The new Conservative ad that shows Andrew Scheer wandering through a suburban idyll—folks perched on freshly painted park benches hailing him, desirable three-bedroom backsplits in the background—gets across a lot in a succinct 30 seconds.
“Conservatives want to see every Canadian prosper,” the Tory leader says, neatly summing up the message “I’m Andrew Scheer” is meant to convey. “So the other guys can take their cues from the cocktail circuits and celebrities. I’ll take mine from the grocery stores and the soccer fields.”
By “other guys,” he means, of course, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ostensibly cocktail-swilling coterie. Unfortunately, poolside video of Trudeau, Gerry Butts and Katie Telford nursing daiquiris and old-fashioneds is hard to come by. More readily available for viewing is “Positive Politics,” the video that’s featured just now at the top of the Liberal YouTube page.
Watching “Positive Politics” immediately after “Hi, I’m Andrew Scheer” brings obviously dissimilar political sales strategies into high definition. Everything about “Hi, I’m Andrew Scheer” is meant to convey normalcy. Everything about “Positive Politics” is meant to project exceptionality.
The suburbanites who greet Scheer as he meanders by are all on a first-name basis with him. They’re glad enough to see him, but not inspired to rise from their benches. A young couple strolls past him without taking any note. Nobody follows or ventures to engage with him.
Trudeau is first shown at a podium engulfed in a delirious crowd of thousands. In the montage mixed with his speech, strangers press close, he clasps their hands, smiles warmly at close range, plays with kids. Just saying “hi” would never suffice.
Two plausible strategies are at work. The bet behind Scheer’s video is that by the time of the 2019 election, a sizeable swath of Canadians will be ready for a reassuring, familiar sort of figure to take over running the country. Trudeau has already won once by promising inspiration and transformation, and there’s no sign that his strategists have talked, over the clink of their ice cubes, of toning that down.
Much of what we’re seeing on screen is just working with the raw materials at hand. Trudeau’s persona is expansive; Scheer comes across as diffident. But their parties’ deep proclivities are also showing through. The Liberal hankering for leaders who embody big aspirations led them also to Michael Ignatieff. The Conservative affinity for no-nonsense restraint found expression in Stephen Harper.
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It’s interesting, though, that something about Ignatieff and Harper prompted their handlers to sometimes depict them all alone. In 2009, a Liberal video had Ignatieff addressing the camera in a still, sunlit forest. In 2011, a Conservative ad showed Harper toiling in noirish semi-darkness, companionless in his Hill office, late into the evening.
Those strangely solo depictions were predictably mocked. Yet they drew on something anyone could sense: Ignatieff and Harper each carried around a sort of solitary quality. But Trudeau and Scheer, in their very different ways, both come across as gregarious and approachable.
And there’s something else they have in common, something unhinted-at in their videos. They are both creatures of official Ottawa. Trudeau, as everybody knows, grew up running around the Hill’s hallways as his father’s son. Scheer started working there as a mere teenager for Preston Manning in the late-90s, as the reunite-the-right push gathered steam.
The inside-Ottawa aspect might be the most interesting factor in their nascent rivalry. Trudeau’s politics is bred in the bone; Scheer’s coming-of-age political experience is stamped on him. There is nothing to suggest any of this in the official party videos. Each partisan camp wants to show its leader at large in the country, not ensconced in the capital. Question period, however, is broadcast live and unedited daily.
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