Is nasty the new normal? -

Is nasty the new normal?

Byelections test Trudeau’s vow to stick to high road


OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau’s vow to take the high road, no matter how fiercely he’s attacked by his opponents, is being put to the test in three of four federal byelection campaigns.

With less than a week to go before Monday’s byelections, the Conservatives have launched the latest assault: a mailout to voters in Manitoba’s Brandon Souris riding that baldly states the Liberal leader “does not have the judgment to be prime minister.”

The pamphlet comes complete with a series of controversial Trudeau quotations, some dating back almost 15 years and at least one taken out of context.

It pillories the Liberal leader for wanting to legalize marijuana, “making it easier (for) kids to get,” and for saying he’d repeal mandatory minimum sentences, “meaning those convicted on multiple counts of sexual crimes would serve shorter jail terms.”

It also paints the Liberal candidate in Brandon, Rolf Dinsdale, as a tourist who only moved back to the riding in the summer and once played in a crudely named punk band that performed songs with raunchy lyrics.

Polls have suggested Dinsdale, whose father was Brandon’s Progressive Conservative MP for more than 30 years, could snatch the riding away from the Conservatives.

The other Manitoba riding in play is Provencher, a longtime Tory bastion that is widely expected to remain within the governing party’s fold and, hence, has seen relatively little controversy.

But Trudeau and his candidates have also come under fierce attack from the NDP in Toronto Centre and the Montreal riding of Bourassa, two Liberal strongholds the New Democrats are making an all-out effort to steal.

Trudeau is accusing NDP Leader Tom Mulcair of taking a page out of the Conservative playbook.

“Mr. Mulcair has obviously decided that the Conservative approach that Mr. (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper has effectively built over the past few years is indeed the best way to function,” he said Tuesday.

And he’s getting support for that charge from the Green party, whose Bourassa candidate last week issued a news release denouncing the NDP for “negative campaigning.”

Green Leader Elizabeth May said the success of the Conservatives’ negative approach to politics has persuaded the NDP to adopt the same approach, which she fears is slowly becoming “the new normal” in Canadian politics.

“Stephen Harper has introduced into Canadian politics the nastiest level of hyper-partisanship, the use of attack ads that are focused on the personality of other leaders,” May said in an interview.

Ultimately, she said, negative campaigning will only “reinforce the notion that this is all a dreadful, hyper-partisan exercise in spin, which has the effect of driving down voter turnout.”

However, Mulcair denied the New Democrats are running negative campaigns. Indeed, he said the nastiest thing he’s seen in the byelections is a video of a Liberal illegally removing an NDP poster, which had been put up outside Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg’s campaign headquarters in Bourassa.

“In fact, hundreds of NDP signs have been removed but we actually have the film of the Liberals taking down one of our signs. So, the only dirty tactic that I know about in that byelection is from the Liberal Party of Canada,” Mulcair said.

Trudeau countered that the sign was taken down only after the NDP campaign ignored phone calls requesting that it be removed. The fact that the NDP set up a camera to “catch one of our enthusiastic volunteers” removing the poster “indicates exactly the kind of approach that they’re choosing to take in politics, which is to play edgy, mean, nasty games to do anything to try and win,” he said.

The poster in question targets Dubourg for taking a $100,000 severance payment when he quit the Quebec legislature, less than a year after winning re-election, to run federally. It depicts him as a charter member of “Club Privilege Liberal,” an opportunist who is running “to satisfy his personal ambitions.”

A “club privilege” website set up by the NDP makes similar arguments and also goes after Trudeau for being “invisible” on the Senate expenses scandal, suggesting that’s because Liberal senators are also implicated.

In Toronto Centre, the NDP campaign echoes the successful Tory attacks on Trudeau’s predecessor, former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, as an opportunist who was “just visiting” Canada and who “didn’t come back for you.”

New Democrats have zeroed in on the fact that Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland, a journalist and author who left an executive position with Thompson Reuters in New York to enter the political fray, has not lived in Canada for 10 years.

NDP candidate Linda McQuaig, who is also a prominent journalist and author, has adopted “from Toronto, for Toronto” as her theme. Young New Democrats have posted online a picture of a big, outdated mobile phone — the way cell phones looked when Freeland was last living in Canada.

New Democrats have also gleefully dredged up Freeland columns in which she professed admiration for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

McQuaig “totally rejects” charges that the tone of the campaign has been nasty and makes no apologies for drawing attention to the fact that Freeland only moved back to Toronto a few months ago.

“That’s a true fact and I do think that’s something that voters in Toronto Centre have a right to know,” McQuaig said, noting that Freeland calls the riding her “home” in her campaign literature without revealing “it’s only been her home for four weeks.”

Similarly, NDP national director Nathan Rotman argued there’s nothing wrong with campaign messages that encourage voters to “compare and contrast” candidates or which criticize an opponent’s record or policy stances. Such approaches aren’t the same as personal attacks, he said.

In the dying days of the campaign, Freeland’s team has finally begun to fight back, dredging up its own quotes and clips that, among other things, suggest McQuaig’s pro-Palestinian stance is at odds with Mulcair’s staunch support of Israel.

However, Trudeau insisted Tuesday that he won’t be drawn into negative campaigning that’s “focused on slander and attack.” Indeed, he said the attacks against the Liberals from opposing parties are proof that his more positive approach “is getting a tremendous amount of traction” in the byelections.

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Is nasty the new normal?

  1. Nasty IS the new normal.

    Taking the high road only makes you an easier target. Trudeau will learn this the hard way.

    • Actually, if he sticks with it, I think you will find that he will do quite well.
      The type of people who vote for nasty aren’t precisely the audience he’s going for after all. More important for him will be finding ways to get progressive voters to the polls.

      • Back in the 1990s, progressive voters had no problem voting for parties who made nasty villification of Reform Party members a daily occurance. The words “Nazi” and “fascist” were not routinely tossed around between politicans in the 1980s, but they became the norm in the 1990s. Eleanor Kaplan referring to the Canadian Alliance as a home for holocaust deniers during the 2000 election is a particulary fond memory of mine; memorable because it was soon pointed out to her that her CA opponent in her own riding was the child of holocaust survivors. That was far from an isolated occurance. Worse, it was treated as completely normal, and nobody made much of a fuss over it. Don’t take my word for it. Michael Ignatieff himself has been very candid in admitting that what Harper did to him in 2011 was no worse than what the Liberals did to Harper in 2004. Now if you’re thinking of coming back with the standard response that I’m just a typical Conservative shouting “The Librrrllzz did it too!!”, let me save you the trouble. I used to get involved in national elections. Not anymore. I am disgusted by nasty politics and the lowest common denominator that almost all political discourse has become. And Harper has done nothing but reinforce that brand of politics and dumb it down further. But I’m also disgusted by those on their high horse who believe that their end of the political spectrum was somehow innocent in this nonsense. Progressives have been happy to roll in the mud for two decades. The Conservatives only started winning when they decided to join them in the gutter. Progressives don’t get to set the rules of engagement, then whine about them afterward.

        • I have no doubt that all those things are true to some degree.

          As far as Ignatief, he was incredibly ineffectual at nearly every aspect of politics, and did virtually nothing to counter the CPC attacks. Frankly I don’t think his opinion is worth a hill of beans.

          I maintain that it is entirely possible to campaign without stooping to nasty tactics. The problem is that most people who claim this don’t follow through and eventually succumb.

          You cannot do either “positive” or “negative” halfway though. You need to pick one and stick with it–at least in terms of your approach to speaking about your opponents.

          It is of course more difficult to go positive, because you’re then held to a higher standard than an opponent who goes negative.

          That said, when a politician generates a truly positive and enegetic personae, they are generally unstoppable–until the impossible standard they’re held to ends up dragging them down, but hey, that’s the price of having standards I suppose.

          I guess we’ll see if Junior can stick with it. I hope he can. It would nice to vote for someone who doesn’t muck about in the mud pit.

          • I hope you are correct. I would welcome a return to actual policy debates. As over-the-top as some of the FTA opponents were during the 1988 election (and as exaggerated as some of the purported benefits e.g. “jobs, jobs jobs” as Mulroney was wont to say) it remains in my memory the last election during which an actual difference in policy was the focal point. Perhaps a radical policy proposal from one of the major parties (i.e. genuine, comprehensive tax reform maybe?) might force a similar debate this time? Nah. Nobody has had the ballz to put forth anything so radical now.

          • Agreed, nasty policy debates don’t bother me at all. IMV that’ s why we have the stuff[politics] to thrash out and air differences. For all the grandstanding that FTA debate was a high water mark in national discourse. Kudos to Mulroney and Turner for generally keeping it out of the gutter.
            This personalized stuff is boring, tedious and deeply depressing.And it seems to attract the kind of petty people who glory in it. It matters not whether the target is Harper or say JT. So, lets blame the libs for kicking the ball off with reform and the CPC for taking to new heights. God only knows where the ndp want to go with this?

            A radical policy proposal f any kind would indeed be welcome.

    • You are right!! Considering that Harper and Co. have had an easy time of it when it came to Liberal leaders, I can only imagine they were a bit astounded when Trudeau in the HoC referred to Rob Ford as Harper’s fishing buddy. Harper’s response said it all. Trudeau is going to have to do a lot more of those one liners!!

    • I don’t really care for Justin Trudeau. I don’t care for him precisely because I’ve voted Liberal pretty consistently since my 18th birthday, and I truly believe that the Liberal Party has got to tear itself down and build itself back up before it can be a properly functioning entity again. Justin, the Dynastic Hope, is helping to keep the Liberal Party glued together – only instead of cementing any real consensus, the party looks more like Frankenstein’s monster to me. But I do admire him for two things: he has the cojones to come out and say that pot should be legalized (how, again, do we as a nation live with the hypocrisy of booze, which is infinitely more damaging than weed, being legal, when pot is not?), and he hasn’t succumbed to Harper-style campaign tactics.
      I don’t want to see Canadian election campaigns running on the American model of ad hominem attacks. It distracts from the policies and platforms of the candidates, which is what I want to hear about before I decide who to vote for. It also leaves a bad taste in my mouth and a nostalgic ache in my heart.
      I could give two damns if Trudeau is elected – though I’d take him over Harper any day and count the nation lucky. If he fades away into obscurity after 2015, though, I hope the one idea of his that sticks is the idea that dragging other candidates through the mud a la Stephen Harper is NOT what Canadians want or need in a political campaign.

  2. Is anyone really surprised the NDP are willing to engage in the same tactics as the CPC? Seriously, posting a campaign poster right outside the offices of the LPC candidate, refuse all requests to remove it and then secretly film the LPC team removing it themselves? Are we in high school?

    And that is the part that is so annoying – these tactics treat people like we are stupid.

    • Wait till Tom starts knocking on Justin’s door and runs away. That’s where this is headed.

      • Knock-knock nine? Do you figure he’ll do it with, or without, the flaming bag of dog poo?

  3. For Mulcair to jump on Trudeau is frustration by Tom that he has done all the heavy lifting on the Senate issue and Trudeau has apparently (according to the polls) enjoyed the benefits. The byelection in Bourassa is a must win for both leaders. Mulcair is fighting for relevance and holding on to his position in the political spectrum. A loss would only confirm the polls for the NDP. As for Toronto Centre, a loss for the Liberals is a statement that Canada is going to a two party system which makes it easier for Harper and Mulcair. In order for the CPC to gain from that scenario is for them to lose Harper. A loss for the CPC in Brandon Souris will mean Harper is in trouble, not from the Liberals, but from his own party. Jim Prentices’ name will start appearing much more often!!

    • Yup, which explains the desperation of the NDP here. They have virtually no chance of winning either Bourassa or Toronto Centre at this point, and there’s only a week to go.

    • Prentice vs Kenney…now that would be a struggle for the soul of the CPC.

      • The CPC has a soul after a decade under Harper???

  4. Politics has always been nasty, dirty work. More recently it seems that not only are unethical tactics acceptable, but also illegal ones as long as you don’t get caught. And if you do get caught, lie about it.

  5. You can sort of see why the NDP is going negative though. They’re getting absolutely no traction in any of the by-elections. Unless they manufacture something to change the dynamic, they’re going to come out of this with nothing, and the appearances of that aren’t good for them in terms of national popularity.

    They have essentially zero chance of winning in Bourassa (the only Quebec riding in play) and McQuaig is 15 points behind in Toronto Centre. Without a major shift of some kind, she’s out of the running already. Meanwhile the Liberals have a good shot at taking Brandon-Souris in Manitoba from the Conservatives, though it’ll be a close one.

    Provencher is going Conservative, no matter what happens there. You can’t do much better than 50% support!

    All of which leaves the NDP looking third rate, even if its not really a fair assessment of their over-all popularity. Given the NDP popularity slide from low thirties to the low twenties over the past year though and Trudeau’s amazingly resilient lead in the polls, it’s quickly becoming make-or-break time for the NDP.

    If the NDP can’t solidify their major gains of the last election and come out of this rash of by-elections looking competitive, there’s a danger they will sink back to to the mid to low teens in support.

    • I would have to say that eating into Liberal support in Toronto Centre does give them some traction, or at least it will be spun that way.

      Personally, I believe the NDPs problem is that they got a lot of votes last time because they were seen as the party with the most chance of beating Harper once the polls in Quebec turned. After that the LPC bled votes to both the NDP and the CPC. So long as Trudeau’s liberals are able to establish the LPC as the only alternative to Harper, the NDP loses.

      It is only the entrenched partisans in either party who believe people vote for them solely based on policy. I would guess a larger chunk vote for them to keep the other guys out.

      • I’ve been eligible to vote for 11 years. In that time I have missed exactly ONE election at any of the three levels of government. Maybe it has to do with the political situation in the last decade, but I’ve certainly voted strategically almost every time I’ve marked a ballot. I can’t afford to vote with my conscience – certainly not at the federal level. I vote, essentially, to try and keep damage to a minimum. If that means voting Liberal when I prefer the NDP platform but know they haven’t got a hope in hell of winning, I do it. I don’t even feel *that* dirty afterward.

        • Knowing of course this only shifts the long term strategic momentum further in the direction you don’t want it to go. In reality, strategic voting, isn’t strategic at all, it is tactic in a losing battle.

          Using this logic Tommy Douglas would have joined the Liberal Party. Indeed the most effective period for Social Democrats was when they shifted the political momentum by making it impossible for the “least worse option” to succeed.

      • I don’t think the NDP has any problems. They have spent years developing a hard core caucus outside of Quebec, and don’t look like the are going to get rubbed out in Quebec either. The Liberal caucus is woefully weak, and Trudeau no master of political debate.

        Mulcair is a very wily politician and will keep chipping away at Trudeau over the next two years and come out on top.

        So far, Trudeau has managed to damage himself repeatedly by making questionable comments on China and is gaff prone, and neither the Conservatives or NDP are putting any pressure on him at all.

        He just stands in front of the microphone and says stupid things. The China thing is going to be an attack ad for sure. It’s just in locked storage, waiting to come out during the election cycle.

  6. “Similarly, NDP national director Nathan Rotman argued there’s nothing
    wrong with campaign messages that encourage voters to “compare and
    contrast” candidates or which criticize an opponent’s record or policy
    stances. Such approaches aren’t the same as personal attacks, he said.”

    But it is if you first remove any semblance of context or don’t in fact compare and contrast fairly, or at least reasonably This is something all political parties do to some extent. It never ceases to be both inexplicably nasty and odious to those members of the public who care about politics. In that sense Ms May is bang on. Good for her for standing up and saying so even in the middle of partisan trench warfare.

  7. Oddly enough i think this stuff doesn’t hurt Trudeau that much. If anything his goody two shoes approach [ which if it is sincere i applaud – it is about time Canada!] feeds off this stuff. The kind of voter who laps it up wasn’t likely to vote for him anyway, and it’s a big gamble with the swing voters which way they will go. Certainly if JT keeps making splashy rhetorical goofs it might stick? But his ace in the hole is authenticity and shiny newness [no real warts on him yet] so he’s be advised to stick to the high road, but remember to take numbers and deliver the odd sucker punch too. Don’t want to look too much like a prima donna. Getting out quick factual rebuttals to Mulcair’s charges is a good case in point. Now it’s Tom who looks like the stereotypical political weasel. It’s almost like JT’s stratetgy is to use the other opponents force or momentum against them. It wouldn’t work for most politicians, but it seems to be working for him.

    • It’s like that judo throw where someone charges you, and instead of trying to counter it, you just step to the side, get a hand on the back of their neck, and use their own momentum to help them toward the floor. As I said above, I don’t much care for Trudeau, but I’d vote for an anaconda right now if it would get rid of Stephen Harper. So…let’s hope Trudeau’s tactics work, because Mulcair is kinda screwing up his party’s brand right now.

  8. You would have to agree with the commenter who said, once the Liberal Voter gets into the Voting Booth they will be lost as Justin’s name won’t be on the ballot. They will be on their cellphones trying to figure who that person was with Justin last week when he was in town.

    Sad but true.

  9. //New Democrats have also gleefully dredged up Freeland columns in which
    she professed admiration for former British prime minister Margaret
    Thatcher and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.//

    One might consider why support for such people is considered “negative”. It’s hardly a personal attack to put someone into the political context of what they believe. Freeland obviously believes its ok to support Thatcher, and Palin. Fair enough. She is going to have to wear that though. It is not as if the Liberals have not been making much of McQuaig’s association with Hugo Chavez.

    Indeed, this article, seems to be an example of what it is critiquing, given its lopsided view of the issue. The Liberals are hardly innocent in all this.

    Moreover, if Freeland is going to make much of her “international” experience in her “job interview”, then it seems to be fair game to point out that her “international experience” precludes having much “local experience”.

  10. Fair enough. Let’s talk Chrystia Freeland’s (Justin’s new “economic adviser”) bombshell announcement that she is going to be using CPP as a slush fund to back Liberal campaign promises of infrastructure development, privatizing health care facilities and transit infrastructure, potentially leaving pensioners holding the bag for ORNGE-like P3 privatization schemes.


    Or is raising issue, too “negative”?