Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • Stephen Harper launches federal election for Oct. 19

    OTTAWA—Canadians will go to the polls Oct. 19 as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper kicked off a marathon election campaign Sunday that he painted as a “critical” decision on the future of the country.

    Crossing the street from his residence at 24 Sussex, Harper arrived at Rideau Hall just before 10 a.m. to meet with Governor General David Johnston and ask that Parliament be formally dissolved.

    Twenty minutes, he emerged, confirmed that the 42nd election was underway and laid out his case for re-election to Canadians, saying the fall vote would be a test of which party can provide leadership on the big issues of the economy and security.

    “A national election is not a popularity contest,” Harper said.

    Saying the global economy remains “uncertain and unstable,” Harper said that managing the Canadian economy remains the top priority for the Conservatives.

    While not naming the other parties, he said now is not the time for “reckless economic schemes.”

    “I think our plan has proven itself,” he said, boasting about the Conservatives’ “low-tax plan.”

    The Conservatives’ campaign slogan is “Stephen Harper: Proven leadership for a strong Canada.”

    At twice the length of recent campaigns, this election will the longest in modern Canadian history and likely the costliest.

    But Harper tried to justify the early election call, charging that the other leaders were already on the campaign trail and because of that, it was necessary to get all the parties operating under the same rules that kick in once the election is underway.The contest will pit the Conservative leader, a political veteran gunning for a rare fourth straight election win, against NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, an experienced Quebec politician hoping to make history as the first NDP prime minister, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seeking to turn around the fortunes of the once might Liberal party.

    Mulcair launched his campaign with a two-fold message: that Canadians want a change from the Harper Conservatives, and that he is the leader voters should choose to replace him because he has the most experience, shares their values and the best ideas.

    “I want to speak to every Canadian who thinks Mr. Harper’s government is on the wrong track, to every Canadian who is looking for change in Ottawa,” Mulcair said Sunday morning from outside the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., overlooking Parliament Hill.

    “I believe that governing is about priorities. Mr. Harper’s priority is to spend millions of dollars on self-serving government advertising and an early election call. My priority is to invest in affordable, quality childcare, to help families and the economy,” said Mulcair before going on to list some of his highlighted promises, including more protection for the environment and a better relationship with indigenous peoples.

    The NDP campaign slogan is “Ready for Change”.

    Mulcair took no questions from reporters after delivering his speech.

    Trudeau is scheduled to speak later in Vancouver.

    Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will speak in her riding on Vancouver Island.

    It won’t be long before those four leaders square off – the first debate of the election happens Thursday in Toronto, presented by Maclean’s magazine.

    While the date of the election was known, thanks to fixed election date legislation, the launch of the campaign comes weeks earlier than expected.

    This campaign – ringing in at more than 70 days – will span the weeks from the summer heat and BBQ circuit to the autumn chill and fall fairs. At twice the length of recent campaigns, it also promises to test the attention span of Canadians.

    Still, this election promises to be one for the history books, whatever the outcome. Will Canadians vote to return Harper and his Conservatives to government in a rare, fourth straight election win? Will they cast their ballots for a first-ever NDP government? Or will the Liberals rebound from their time in the political penalty box?

    At the very least, the Oct. 19 election will certainly new faces to the House of Commons. That’s partly because dozens of MPs are not running again. But also this vote will see the election of 30 additional MPs – bringing the total to 338 – as new seats are added to the Commons to account for population changes.

    The Conservatives head into the campaign with 159 seats, the New Democrats 95, and Liberals 36. The Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and Forces et Démocratie had two seats apiece. There were eight independent MPs and four vacant seats.

  • Election 2015: Long campaign has risks, rewards

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to trigger a marathon campaign plays to Conservative strengths but flirts with danger, political observers say.

    The 11-week race allows Harper to deploy the party’s massive financial war chest, but it’s a bold move to put a 9-year-old government in the shop window from the dog days of summer to the brisk nights of autumn.

    An advisory from the Prime Minister's Office late Saturday night said Harper is scheduled to meet with Governor General David Johnston at 10 a.m. Sunday. That visit is expected to trigger an election.

    “There are risks for the prime minister and the Conservatives in a long campaign,” warned Ottawa consultant and strategist Bruce Anderson of Anderson Insight, who said the Liberals and NDP bring “more new ideas” to tempt voters.

    “If there’s one idea on trial in an election it’s the incumbent. Observing what he’s done hasn’t made more people decide they want more of him. He’s got to find a way to make change seem too scary.”

    That effort is well underway, with a steady blitz of Conservative ads portraying Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as “just not ready.”

    “They’ve marked up the Liberals, now they’ll move to the NDP,” said Marcel Wieder of Aurora Strategies in Toronto. “We haven’t had much of a response from either of them. It means they’re trying to conserve their cash.”

    Anti-Mulcair attack ads are being readied for broadcast.

    Conservative commentator Tim Powers says the early call catches the opposition off guard, allows the Tories to define the campaign issues on their terms and woo swing ridings crucial to the final result on Oct. 19.

    “If the campaign started after Labour Day, it would be more difficult,” Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, said.

    He sees the extended race as an attempt to blunt the momentum of the NDP, which leads in many of the polls, and turn up the scrutiny on the party’s leader, who, like Trudeau, in his first national campaign. This is Harper’s fifth.

    “If Tom Mulcair is the prime minister in waiting, well, he’s going to have a longer period of time to go through the full job interview,” Powers said.

    But there could be backlash if opposition parties succeed in portraying Harper’s early call as what Anderson dubbed an “ethically grey” and bare-knuckle use of election laws for partisan advantage.

    “It’s blatantly unfair,” said Alice Funke of, which analyzes elections. “It’s basically saying ‘we can’t win any other way.’ ”

    Although the Conservatives enjoy a 2-1 advantage in financing over the opposition parties, money doesn’t always buy love.

    The governing Alberta Conservatives had a five-fold advantage in fundraising this year, but Jim Prentice, who was premier, still lost to the NDP, said Prof. Nelson Wiseman, who teaches politics at the University of Toronto.

    “If there’s a strong wind for change it doesn’t much matter.”

    The long campaign — it’s more than twice the usual five weeks — also leaves more time for a “wild card” to influence the campaign.

    In 2006, in the middle of an extended 55-day federal campaign that straddled the Christmas holiday, the RCMP unexpectedly revealed it had launched a criminal investigation into the Liberal government’s recent policy decision on income trusts.

    Paul Martin’s Liberals were subsequently defeated by Harper’s Conservatives.

    “Things can often turn on a dime,” Wiseman said.

    In a similar vein, a longer campaign leaves more time for gaffes, by either the leaders or candidates, that can be exploited by rivals.

    But that is an equal risk for all parties with Harper having the upper hand because of his experience, Wieder said, noting Trudeau has been prone to slips.

  • Verdict in Mohamed Fahmy re-trial postponed

    CAIRO — An Egyptian court has again postponed announcing the verdict in the case of Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and two other Al-Jazeera English journalists — this time to Aug. 29.

    It was the latest of several postponements in the long-running legal saga that has been criticized worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists, and a frustrated Fahmy reacted by tweeting “The audacity and continuous disrespect to our rights is unprecedented.”

    Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed were detained in December 2013 while working for the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network.

    The three were initially sentenced to prison before Egypt’s highest court ordered a retrial on charges alleging they were part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have declared a terrorist organization, and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egypt’s national security.

    Egypt deported Greste in February, while Fahmy and Mohammed were later released on bail.

    Fahmy’s brother, Adel, told The Canadian Press from Cairo that this latest postponement of the verdict has added to the suffering of not only his brother, but the entire family.

    “I know he’s suffering very much, and not able to sleep well, or eat well. And now he has a teaching job at UBC in British Columbia starting in September and you know his whole life, and ours, has been crippled,” he said.

    Adel Fahmy said no official reason was given for the postponement — that the judge who usually presides over the case didn’t show up today and that another judge came in and simply announced, without explanation, that the verdict had again been delayed.

    Mohamed Fahmy’s lawyer in Vancouver, Joanna Gislason, was clearly disappointed by the court’s action, and also at a loss to explain it.

    “It’s hard to understand why everyone would have been dragged back to court today, when presumably this would have been known by the court. The lives of these men are hanging in the balance, and it’s just torturous for them to have to wait in this way,” she said.

    Throughout the proceedings Fahmy has pointed out that his case had been complicated by politics in the Middle East, referring to himself as a “pawn” in a rift between Egypt and Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera.

    Egypt and Qatar have had tense relations since 2013, when the Egyptian military ousted Morsi amid massive protests.

    Qatar is a strong backer of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and Cairo accuses Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for Morsi’s supporters — charges denied by the broadcaster.

    The Canadian government has said it has raised Fahmy’s case with Egyptian officials “at the highest level” and called for his immediate return to Canada ahead of Thursday’s verdict.

    Fahmy moved to Canada with his family in 1991, living in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.

    With files from the Associated Press

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007