Unpacking the politics: Political predictions for the new year

WATCH ABOVE: Ottawa reporters Jennifer Ditchburn and Mark Kennedy predict what they might be covering in the next three months.

OTTAWA — It may be nine months away (or 284 days … or 40 weeks and four days. Who’s counting?), but the campaign for the October federal election is already underway and expected to dominate news cycles until Canadians cast their ballots.

Political observers might find themselves paying more attention to Toronto-area ridings, where all three main federal parties will be vying for votes, Jennifer Ditchburn, a journalist with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, said during a panel discussion on The West Block with Tom Clark.

“Basically, I think the election campaign has already begun,” she said. “We’re going to see the leaders spending a lot of time in the areas of the country they think are important, and especially the prime minister is going to be spending a lot of time in the Greater Toronto Area.”

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READ MORE: What does 2015 hold for Canadian politics? Duffy, a Senate audit, and oh, an election

Before voters head to the ballot box, though, the Conservatives have to table a budget, Mark Kennedy, the Ottawa Citizen’s parliamentary bureau chief pointed out.

“I will be paying a lot of attention to [the budget] because it’ll put a lot of pressure on the prime minister,” he said. Although the Conservatives have been unwavering in their pledge of balancing the budget, it’s possible the books will stay in the red if oil prices continue their nose dive.

“My question to them will be … can you really assure us that, as we head into an election campaign, we’re not back into deficit even though you’re proclaiming otherwise?” Kennedy said.

READ MORE: Liberals and Tories tied in latest poll of federal party support

Further, the budget could launch a national debate pitting tax cuts against targeted spending on child care, infrastructure and health care, he said.

“What’s more important to you as a Canadian, as a voter: Money in your pocket or a program that a Liberal government might bring in or an NDP government might bring in?” Kennedy said.

Both Ditchburn and Kennedy said the prime minister will need to be careful during the election campaign not to push the notion that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is a risk.

If the prime minister uses this tactic and Trudeau ends up shining during a televised debate, this could backfire on the Conservatives, Ditchburn said.

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As for Tom Mulcair, if electoral support does not improve he runs the risk of becoming leader to the third party in the house which could put his political future in doubt, the panellists said.

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