Election? What election?

If you’ve been at the cottage, campsite, or just decided to take the summer off politics, welcome back and fasten your seatbelts – you’re in for one hell of a ride!

It’s helpful to think about the longest campaign in modern history in two parts: the warm up (August 2 to September 7th) and the sprint (September 8th to Election Day on Oct. 19th). Why the warm up period at all you may ask? It’s about keeping your powder dry until after Labour Day when conventional wisdom tell us that more Canadians will tune in, and the ads and policy pronouncements will be fresher in the minds of voters the closer they are made to Election Day.

So far the warm up period saw the first leader’s debate, a lot of policy announcements, and many ads. But we expect a much higher degree of intensity in terms of what politicos refer to as the “air war” and the “ground game” in the weeks to come.

The air war has certainly seen more than just a couple opening salvos so far, with all three national parties running issue-based ads and attack ads on all mediums – TV, radio, print and online. However, we expect to see all of these ads in heavier rotation and in prime time as parties will be saving the bulk of the advertising budgets for the later portion of the campaign. In some ways, the warm up period of the campaign also allows for the road testing of ads and the message they deliver. For example, if all you is see Justin Trudeau climbing an escalator for the next six weeks, you can bet that the Liberal Party’s internal public opinion research tells them they have a winner.

The air war isn’t just about advertising. Rather, it is all about the message and defining yourself as well as your opponents. For example, the Conservatives’ job interview ad was as much about defining Justin Trudeau as ‘not ready’ as it was about underscoring the Prime Minister’s credentials to lead in turbulent times. In the most competitive campaign in a decade, we expect the party leaders to sharpen their attacks on each other as well as focus in on their key policy planks in an effort differentiate themselves and strike a chord with the electorate.

While the campaign shifts gears for the party leaders and their close circle of advisors, so too does it change for the thousands of local candidates, volunteers and activists across the country. The ground game is often overlooked by national media and the pundits. With tight three-way races across the country, on-the-ground campaigning is critically important to the outcome. After all the ads, debates, and policy platforms, ultimately elections are decided by voters showing up and casting their ballots. So what changes on the ground?

The return of many Canadians from their summer holidays will bolster local campaigns as their life blood – volunteers – come home from their holidays and are ready to be mobilized. This is critically important as these volunteers, whether it be by phone, online or in person, perform the critical task of identifying a party’s voters and getting them to their polling station on E-day. If you haven’t noticed as many election signs as you have in years past, this will also likely change as any sign campaign is a very labour intensive exercise and local campaigns may conserve their volunteers in order to launch a sign campaign later in the writ period to demonstrate a sense of momentum on the ground.

So with advertising spots and budgets primed and ready to go, volunteers returning home after the summer break and huge stakes for all of the party leaders, Canadians should get ready for the sprint to the finish line in one of the most competitive races in recent memory. Canadians would be well advised to enjoy the last few late sunsets and warm breezes this long weekend because we’re going to need to buckle up for the ride to come.