Frank McKenna is the sort of retired politician whose elder-statesman status usually keeps him well clear of the partisan fray. But the former New Brunswick premier and Canadian ambassador to the U.S., now deputy chair of TD Bank Financial Group, had some surprisingly hard-nosed advice for Michael Ignatieff in an interview with Maclean’s: hit back at Conservative “thugs” with some Harper-style attack ads of your own.
McKenna didn’t pull any punches when asked what the federal Liberal leader should do about Tory ads that label him “just visiting” and “only in it for himself.” “I think you have to fire back,” he said. “My inclination is to use attack ads when you’re attacked.” As for the sort of adversaries the Liberals are up against in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tacticians, McKenna added, “They are dealing with thugs; they’ve got to fight back and fight hard.”
Speaking about the Liberal TV ads that featured Ignatieff talking quietly in an open-collared blue shirt, against a backdrop of sun-dappled forest, McKenna said, “I thought [they] were kind of light. They had no impact.” While the Tories put Harper in a sweater in a series of TV commercials to soften his image, McKenna doesn’t think Ignatieff’s persona needs any toning down.
In fact, he suggests Ignatieff consider sending a high-risk message. “Both Flaherty and Ignatieff coming out and saying we can get rid of this deficit without too much pain—you know, no tax increase, not going to have to cut the provinces and everything else—that’s not going to happen. Canadians know it’s not going to happen. If a political leader were to say, ‘There’s going to be real pain here and it’s going to be shared at every level,’ I think that would be a lot more honest statement.”
Ultimately, though, McKenna says the next election is Harper’s to lose, not Ignatieff’s to win. “Harper will end up either losing it or not,” he said. “The leader of the Liberal party just has to be a respectable alternative and wait for Harper to make a mistake.”