OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) - Speculation mounted on Thursday that Canada's election campaign will formally begin on Sunday, with the governing Conservatives planning a Montreal rally on Sunday evening at which Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to speak.
The Conservative campaign spokesman, Kory Teneycke, also said on CBC television that the first election debate, on Aug 6, would be within the formal part of the campaign.
While the Oct. 19 date of this year's general election is fixed, the campaign does not start officially until the prime minister gives the word.
By law, Harper must do so by Sept. 13, but Conservative sources said this week that he would likely opt to start early, possibly the first week of August.
The Conservative Party has announced a rally on Sunday evening, Aug. 2, in Mount Royal, an electoral district in Montreal where the Conservatives have a shot at picking up a seat from the Liberals. Two Conservative sources said Harper would address the rally.
Adding to the speculation that the campaign is about to begin, many major Canadian news outlets ran stories on Thursday suggesting the election will get under way as early as Sunday.
If Harper does makes the move, it would create the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history, surpassed only by the first two, in 1867 and 1872.
An early call would partly reflect the fact that unofficial campaigning has already begun and would also likely benefit the Conservatives since they have more cash to spend on the election than the opposition parties.
The formalities of starting an election campaign in Canada involve Harper going to see Governor General David Johnston, the representative of Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth, to have Parliament dissolved and the campaign begin.
The Conservatives have been in power since 2006 and are running slightly behind or neck and neck with the left-of-centre New Democratic Party (NDP) in opinion polls, with Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party in third place.
The NDP got wind in its sails from an upset victory in May in a provincial election in the traditionally conservative, oil-rich province of Alberta, and the federal NDP announced on Thursday its second-quarter fundraising had hit a record C$4.5 million ($3.5 million).
That's nearly double its first-quarter tally of C$2.3 million, but short of the Conservatives' first-quarter figure of C$6.3 million. The Conservatives and Liberals have not released their second-quarter numbers.
(Editing by Peter Galloway)