On attack ads - Macleans.ca

On attack ads

Paul Wells on political parties and the draw of the negative


Richard Lam/CP

A few thoughts.

Every political party uses advertising to tell voters its opponents are unpleasant people. Literally absolutely nothing about the Conservative use of attack ads is new or unique to that party. Paul Martin ran ads before the writ period in 2004. Martin ran very sharply negative ads in 2004 and 2006, and had worse ready to run. (One of those leaked and embarrassed Martin. I’m afraid I’ll never really believe that was an accident, although that campaign was certainly capable of accidents.) Jack Layton ran and appeared in a 2008 ad so harsh I can still barely believe it.

All of this political communication is legitimate. We get into a very nasty place as a society when we start picking and choosing the things we allow political parties, or anyone else, to say. Besides, political parties say nasty things about their opponents every day; it is silly to suggest they should pretend to be sweetness and light when they speak to voters directly.

Negative ads, or attack ads, or contrast ads, or factual ads (there are many possible names for these things, and I find the semantic debate about them a little boring) bring both benefits and costs to the parties that run them. An ad has a buyer and a target. These ads generally make some of the audience believe what the buyer wants them to believe about the target. They also generally makes some of the audience think the buyer is a jerk. So the buyer is betting he can hurt the target more than he hurts himself. It’s often a safe bet but not always; much depends on circumstances. Research suggests the cumulative effect of many such ads is to suppress total voter turnout as voters become cynical about the whole business.

Slightly hysterical first-day predictions that previous rounds of Conservative pre-writ attack ads would prove ineffectual turned out to be spectacularly wrong. Totally wrong. Wrong. You’d think the people who tend to make such predictions would learn from experience, but you’d be right out of luck there. Today we have seen new ads and new predictions that they won’t work.

Conservatives I’ve spoken to are still, today, amazed that the Liberal Party of Canada did not move swiftly to define their new leader, Stéphane Dion, in an organized way immediately after he won the Liberal leadership in 2006. They’re amazed that he didn’t respond in organized fashion when the Conservatives ran their first ads against him. But what floors them is that, having watched the Conservatives reduce Dion to the lowest share of the popular vote in Liberal history in 2008, the Liberals didn’t respond any differently when it was Michael Ignatieff’s turn.

What the Liberals did, in early 2007 and again in early 2009 and once again in early 2011, was to chuckle at the Conservative ads, tell one another they wouldn’t work, and then let the ads work without an organized rebuttal aimed at the same uninterested voters who were the audience for the Conservative ads. If they respond the same way this time they will keep the Conservatives amused.

Justin Trudeau has promised not to use negative ads. That’s what Liberals always do. In the end, a couple of weeks before another historic defeat, they run negative ads. Because there’s nothing better for a party than to be hypocritical and ineffectual. One of the questions facing Justin Trudeau is whether he hopes to achieve better results than his predecessors with the same behaviour.


On attack ads

  1. Of course, in both of those previous examples, Canadian voters didn’t really know either Ignatieff or Dion and there was a lot of ground to make up. For better or for worse, it seems that far more Canadians have a starting impression about Trudeau.

    That said, my opinion is that the ad with his past quotations won’t be as effective, if only because he looks like he’s still a kid in the “gotcha” quote at the end, because, well, it was fourteen years ago and he basically was. The image doesn’t exactly track with the message and, I think, undermines it.

    On the other hand, the experience ad sets up a good contrast between him and Harper, and brings up his attendance record, which Layton used well against Ignatieff.

    • Take it from someone that works in advertising for a living. They will work.

      • “Trust me, I work in advertising.” ??!!

        Sometimes I wonder how dumb the CPC think Canadians are. But then I realize they do their research.

        • Another stupid comment by the ill informed.

          • Would you be proud to attach your name to that ad? I think you’re kidding yourself as well as us.

          • Yes, I would.

          • I don’t know but it seems a bit amateurish. In the age of the internet(s) a piece like this can be, and was. picked apart in short order. Huffington immediately claimed unauthorized usage. CTV released the tape that the snippet came from, people on twitter were remembering that Laureen Harper attended the event that raised money for cancer. And of course the Cancer Society weighed in. The whole thing went around the web in no time. I would consider this production a fail if slamming Trudeau was the objective.

          • Another ill informed comment.

          • I like how you summarize your comment before going ahead, Claudia, that’s very thoughtful.

            But you really should put the rest of the comment in so we know what you’re saying that’s ill informed.

          • As someone else who works in advertising…. you’d think these people would notice that there’s already 200 comments on this post. People are talking about the ads.

            You know which ads are ineffectual? The ones that nobody cares about. If your ad is being talked about by everybody, it’s already a winner.

            The average not-really-engaged-with-politics voter will see the ad, and subliminally remember it’s message. They’re not going to go to the voting booth in 2015 thinking “Boy, I remember that attack ad the CPC ran, that sure was mean. I think I’ll vote for someone else”.

            Maybe part of the reason the Liberals have been doing so terrible for the last decade is because, judging by the comments here, they seem to think that Liberals are so superior to the rest of the human race that they believe themselves to be impervious to advertising.

          • Wow Claudia, that is truly sad coming from an intelligent, moderate Conservative like yourself.

          • I don’t see anything wrong with it. Advertising works as simple as that and if LPC or NDP or whoever chooses not to pay attention to it, is their prerogative.

          • Oh i completely agree. You guys did the same thing to MI, and if no one had paid attention they wouldn’t have worked…wait! What am i saying? These things don’t work do they – thrashing someone’s character like that with quotes and images taken out of context.

            Thanks for confirming something i’ve wondered about. That the folks like you who work in advertising do have to believe their own BS. How else would you be able to look yourself in the mirror!

          • Well isn’t that what most advertising is about? Fooling the gullible?

      • You work in advertising. OK.
        Then, fair question:

        What would you do to counter these ads if you were working on JT’s team?

        • That’s why they pay me the big bucks ; )

        • But I will tell you this just in case you haven’t noticed, Trudeau’s strategy is quite simple: he wants to play himself as the contrast to Harper as John Geddes says, the sunny alternative to the gloomy conservatism.

          • And in your professional opinion, the ad power of gloomy conservatism will trump sunny alternatives?

          • The odds are on their favor.

      • You must produce some pretty banal crap then if you think this is “effective”…

        • Yup, there is a reason why they pay me the big bucks : )

          • Get over yourself Claudia. You’re a hack. Great work is not about the money, and the only great creatives I’ve ever known never did it for the money. In fact were surprised you got paid.

          • Well this “hack” so far has called every election. And not sure which “creatives” you are talking about. Have a good day faceless and nameless dude.

          • Weren’t you cheering for Danielle Smith?

          • And your point is?!

          • So you called Redford winning?

          • Did you call McGuinty’s re-election?

          • I did.

          • I thought the great creatives ONLY did it for the money. The great creatives who aren’t interested in money aren’t in advertising. They’re in things that, you know, don’t pay much if any money.

          • Maybe for a while. But then you have someone like Alex Bogusky who was the most highly regarded Creative Director in the U.S, for a good part of the 2000s. Then he up and quit the whole stinking scene, had a crie de couer, and began to use his talents against the whole machine.

            Now he champions American made goods and healthy eating (or not eating crap, if you prefer.) Interesting business story.

            One assumes he was wealthy enough to do so, but still a pretty vehement rise against.

          • “A reason” perhaps…not quite sure for what exactly…

          • Anything for money.

          • You don’t, by any chance, work for Enbridge do you?

      • Well, I was initially going to post this comment directly to the article, but this seems as good a place as any to pop in…

        I’m more than a little suspicious of the claims of advertising efficacy from the folks who sell advertising. Sure advertising has some marginal effect on the least informed and the least engaged but I think the claims of cause and effect here are wildly overblown. Neither Dion nor Ignatieff were beaten by CPC ads. Neither Dion, nor Ignatieff, nor Martin, were appealing to the Canadian public, each for their own reasons.

        Negative ads that mirror public sentiment can be effective. But this notion that Harper has been dominating the land because of superior firepower in advertising? I think not. He’s been crawling his way to the top of the heap because of the poor quality of his opposition.

        • Oh boy!

          • Very persuasive argument. You’re really earning those big bucks.

      • Not being mean here, honest, but you work in advertising in Calgary, right? Forgive me for saying, but it’s not exactly London, Minneapolis, S.F., even Vancouver, or dare one say, Toronto and Montreal.

        Do you work in political advertising? ‘Cuz that’s obv. different. But in terms of memorable advertising, sadly, Calgary hasn’t produced much of note for, like, 20 years? If memory serves. Except for Arlene Dickinson, of course.

        • Say what, do you mean the West is not in?! Perhaps I should join Darlene on Dragons Den ; )

          • It’s Arlene.

          • Sounds like Claudia is . . . ahem . . . in over her head

          • She didn’t come back for us.

          • Just visiting.

          • Long day, wonderful fundraiser for the Canadian Forces made a shit load of money and guess what?! We didn’t have to make any silly dances and made way over $128,000.00 : )

          • I am sure Arlene will forgive me for the typo, it was close to midnight and after a looong day at work, I had to reply to bunch on non sense and moronic comments.

      • As someone who also works in advertising – these ads only work in the absence of any reply. Besides, as you appear to be a booster of the CPC, it is entirely in your interest to say they will be effective. *yawn.*

        • Agreed and that’s exactly why they will work, Trudeau has made it clear that he won’t reply, so yes, they will work. I do support CPC and it doesn’t make me yawn “au contraire” keeps me quite energized and awake, you should try it too.

          And I am truly flattered that you created an account just to reply to me : )

    • Canadians know very little about Trudeau as well. All they know is that he is Pierre’s son. That’s it.

      • That might be true. But is still doesn’t make that ad in anyway factual.

    • In a 2010 interview, he was asked if Canada is “better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans,” His reply was, “I’m a Liberal, so of course I think so, yes.
      Certainly when we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th century,
      those that really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec.
      There was Trudeau, there was Mulroney, there was Chrétien, there was
      Paul Martin. We have a role. This country, Canada, it belongs to us.”

      • He was wrong to single out ABs of course.But apart from being partisan, what’s actually wrong with that – it is his opinion – mine too.

        • “He was wrong to single out ABs of course.”
          You mean he was wrong to let slip the mask for a moment . . .

          • “Culture of defeat” ring any bells? Speaking of singling out people…

          • I look forward to seeing a vicious progressive attack ad based on same.

          • You have nothing whatsoever to base that on, other than that one interview. An interview that some pundits say was Trudeau positioning himself to outflank the Bloc. Not pretty, but hardly proof of an anti AB bias.

          • Nice rationalization.

          • Thanks. But since we are just speculating i think you’ll find that i have the known facts on my side. Macleans has done at least one story wondering if that interview wasn’t political positioning on JT’s part.

  2. Free speech does not equate to a right to bully. What is the difference between attack ads and social media bullying tactics used by teens to torment others?

    • The difference is that politicians are presumably adults and politics is a blood sport.

      • What sort of “sport” do you think leading a country is? If you can’t handle the pressure of an election, how will you ever handle the pressures of the office of the Prime Minister?

    • Typical “Liberal” – wants to ban criticism of political parties and politicians. That’s why you always lose elections and why we fight like hell to keep you out of power.

      • I didn’t say anything about a ban on anything, but thanks for making assumptions.
        Also why does asking a question make me a liberal and what does that say about

        • What, for you, is the distinction between bullying and ad attacks?

        • Belkin’s reply was to Just A Thought; are you posting under multiple names? If so, you may want to keep your split personalities a bit more separate.

          [EDIT] How bizarre! When I wrote this reply, Disqus was showing the author of the post I was linking to as OrsonBean. Now it says Just A Thought. Disqus was doing other odd things earlier as well…

          • Sometimes Disqus says that Francien is Belinda, and then it changes, voila, right before my eyes.

    • What’s the similarity?

      • Just A Thought doesn’t like it. That’s the similarity.

      • It is name-calling and taunting; an attempt to get people to turn against “the new kid” for – often – very flimsy grounds. If there is no real substance beyond a name-calling attack, then it IS bullying.

        • So what about calling Harper a Nazi? Is that bullying?

          • I’ve seen you call him that plenty of times; I never have. Oh, I forgot… Drink!

        • So you characterize one of the candidates for the next prime minister as “the new kid”. I see. He’s a helpless little child needing your protection, our PM in waiting. To play this “bullying” victim card is just so very pathetic. We are a long way from the days of John Wayne, that’s for sure, now our supposed leaders are victims of being bullied, like innocent schoolchildren.

          I’m sorry, this bullying analogy is just completely ridiculous and it fact it’s just really pathetic whining coming from crybabies, and anyone who makes such a stupid claim needs to graduate from kindergarten.

          You need to learn to tie your shoes and play with scissors.

          • Waaah! Mommeee!!! He called me NAMES!!!

            Yeah, you’re about as mature as your leader. I referred to JT as the “new kid” to emphasize the playground bully tactics. Bullies pick on the new kids – making things up if necessary – out of fear the new kid will upset the pecking order. Sound like anyone we know?

            The last two Lib leaders made a tactical mistake in not standing up to this bully. I hope they have learned their lesson.

            But what the CPC may want to consider is the behaviour they are modelling. Despite their claims that they want to prevent bullying, they persist in their vitriolic attack that are just milder versions of the social media attacks that have driven teens to suicide. Once again, the CPC practices “Do as I say not as I do” behaviour. And scarily, their membership gleefully backs this behaviour. Says a lot about the type of people who vote CPC.

          • Yes, all Conservatives are bullies.

          • There; feel better now?

    • I am not sure but when you decide to go into public office you should likely be ready to be critiqued on EVERY opinion you ever expressed publicly on every topic relevant to the job you are asking to be given. People are not invading your privacy without an invitation. You put yourself out there and invited them to scrutinize you and judge your trustworthiness and opinions. If you have said some controversial things, you are going to be asked to answer for your comments. If you don’t like the heat, don’t enter public life. It is completely your choice to do so and as a person who wants to be the head of a country, you had better be prepared to be scrutinized very closely and not resent that are being scrutinized.

    • If you’re trying to become Prime Minister of Canada, you’d better be able to come up with a better rebuttal than “Stop being so mean!” when somebody points out your flaws. This is going to be the Trudeau campaign strategy?

  3. And addies give the media several different pegs on which to hang
    their remarkably similar hats …

  4. Well said. And the ads will work.

    • And how sad is that? What a pathetic nation we are…

    • Are you celebrating liars?

      • Liars, how so?!

        • Misattribution is considered generally considered a form of lying.

          • You know I was going to take my time explaining the exact strategy and why this works. But not anymore, believe what you want, and good luck next election.

    • They’re already working. Anybody who saw those ads and the subsequent interview with Mansbridge re: Boston bombings will be wondering how he was ever elected in his own riding, much less as Liberal leader.

  5. Let’s not legitimize attack ads by claiming that it’s been done in the past by everyone. A responsible stance is to criticize them for what they are: undemocratic and patronizing.

    • Patronizing, perhaps. Undemocratic? How do you come to that conclusion? Are Trudeau and the Liberals somehow denied an opportunity to respond? Are people forced to watch these ads while corraled into polling stations by armed soldiers?

      • Yes.
        We’re not making this up.

    • It’s refreshing to see a leadership team standing as role models – working for change, What is wrong with the big picture is that Harper is wasting even more millions to build his smear campaign. When will Canadians stop and think – we elected a new leadership team because we believe that a positive leadership campaign will empower us to participate in creating changes but a smearing campaign is the negative and shameless work of a political party that is down right non-acceptable in a 2013 world. These are not the kind of role models our kids need to see…

      • Apparently you didn’t read Wells’ post.

    • I think I would characterize attack ads as simply unstatesmenlike and indicative of the character of their authors.

  6. I have not yet seen the ads, but I understand there is a line about “Quebeckers are better” which is so misattributed it might run afoul of defamation laws. If so, I urge swift action, make the CPC pay. And it’s not like Harper hasn’t used that technique in the past, before making a secret settlement on the matter out of court.

    • I can’t imagine how that particular line (“Quebeckers are better”) can be considered defamation since the ad shows Trudeau actually saying it on camera. Whether it is out of context is another matter, and the Liberal better air the full clip soon if they think it will make it seem better in its intended context.

      • Using something so out of context it misrepresents the totality of what was actually said is very, very actionable. I’m flying a bit blind here because I haven’t seen the actual stuff, but it’s beginning to look like it might be a step too far for once.

        • He says, “Quebeckers are better than the rest of Canada… because we’re Quebeckers.” The only way that could be taken out of context is if he was talking about making cheese.

          • what will you give me when you are proven wrong?

          • or poutine

          • No, it doesn’t. He says that it’s one of the values that his father passed on to his sons – at no point does he repudiate it. And given the other Quebec supremacist opinions he’s already expressed, you can hardly say it isn’t a fair representation of his views.

          • They left out the section about Quebec not needing special protections as well; the clip grossly misrepresents the entirety. It is also from 1999; Harper has said a number of divisive things much more recently including as leader of the CPC (see “culture of defeat”).

          • The “culture of defeat” quote is from 2002 – while I suppose that may be marginally more recent than the Trudeau quote in the ad, it’s far less recent than the “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda” and “[Canada is] better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans” quotes, which are from the same interview in late 2010.

            The Quebec not needing special protections part is great, but it still doesn’t imply that Trudeau repudiates rather than shares his father’s view.

          • 2002? Wow – it seemed more recen than that. Guess it offended me that much. As to your other statements – why didn’t the CPC run with those clips instead of this crap? Are they deliberately trying to look like a-holes?

          • No, I think they’re saving them for 2015. This ad is just laying the groundwork, and testing the impact of a few new themes.

          • Um, his DAD said that. That is why it was taken out of context – Justin actually disagreed with his dad. Sorry to let a simple fact get in the way of your sanctimonious truthiness.

        • The ‘firewall letter’ has mostly been misinterpreted, even till this day.

          • not like this, if early reports are correct.

          • I don’t think so. Harper was advocating the weakening of federal institutions for narrow parochial reasons.

            Nor was he taken out of context with his ‘culture of defeat’ comment, though I’m sure he wishes he could unspeak those words.

          • Ah, so when Quebec has those powers as proposed in the firewall letter, than that’s ok, but when it’s proposed that Alberta have the very same options, it is considered wrong or to be for ‘narrow parochial reasons’. I understand.

            You must be a Justin supporter. Justin also believes that Quebec should have a special place when it comes to the shaping of Canada, and Alberta should not.

            The ‘culture of defeat’ comment has been mentioned repeatedly. So I see no problem with pointing out Justin’s comments. Fair is fair.

          • I’m not a fan of Trudeau, but I do dislike Harper/CPC. Mostly for being giant turds on a lot of issues, for no good reason.

            And yes, I do think Quebec is narrow and parochial. I thought everyone knew this. They are xenophobic, too. Aha! You trapped me in that one!

          • So, for Trudeau to think that Quebec values are good for this country must mean that Trudeau prefers narrow and parochial thinking over anything else. That is a good one. Probably true too.

        • It isn’t out of context. He says that it’s one of the values that Trudeau Sr
          passed on to his sons. The obvious conclusion is that Trudeau Jr shares it – especially as he basically said the same thing later, about there being too many Albertans and not enough Quebeckers in the halls of power.

      • Trudeau was paraphrasing his father’s attitude, not speaking for himself or expressing his views.

        That’s why it can be considered defamation.

        • No, Trudeau was talking about the values his father had passed on to his sons. The same values that Trudeau then talked about on TV when saying Quebecers should run the country, and not Albertans.

          • Albertans are doing a bad job of running the country, so I vote that Quebecois have done a better job in the past.

          • So you vote based on a persons cultural background? Where I come from we call that bigotry.

          • Not really, I’m just sick of getting bullied by Albertans who want to push a pipeline through my province and won’t even listen to the concerns me and my fellow citizens have.

            Alberta made their bed, now this “radical environmentalist with foreign funding” wants them to lie in it.

          • Which foreigners are funding your trolling? Are you donating any of that money to a political party? That could very well be against the law.

          • No foreigners are funding anything, I’m repeating the accusations the Harper government made against anyone who opposes the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

      • Trudeau was paraphrasing his father. The ad represented it as Trudeaus statement. that is without question a misrepresentation. It isn’t some insignificant nuance, is a straight out lie. Not surprising though. What is surprising is that the CPC couldn’t find anything that was actually said, and meant by Trudeau.

        • Yes, the Conservatives are morally bankrupt liars; you should no longer be surprised by this fact.

        • Nonsense. Trudeau said it was a value that his father had passed on down to him. You cannot reasonably construe that as anything other than him saying that he believes it too.

  7. If they are based in fact, then I believe they are legitimate. If they are based on conjecture, or twisting of facts/quotes (like the Trudeau attack ad) then they deserve condemnation.

  8. Obama ran almost nothing but attack ads against Romney, most of which went unchallenged by Romney. They worked. In one ad they accused Romney of killing someone (later analysis of the facts proved the ad to have factual inaccuracies in addition to the tenuous logic). In fact, just like in Canada with the Liberals, it was astounding how Romney’s campaign let them go unanswered for so long.

    • It was likley a factor. having an extra-length speech of romney circulating didn’t help, and in many key swing areas having compaign workers out for obama in a ratio of tens-to-one were also big helps.

  9. Everything in the Conservative’s “attack ads” are actual statements made by Justin Trudeau. They are simply exposing controversial things that Justin has said. Seems like a fair thing to do.

    • I know you guys don’t understand ‘out of context’ – after all a quote from Sheila Fraser was taken from one subject and used on another subject to make the government look good.

    • actually….they are not things he said as a representation of what he thought, he was discussing his Father’s atttitude…..

      • He was talking about the values his father passed on to him.

  10. An attack ad is merely a criticism, and – at least in my conservative world – we still encourage critical thought in free and democratic societies.

    I have to say this: our society is becoming less manly and this attack ad shrieking is a manifestation thereof. Manly, stoic, virile give-and-take has been replaced by an effete, hysterical, infantile victimhood cult. If this is the cost of universal suffrage – that criticism of politicians is verboten – then we need to re-evaluate giving the “drama gender” the vote.

    Stephane Dion really was a crappy leader. Iggy really was just visiting. Trudeau really did say all of that stupid stuff. Liberals need to man the fuddle up & stop acting like menstruating Beliebers every time a legitimate criticism is made of their party and leader.

    • Yeah those Liberals should be more manly, like Patrick Brazeau …

      • Or Vic Toews…

        • Yeah, he really knows how to handle a woman, er I mean young girl.

    • Dynamite attack material – ‘Never mind reproductive rights, Cons call for women to lose the vote’.

    • Is this a Poe? Because wow that’s some sexist stuff.

      • Wondering the same thing.

    • Hold on, why do you get to define what is “manly?” And why do you think “manly” is a positive trait?

      Attack ads aren’t manly, they are cheap, whiny, and desperate. They say “we have nothing good to say about ourselves, so lets push other people down.”

    • So you’re saying “Bring on the attack ads…Harper can take it”?

      • “If you mess with me, I’ll mess with you till I’m done!” LOL

    • Obvious troll. You want to disenfranchise women? O rly?

  11. “Every political party uses advertising to tell voters its opponents are
    unpleasant people. Literally absolutely nothing about the Conservative
    use of attack ads is new or unique to that party. Paul Martin ran ads
    before the writ period in 2004…”

    I don’t often feel the need to attempt to question Pauls’ facts [ it is not generally wise] but do here – that isn’t the whole story. [ as i recall anyway]

    AA’s outside of the writ are relatively new. Do they precede Martin? Not as i recall. That’s not to say the libs for instance didn’t do their best to demonize the reform party – pretty effectively too. But they didn’t beam it into our living rooms every sodding day. It wasn’t fair, or always accurate, but as PWs says, that’s politics. You probably can’t change that. It’s still a competition in the end…adversarial, all that stuff.

    It may not be the most important point to make here, and i don’t make it to suggest all the parties don’t engage in this stuff.[ Layton’s ad in QC was revolting] But i think you do an important disservice to our politics by not pointing out that these kind of personal attacks outside of the writ are harmfull to our polity.[ ok you did sort of] Israel still bans them i believe; and once the writ has been dropped have at it…no holds barred.

    I don’t wish to limit anyone’s right to say anything they want about anyone [ including the worst about JT] but i will not sanction this crap outside of the writ by claiming it has always been thus.

    One thing we know about Trudeau is that he is a money raising machine. Regaldless of his stated intention to remain above it, if the CPC wish to engage in this kind of gutter ball politics then be it on their head. But we can do without someone like PW shrugging his shoulders. I’ll be interested to hear what Coyne has to say about it.

    • Why permit political parties to be mean to each other only during the writ period? What’s so magical about the 35 days preceding an election that you think it is OK for negative advertising, but not any other time?

      • I don’t except your premise. There are any number of opportunities to mean to each other sans this garbage. But mostly because we, the public don’t have to listen to/watch the bilge. Can you suggest just one way that today’s ads contribute to a useful political debate in the country? The media have been asking those two questions for weeks/months now – does he have experience or judgement?
        There are plenty of other ways to make the point. It isn’t as if pre AA ad era political attacks couldn’t be delivered by other means – in radio and tv political forums…via debate. But debate can be filtered by factual counter debate &rebuttal.

        The fact of the matter is political parties like this AA format because it is essentially unanswerable, unfiltered[ at least directly, other than by countering factual errors. Meanwhile the ad still spreads its poison]
        And there is no immediate opportunity for rebuttal. If you or i go on to a media outlet saying SH eats kittens, then there is generally an opportunity for rebuttal.
        Lastly, it degrades the process, debases the coinage even further than it all ready is – hard to believe as that is. That ad – apart from being moronic – is quite simply propaganda.
        Permit them during the writ period. But by then parties have other priorities so they aren’t as likely to be effective anyway – which is fine by me…and i ‘ll wager with most of the public too. But maybe not with the political parties…maybe not even all the media, who seem to view them as entertainment.

        • How do you outlaw propaganda generally outside the writ period though? There are tons and tons of advocates, interest groups, etc. out there who are not political parties (although they certainly support or are aligned with political parties) but who constantly spew out political and issue-based propaganda that is every bit as misleading as what you see in these attack ads. If you’re going to go after political parties only, haven’t you drawn a very artificial, arbitrary line? I mean look at what the PACs are doing in the US.

          I think the problem is that if you try to come down only on political parties for this sort of thing, they’ll basically “outsource” their propaganda to affiliated and sympathetic groups.

          • That seems the best argument for not banning AAs outside of the writ. Driving stuff underground might well be worse. Still, Israel manages it somehow.

    • Yes, it will be interesting to find out what A.Coyne has to say about it all. I’m still waiting for him to clarify to the public at large that the ‘firewall letter’ was in fact a letter demanding the independence of services which Quebec has been allowed to keep for a long, long time. Why the double standard indeed!

      And why would Justin say in his speech yesterday that Harper and the CPC are all about division when in fact Justin himself has pitted one region against another for a long, long time. Why are people so afraid to speak or hear the truth about Justin?

      • How has JT been pitting one region against another for a “long, long time”, exactly?

        • “Canada isn’t doing well right now because
          it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It
          doesn’t work,” Trudeau said in French to interviewer Patrick Lagace on
          the Tele-Quebec program Les francs-tireurs (The Straight Shooters).

          Lagace then asked Trudeau if he thought Canada was “better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans?” Trudeau
          replied: “I’m a Liberal, so of course I think so, yes. Certainly when
          we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th century, those that
          really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec… This country
          – Canada – it belongs to us.”

          (about 3 years ago, spoken by Justin Trudeau. Three years is a long, long time in politics.)

          • Yes, thank you. Every political junkie in the country knows that one…you claimed he has been doing it over a long, long period. Take your time. CPC HQ is probably busy today, you might have to wait awhile.

          • Kcm2 I’m sure you’d come to the defence of Mulcair when JT makes disingenuous remarks about the NDP being divisive and pitting regions of the country against one another. Mulcair’s federalism is beyond doubt and his love of Canada also. But that hasn’t prevented attacks from Trudeau on the NDP. And there even aren’t any juicy statements like Trudeau’s above.

          • ” Mulcair’s federalism is beyond doubt…”
            Of the three main parties, which one seems to be cosying up to the separatists?

          • Mulcair was in the trenches during both referenda in QC fighting arduously to keep country together. I can’t speak authoritatively about QC politics but all parties have had sovereigntists in their caucuses. The NDP ran on a progressive platform that was open and clear to any candidate and voter. My sense is that BQ supporters were attracted to NDP because NDP policies, Jack Layton, BQ ineffectiveness in parliament. I still don’t understand why we don’t celebrate and help consolidate the supplanting of BQ by NDP. It’s a way to defuse separatist elements within a federalist party.

          • Sorry! I assume we are all partisans here whether we admit it or not.
            I don’t expect to hear you defending JT necessarily. All i can say is i will not repeat intentional lies about Mulcair, and i’ve gone out of my way to defend him in the past…over the carbon tax fiasco for instance.
            As for The liberal line on the NDP in QC, i agree with it. We’ve had this debate before. I don’t think 50+1 is good enough.

          • The policy we can debate and you can disagree. However, the LPC hysterical and disproportionate response and fear mongering was no less politically calculated. The NDP was acting consistently within policy it had previously adopted. This was not wanton pandering. The unclarity of the Clarity Act is still I believe a real issue.

            More to the point, in an era of Big Data, all parties pander and tailor messages to different constituencies. The LPC, primarily because it claimed to be “pragmatic” was doing this to great effect before the other parties. We called it brokerage politics, the Big Red Tent etc.

            I typically expect the Conservatives to come out with all the disingenuous puerile bullsh$t about divisive politics, Mulcair’s dual citizenship undermines his love for Canada, and NDP is pitting regions against one another and wants to break up Canada.

            I don’t expect that to come from Trudeau. It is hypocritical in two senses. He is no less “divisive” all the other parties. Secondly, it is clinical, negative, and intellectually dishonest politics, and something he has vowed not to do.

          • As you say everyone is playing the political gamesmanship. I’m sorry but if you’re trying to sell me on the idea that the NDP has clean hands because it is the new guy, or the only one who cares, i’m not buying. I would agree with you that Trudeau’s particular shtick is and will be that the NDP is trying to play one part of the country off against the other, i don’t see him not doing this. But in a sense he’s right. The Dutch disease gambit didn’t go anywhere and neither did the changes to the clarity act idea[ at least in the RoC] It’s a competition. The best we can hope for is that the opposition parties spend more time attacking Harper than each other – which is what he wants of course.

          • That’s “a long, long time ago“. Seems you missed a word…

          • Actually, I did mean to say “three years is a long, long time in politics” and I did write as much.

            But if you feel it should have the word ‘ago’ attached, feel free to read it in that way. Both ways work.

          • In your first statement you said ” Justin himself has pitted one region against another for a long, long time.” That implies a continuous and ongoing series of statements / actions – not one three-year-old statement. You need more evidence to support your claim. Harper’s “culture of defeat” reference to Atlantic Canada is at least as divisive and relevant.

          • “I think in Atlantic Canada, because of what happened in the decades following Confederation, there is a culture of defeat that we have to overcome. …Atlantic Canada’s culture of defeat will be hard to overcome as long as Atlantic Canada is actually physically trailing the rest of the country.”

          • What’s not true about such a statement?

          • What objectively not true about having Albertans in charge of the government being bad for the country?

          • Yup, you must be a Justin supporter. Good luck with your new leader. Here’s to hoping he will get some votes outside of Alberta.

          • It was a question, not a statement.

          • Spoken like a true progressive liberal.

          • It was a question, not a statement.

      • Tell me why Klein ignored it?

        Is it because Ralph knew it was a non starter, promoted by an ideologue perhaps?

      • Firewall letter is a tacit endorsement of separatism.

        • Says Andrew_notPorC!

          Any other reasonable person would not draw that conclusion.

          • The Federal government plays Neville Chamberlain to the separatist or separatist lite governments of Quebec, and then Steve asks for the same appeasement. The firewall letter endorsed the devolution of the federal government to the provinces, throwing his support behind the endeavor.

          • There’s a false dichotomy behind your reasoning there, which holds that any vision of federalism other than rigid centralism = separatism.

    • The vicious Conservative attack ad on Chretien because of his facial disability was way before anything from Martin. Do your research.

      • ok fine,i forgot that one; give me another one please?

        • There was lots of stuff in 1988, the free trade election, that was pretty nasty. Lots of stuff about treason, lots of vicious anti-US xenophobia, the conservatives wanting to erase the US/Canada border, etc.

          • Right, i remember one ad campaign in particular – the one with the disappearing line – hardly personally nasty in the way the more recent CPC ads have been – directed more at destroying character than ideas. If you can recall more personal ones go ahead, my memory is hardly perfect. I may be forgetting some of the radio ads, but i don’t think so.

  12. Good and honest assessment by Paul Wells.

    All political parties take their chances, either with the production of ads or the responses to it. Let’s not fool anyone, and that’s what Paul Wells is saying.

  13. One caveat Paul Wells….you don’t respond to an attack ad when it’s clear it isn’t going to work and may backfire. Response in kind would legitimize the claim….in the case of the Liberals with Dion and Ignatieff they needed response and instead trsuted that Canadians would see through them, but this one about Justin? he should let it be at least for a time.

    • You’re completely right. Selley at the post has already blown this ad out of the water credibility wise – with some help from the lung charity folks…i sure hope the cons spent a lot of money on it? But judging by the quality of the research and the fact it is only on youtube, i’d say not.

      • …and here you are, giving it free publicity….on youtube huh? I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the heads up.

        • Huh!

        • You sure are one of those marginal, easily swayed voters on whom such advertising is highly effective.

      • No he hasn’t, I adore Chris but he is wrong about this for a couple of reasons. I am on my phone right now but I will post later why.

        • i’ll be interested to see you prove Selley wrong. But my money is on the pro journalist.

          • By all means.

          • I’m still waiting. I don’t see any signs of a retraction at the post yet. :)

          • And I am still waiting for the Huffington Post and all those that have been slander to sue ( I guess I will be waiting the rest of my life) ; )

          • Suing for slander or libel is likely not as easy as it looks in such a case as this.

            I’m afraid you’re a bit slow rebutting Chris, Kay has piled on now.

        • http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=905697 – Quote taken slanderously out of context. Using a clip without permission (breach of copyright act). Yes, Claudia – quality stuff!

          • Oh boy, good luck with that!

          • Glad to know you’re onside with the CPC as they break the law. Nice example for the “law and order” party to set (they are proposing changes to the copyright act that would result in severe penalties for illegal downloads so music and film companies can bust and sue teens’ parents for everything they have, but have no problem with a little pilfering themselves. Bet you are a lover of Poutine too…

    • No, what they should do is this: run an ad that says, in effect: “Not only did Harper’s party take Trudeau’s words out of context, they used footage they had no legal right to use. This from our “Law and Order” party; the party that wants to toughen the copyright law. It would seem Conservatives think the law should only apply to others.”

      • I’m sure that would bring angry villagers out in the streets en masse, brandishing pitchforks.

        • Might make them think a little about the party running the ads – and it would make an interesting contrast to the CPC ads – factual, honest… legal.

          • Yes, I’m sure any attack ad coming out of Liberal or Dipper Central will be scrupulously factual and honest — like the “soldiers in our streets” ad, or that one in which the evil men in suits eradicate the Canada-US border.

          • Soldiers in the streets… see G8… if the view from your gazebo allows you to…

  14. You can always tell the truly effective attack ads – when they consist of past clips, cost nothing and are posted on UTUBE !! then inform the media about the latest attack ads and the media does the work for you – this is all bonus and gravy and contrary to popular opinion never backfire as they are rarely tragetted at the generla populace and kmore oftent than not are focused on keeping their base happy – these ads make us Tories smile ans they are funny and true .. these ads are the perfect opening salvo and it is now Justin’s turn to respond and a few words at a scrum are totally ineffective – there will be attack ads coming out by the liberals though and they won’t wait this time unless they are more stupid than I have previoulsy thought … however they are in a much weaker place than they were and if they are not careful it will be death by a thousand cuts – because soon the NDP attack ads against Trudeau will start making an appearance – they all do it folks and if you don’t see it then you have drank way too deeply of the koolaid !!!!! PS: my favorite attack ads were the nuclear winter ones by the NDP against haprer and the soldiers on every street – they were the very best I have seen – the liberals should use one like that!

    • Newsflash – Selley already blew it up! Well, if you care about facts he did. Big assumption on my part.

  15. Lefties are nothing but stupid hypocrites who can’t remember anything to do with Canadian politics. According to their BS Harper bought attack ads to Canada.

  16. Wells, why don’t you talk about the fact that business can’t do the same kind of advertising, demean and lie about their competitors, take stuff out of context, create myths about the moral and ethical aspects of their competitors products or even these companies’ personnel? They are as branded products as our political parties, yet you bore the hell out of your readers by carefully staying away from anything journalistic that might separate you from those political oinkers swilling away at the journalistic political troughs. In other words, why not have an idea or two about your contribution to narscissistic neat writing and absolute lack of journalistic courage.

    • you bore the hell out of your readers
      Speak for yourself. I find his commentary intelligent and anything but boring.
      Why don’t you simply stop reading Macleans and Paul Wells, if you really feel that he bores the hell out of you, rather than posting several comments on these boards?

  17. This looks like a pure ‘earned media’ play. And to that extent it’s working. And may do so for a news cycle or two. It’s second or third in most media outlets line-ups. They haven’t as yet, had to live on their own in ‘legacy media’. Maybe the CPC will throw the media weight and $ behind them. But that remains to be seen. Right now it’s pretty self-selected viewing and media play.

    However, when the full CTV clip from which the non-stripper clip was lifted gets a full airing the CPC will look like jerks. As they will when it’s *widely reported* that the other ad visually references a charity event. (Quite successful, apparently.) Anyway, all 11 people paying attention will be outraged…OUTRAGED.

    That said, it seems like they’re phoning it in at this point. It’s like they bought a template and they fill it in with requisite crap. The only effective part of the message is ‘He’s in over his head’ tag. And surely they’ll begin to hammer that. Whether folks buy that and what Mr. Butts has in response – Gosh, golly, it surely won’t be negative – remains to seen.

  18. “Because there’s nothing better for a party than to be hypocritical and ineffectual.”

    Yes, that’s rich. It reminds me of how the CPC said they would bring to Ottawa a new era of accountability and transparency. But that’s what they always say.

    • They also say they at are the party of economic competence, yet the last two conservative governments have led our country to the largest deficits in Canadian history.

  19. Justin said he would not use negative ads, not ads. Not sure how that is the same behaviour as his predecessors.

    One of the perspectives not mentioned is the money factor, can’t run ads if you got no money.

    And I still contend, the CTV/Violator’s unethical hatchet job on Dion did more damage than the attack ads. If Violator and CTV had ethics I don’t think the results would be the same. Unfortunately, the interview fed right into the doubts raised by the attack ads and sometimes one moment is all it takes in politics.

  20. My vote for the Conservatives has been pretty effectively suppressed between this and the 2007 world war I blog post issue which was thoughtless political correctness of its own. This about a week after I’d thought yes, I would vote Harper again. I don’t particularly think the opposition are better but I dislike being patronized when it was clear JT was explaining an attitude about Quebec he didn’t agree with.

    I don’t rule out hoping they’ll win depending on how the other parties come across to me though.

  21. Trudeau is taking this strategy for a very simple reason: when Harper eliminated the per vote subsidy for political parties, he devastated their budgets. The Conservatives are well funded by donations, the Liberals are practically broke. They don’t have the money to compete with the Conservatives in political ads so are hoping taking the high road will give them a fighting chance despite that crippling disadvantage.

  22. Harper is going to have a field day with Trudeau. Up until the dauphin announced, Mulcair was going to be the prime target of Harper’s legendary ads. Now that we’ve got a new Liberal leader, he’s going to be way down on the hit list.

    Don’t believe it? Watch how many seats in Quebec, especially in the ever-predictable 514, go from the orange wave of the Layton era back to their tired old solid red. And there, as with a few other seats, they are likely to stay.

  23. Don’t underestimate the extent to which the MSM will mobilize its resources to protect Trudeau, unlike previous LPC leaders. An uncritical, fawning, and irresponsible MSM created the recent rise in LPC popularity, and media like the CBC, Toronto Star seem to have already committed to an outright endorsement of Trudeau. Nevermind that media play a crucial role in democracy in holding the political arena to account and that information is essential for the electorate. Unions and other progressive interests made a big mistake in not creating a left, critical media to fight alongside the LPC and CPC mouthpieces that form part of the MSM in Canada.

  24. The problem with the Conservatives trying to attack Justin Trudeau on lack of experience is that he’s already trying to cultivate an Obama-esque image (which the media is all too ready to help with), and using the same attacks as were used against Obama will only help with that.

    Difference is that Justin only got involved in politics a few years back and for a long while before that said he had no interest in going into it. It feels like he’s doing this out of family obligation, not strong political convictions.

  25. Paul, I don’t disagree with the central premise of your article that appears to be, in my estimation, that negative ads are always a “win more than you lose” calculation. That is to say, they are always aiming to have voters either stay away from the ballot box – the most likely outcome – or to change their opinion – probably the least likely outcome. I also can see the logic in suggesting that Trudeau must be different than Martin, Dion or Ignatieff in order to win the next go around. However, to suggest that criticism behooves vitriol, that argumentation necessitates pessimism, is at best, very much open to criticism, at worst, a lazy conclusion that I have come to expect from Macleans magazine. Just saying.

  26. People do realize that politicians are ADULTS; and they are adults who choose to be politicians – NO ONE is forcing them to be politicians. If they don’t like the heat they can get out of the kitchen and go back to their non-political lives.

    And I don’t want to listen about how this discourages women from participating in politics – not on the day that one of the greatest politicians is buried (and who happens to be a woman). Conservative women politicians have some of the vilest comments directed at them on the guise of ‘free speech’ – even when they are dead and the MSM seems to not have a problem with that!

    Let’s also remember that JT GREW up in politics – he knew full well what was ahead of him. He may have lived in a bubble most of his life supported by his trust fund, that that ain’t gonna protect him now. However the MSM does seem bound and determined to protect the sensitive wee soul of JT under the guise that big bully Harper is beating him up. Give me a break!

  27. This piece by Wells is excellent, though I might quibble in one small way – Dion and Iggy made much easier targets, given their personalities it was easier to attack them and they were each not particularly adept at defending themselves (though Iggy may have had an additional as yet undisclosed disadvantage that stymied effective counter-attacks).

    Trudeau is entirely different. He has star power, whether you think he deserves it or not. And thus far all the attack ads have done is draw more and more attention to Trudeau and his words. Not exactly what CPC wanted, I suspect, and he seems to be making the best use of it – and why wouldn’t he?

    But agreed that the Liberals ought to be ready for it, and if they really mean no negative ads this time, they should do differently if they want different results.

    • I think the CPC has figured out that the more the public sees Junior talking, the less inspired they’ll be.

  28. For some thoughts on how Attack Ads work, check my blog by clicking on my profile.

  29. Justin can’t run personal attack adds because he more or less promised he wouldn’t when giving the eulogy at his father’s funeral.