on P.E.I. from 2012-14. (CBC News)

If the current election were to occupy the usual roughly 37-day campaign window of elections past, the writ would have only been issued last Friday.

Instead, Friday was day 40 of an 11-week campaign that's creating financial challenges for some candidates, spending opportunities for others, and stretching human political resources to their limit.

Costs are up, but so are spending limits

Because the election period spans 11 weeks instead of five, ongoing expenses like rent, utilities and gasoline have skyrocketed for some campaigns. Others have scaled back — delaying the opening of campaign offices or not having a campaign office at all, like Green Party candidate Becka Viau, who's running her Charlottetown campaign from her existing downtown art studio.

For campaigns with money to spend, the longer campaign has served as an opportunity to out-spend their opponents. Because of changes included in the Fair Elections Act, campaign spending limits are now tied to the length of the writ period.

Spending limits for candidates in P.E.I. ridings for the 2011 election were just under $70,000. Candidates can now spend nearly $170,000 because of the longer campaign. (CBC News)

In 2011, the spending limit for candidates on P.E.I. was just under $70,000. In this election, the limit is almost $170,000.

According to financial returns filed with Elections Canada, the only riding association in the province to reach the six-figure mark in terms of fundraising in the years since the last election (only 2012-14 figures are available so far) is the Conservative Association for the riding of Egmont, which took in $127,084 over that period.

Honour the money — spend it wisely

Philip Brown, campaign manager for Egmont Conservative Gail Shea, won't say whether the campaign plans to spend all that money — or what the money might be spent on.

It's a matter of not overtaxing any individual. Everybody is committed to the campaign, but you don't want to burn people out.- John Getson, with Herb Dickieson's NDP campaign in Egmont

 "It's a tremendous generosity that people exercise in ensuring that our democracies are strong when they contribute to the political process," Brown said. "And so it's incumbent on those of us spending that money to honour it, and spend it wisely."

At the other end of the spectrum, the Green Party raised $5,326 in the entire province over the same period of time.

The party's financial agent Darcie Lanthier said she doesn't expect to see candidates of any party on P.E.I. reach the spending limit.

"If they do spend that kind of money on Prince Edward Island people are going to be really frustrated, I think, with the barrage," she said. "It'll become noise. Hopefully it won't be like that. We want to engage voters rather than turn them off."

Campaign volunteer John Getson said the NDP in Egmont is turning away from traditional advertising in favour of social media as a way to stretch campaign dollars. (CBC News)

Some campaigns are holding off in favour of using up their advertising budgets closer to election day. Others have been looking to social media as a way to stretch limited dollars.

"The focus on signage and print media and the traditional stuff that they've done over the years isn't necessarily the smartest way to spend the money," said John Getson, who works on Herb Dickieson's NDP campaign in Egmont.

"With the inroads of social media and technology, online is a big player, and it's cost-effective."

The cost in human resources

While financial costs for such a long campaign are significant, it's the cost in terms of human resources that campaigns may have the most difficulty managing.

Between the provincial election in May and the 11-week federal campaign, P.E.I.'s political volunteers have never before been asked to do so much in so little time.

Lorna Smith (right), campaign manager for Liberal candidate Lawrence MacAulay in the riding of Cardigan, said she's holding some volunteers in reserve for important dates. (CBC News)

"You have to pace yourself," Getson said.

"Going forward, it's going to be long days, late nights until the job's done. It's a matter of not overtaxing any individual. Everybody is committed to the campaign, but you don't want to burn people out."

Lorna Smith, campaign manager for Cardigan Liberal candidate Lawrence MacAuley, said she's holding some volunteers in reserve for important dates to come.

"You've got to make sure anyone who requires a special ballot, that that's being looked after. Anyone that needs to vote at the advance polls … so you want to make sure you get the vote out," Smith said.

"That's what it's all about: the vote. Nothing else. So you've just got to make sure you've got the volunteers in here as we're getting closer to each of these dates, to keep the [campaign] running smoothly, and get the vote out."

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