Conservatives enter 40-day federal campaign flush with cash, focused on Quebec
Party should have enough money on hand to spend $28.1 million, the maximum allowed under federal law
Conservatives are determined to make Justin Trudeau a one-term prime minister as they look to send their leader, Andrew Scheer, from the opposition benches to the seat of government.
The party, which has outstripped its rivals' fundraising efforts by millions of dollars, already has begun blanketing the airwaves with TV ads trying to familiarize Canadians with Scheer.
In the last quarter, the Conservative Party of Canada raised more than the Liberal, New Democrat and Green parties combined. It should have enough cash on hand to spend the maximum allowable by law: $28.1 million for the national campaign.
The party also has vetted and nominated a full slate of 338 candidates ahead of the other parties.
The Conservatives have secured a campaign plane that's ready to take off today to bring Scheer to every part of the country considered to be in play in this election — notably New Brunswick, rural Quebec and parts of suburban Toronto and Vancouver.
"In politics, money talks," Andrew Brander, a strategist at Crestview and a former chief of staff to Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt, told CBC News. "Honestly, from an organizational standpoint, (Conservatives) are certainly the best-positioned at this time. And they have a ballot box question — affordability — that will motivate their base to show up."
"You and your family are at the heart of the October 21 election. Who can you trust to help you and your family to get ahead? And the answer is not Justin Trudeau, who will only take more money from your pockets. He doesn't know what it's like to raise a family in difficult conditions," Scheer said at a campaign launch event.
Brander said the party already has started sending out teams of canvassers to target key ridings — areas where they hope they can capitalize on Liberal weakness.
The party also has used some of its sizeable war chest to bolster its digital approach to campaigning, Brander said.
He said the party has deployed a new smartphone app that allows volunteers to access reams of voter data — information that can help party volunteers maximize their time at the doors of supporters and swing voters leaning Conservative.
The two cities that Scheer will visit Wednesday for the official campaign launch reveal a lot about the kind of seats the Tories will be targeting over the next 40 days.
Scheer will start the day in Trois-Rivieres, Que., a predominantly francophone seat in the Quebec heartland between Montreal and Quebec City. He'll finish the day with a rally in Woodbridge, Ont., a suburb of Toronto.
"The first week is very indicative of where the leaders believe the election can be won or lost. You'll see Scheer spend time in areas where he can pick up seats, but also in areas where can stave off some of the potential upsets. He's clearly targeting suburban families," Brander said.
Brander said voters can expect to see Scheer spend a lot of time along the Highway 401 corridor as he looks to cobble together the same coalition that last year delivered conservative governments in Ontario and Quebec.
Conservatives also hope to steal away more seats like Chicoutimi-Le Fjord (Conservative candidate Richard Martel bested his Liberal opponent there in a 2018 byelection), peel away Liberal ridings in vote-rich Mississauga and Brampton, Ont., and capitalize on NDP weakness in places like Saskatchewan and rural B.C., among others, to help them put together a majority government.
Brander, a veteran of both federal and provincial conservative campaigns, said the party has recruited some respected candidates in Quebec and is poised to gain from the NDP's slump. "The party has spent a lot resources rebuilding the party infrastructure in that province. I would expect Scheer to double down during the campaign to make sure those results come through for him on election day," he said.
Scheer reminded voters in Quebec Wednesday that it was the last Conservative government that officially recognized Quebec as a "nation within a united Canada" and gave the province a semi-formal presence at the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO).
Scheer said he'd need the support of the "Quebec nation" in particular to "restore integrity and accountability to government" in Ottawa.
Tories narrow polling gap
Scheer has narrowed what was once a significant polling advantage for Trudeau and the Liberals.
Almost a year ago to the day, the CBC's Poll Tracker put the Liberals in front by a healthy seven points among leaning and decided voters. Today, the two parties are locked in a dead heat.
While Scheer's Conservatives have lost some of the momentum they had in the spring during the peak of the SNC-Lavalin affair — a scandal that resulted in the departure of the prime minister's top adviser and two senior cabinet ministers — they are still polling higher than the share of the vote Scheer's predecessor Stephen Harper won on election day in 2015, if only slightly. The Conservatives took 31.9 per cent of the vote on election day 2015; they were polling at 33.8 per cent as of Sept. 10.
The Liberals, meanwhile, have dropped about five points in the polls since 2015 — from 39.5 per cent on election day to 33.8 per cent as of Sept. 10.
The Conservative Party has launched a series of television ads highlighting some of the prime minister's broken promises and warning voters that Trudeau "isn't as advertised."
'It's time for you to get ahead'
Another, more recent ad campaign features the party's election slogan: "It's time for you to get ahead."
Scheer, like his provincial conservative counterparts, has railed against the Liberal government's carbon tax, claiming it will make everyday life more expensive and vowing to scrap it, if elected. The Liberals maintain the initiative will lower greenhouse gas emissions and will be rebated to most families at tax time.
The party is expected to unveil a series of campaign commitments in the same vein. Already, the Conservatives have promised a non-refundable tax credit on maternity and parental leave Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. They've also vowed to take the federal GST off sales of home heating fuels.
Scheer has said he will make his pitch to younger voters through a housing policy directed at millennials, many of whom are struggling to buy homes in an era of sky-high housing prices in most of Canada's big cities.
The Conservatives believe affordability will be the ballot box question of this election, and they're hoping to attract the support of would-be Liberal defectors.