The Conservatives have put their campaign workers on an electoral footing, with some candidates being told to be ready as early as this weekend for a writ drop.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to reveal his plans for the election launch in a television interview on Wednesday, but party officials said “things are heating up” with an early election call in the works.

The election is still expected to be held Oct. 19, but with a much longer than usual campaign.

A number of officials recently left positions in the Prime Minister’s Office to work full-time at Conservative headquarters, and more ministerial staffers are prepared to quit their positions in coming days to join the party, sources said. In addition, some candidates have been told to be prepared for a potential election call this weekend, even though it is a holiday in many provinces, Conservative sources said.

In particular, a number of Conservatives are expected to attend a rally with Mr. Harper in Montreal on Sunday, although some sources said it could simply be a partisan event rather than a campaign launch.

Conservative officials caution that because it is the Prime Minister’s decision to choose when to call an election, there can be no certainty about the timing. But they argue that an unofficial campaign is already under way, with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau conducting pre-electoral tours of the country.

In addition, the first leaders’ debate, organized by Maclean’s magazine, will be held next week, and the airwaves and social-media feeds are already cluttered with electoral messages.

“The campaign’s on. The question is when is it appropriate to drop the writ,” a Conservative official said. “We’re getting close.”

Another Conservative official said the legislation that put the date of the election on Oct. 19 has created the need for a longer campaign: Given that all parties are already in campaign mode, it’s best to bring everyone under the rules of the Elections Act.

Still, party spokesmen emulated Mr. Harper, who refused to lay out his exact plans.

“I don’t speculate and I particularly don’t speculate on my own actions,” Mr. Harper told Bloomberg Television.

The past two federal election campaigns lasted 37 days, which is the minimum time frame for a campaign under the country’s electoral law. If the election were called as early as this Sunday, it would mean a 79-day campaign.

There would be clear financial implications to an early election call.

Elections Canada, the non-partisan agency that organizes the ballot, has budgeted $375-million for this year’s election. However, a longer writ period would increase costs related to its leases across the country, office-equipment rental costs and additional hours of work for staff.

In 2011, Elections Canada transferred $60-million to political parties and candidates, who are eligible for reimbursements of 50 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively, of their allowable expenses.

With a longer election period, the reimbursements would clearly be higher.

Under a 37-day election period, parties can spend up to $25-million. For every additional day of campaigning, the spending limit goes up by nearly $700,000, for a total of $21-million by party for an extra month of campaigning.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is arguing that the reimbursements should be lower, as well as the tax credits for donations to political parties.

“If they were scaled back, we wouldn’t have to worry about excessively long writ periods since parties would not be so cavalier with money,” said spokesman Aaron Wudrick.

Ottawa has been rife with speculation for weeks of an early writ drop, given that the Conservatives, with their massive war chest, are best positioned to afford the long campaign.

But Mr. Harper can also expect to receive questions about the Mike Duffy scandal when the senator’s trial resumes Aug. 12 and the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, testifies as a prosecution witness.

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2015 5:32PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2015 11:38PM EDT