And they’re off

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harper.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxBy the time you read this, Stephen Harper will have triggered the longest, and most costly, federal election in Canada’s history.

Under the Conservative’s fixed-election law, which Harper ignored back in 2011, the next vote is scheduled for Oct. 19. Given recent practice, a typical five-week campaign should have kicked off in early September.

Now we are faced with a campaign lasting two-and-a-half months. There is no compelling reason for an election call now, and everyone knows that few people will be paying attention until the cottages are closed and the schools opened several weeks from now.

For Harper, however, there is one very compelling reason: money. He intends to buy, cheat and, if past practice is any indication, steal another term in power.

Under the Conservatives’ spectacularly misnamed Fair Elections Act, passed this past winter, the maximum campaign spending limit for each party is $25 million. But the Fair Elections Act provided for the limits to be increased if the campaign is longer than 37 days: for each additional day the limit is increased by 1/37th, or an extra $676,000.

And with a war chest twice the size of any competing party, the Conservatives will be able to bury Canadians under an avalanche of advertising. Expect most of that to come in the last few weeks of the campaign.

Taxpayers will be shelling out bigger bucks, too – millions in extra administrative costs and tens of millions more in rebates to parties and candidates for their inflated election expenses. Elections Canada estimates that a campaign of 37 days would cost roughly $375 million to administer. This one will be twice as long.

There’s another consideration. Even though, when he headed the right-wing corporate lobby group called the National Citizens Coalition, Harper advocated against limits on election spending by outside groups, that calculation has changed.

Many civil society groups, appalled by the policies wrought by the government on everyone from First Nations, community groups, anti-poverty organizations, environmentalists and union members – in other words, most Canadians – have been leading their own campaigns to encourage Canadians to vote Harper out. Once the writ is dropped however, they face severe limits on their spending and political activity.

All Canadians, but especially members of First Nations, need to pay close attention to Harper’s disastrous record. Then they need to show up and vote on Oct. 19.

For many, we know it won’t be easy. The Conservatives’ voter-suppression tactics will make it much more difficult. And the new law forbids Elections Canada even from encouraging people to vote.

Now, however, the stakes are too high to be apathetic. The Harper government is turning Canada into a rogue state internationally, and a police state at home. Anyone who opposes government policy may know, under Bill C-51, could now reasonably expect to be spied upon, arrested on the flimsiest of pretexts and detained for at least a week.

Organizations opposed to environmental pillaging or corporate abuses are already being denounced as “terrorists,” finding themselves audited by Revenue Canada and being forced to publicly reveal their intimate financial details. And all this as wealth becomes concentrated in ever fewer hands and the vast majority find it more and more difficult to earn a living income.

This election will be the most important in a generation. It’s time for real change in Ottawa.

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