03.30.2013 10:30 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: there’s nothing negative about telling the truth

“I will not go negative.”

Justin Trudeau had been warming up to saying those words for a few minutes, as he sat before a sold-out crowd of hundreds at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel.

And then he finally uttered those words.

He will not go negative.

At a table near where I was sitting, a former Liberal cabinet minister, a former senior adviser to a former leader and assorted party luminaries exhaled as one. “Jesus Christ,” one hissed. “Did he actually just say that?”

He did, he did. Justin Trudeau — the guy who everyone expects to become the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada next month — just told everyone that he won’t use negative ads against his political opponents.

At the back of the room, the media furiously scribbled away in their notebooks. This was news.

And so, later on that day, they reported Trudeau’s statement that way.

Trudeau takes aim at negative politics, read the Toronto Star’s headline.

“Yes, there are a lot of fault lines we can play up to divide this country,” the Star quoted the Montreal MP as saying. “But for me, it’s much more interesting to look for those common values that define Canadian identity.”

Global News reported likewise: “Trudeau declared he would ‘not go negative’ in any election campaign if he becomes party leader.” They went on: “Trudeau said he fully expected the Tories to come up with vicious attack ads after the Liberals choose their leader, because ‘that is what they do.’”

Now, as you may have surmised, a few of us think Justin Trudeau has made a really big mistake here.

If anyone has any doubts about that, they can ask Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff, who learned the lessons of modern politics the hard way.

Both men said they wouldn’t “go negative,” too. And both paid for it with their political lives.

At a speech he gave at York University a year ago, a defeated Ignatieff admitted as much. He tried to be a nice guy, he said. But, likening politics to boxing, he said he had learned to “get your (fist) in first.”

Dion, meanwhile, was blunter in a statement he made after the 2008 election campaign.

“I failed,” he said, simply. He needed to counter the Conservatives’ negative ad barrage, and he didn’t. The anti-Dion attack ads were, he said, highly “effective.”

And those ads defeated him.

So, a few of us who like and admire Justin Trudeau would like to ask him, what the hell were you thinking?

If there is anything the Liberal Party should have learned in the past decade or so — anything at all — it is that you don’t show up to a gunfight with a knife. You don’t turn the other cheek, over and over.

And you don’t ever, ever say you won’t “go negative.”

It’s not “negative” to tell the truth about your opponent, as he or she is seeking high public office. Telling the truth about their public record — their votes, their quotes, their expenditures and missteps — isn’t “negative.” In a democracy, it’s the right and proper thing to do.

It’s your job, in fact.

After his talk — in which Justin Trudeau placed his head on the metaphorical chopping block and dared Stephen Harper to swing the same bloody axe he used on Dion and Ignatieff — I spoke with one of Trudeau’s confidantes. This person is one of the smartest players in Canadian politics.

“What the hell did you guys just do?” I asked this person. “You should’ve talked to Dion and Ignatieff before making that kind of a promise.”

“Don’t worry,” said the player, smiling. “This guy’s a fighter. He will fight.”

Liberals hope so.

Otherwise, Justin Trudeau’s been knocked out before he even gets in the ring.


  1. smelter rat says:

    Telling the truth about the Reformacons is not the same thing as going negative, even though there is nothing positive to say about them!

  2. I see no problem with this. As you said, “It isn`t negative to tell the truth about your opponent”

    I am sure he will!

  3. crf says:

    He’ll counterattack any negative ad the Conservatives run against him.
    And be subtle about it.
    He knows how to fight. Just watch him.

  4. Bruce A says:

    Let the Harpainista’s take the first swing, and then let ’em have it. Harper’s a bully and his sidekicks are thugs. I think this approach might, perhaps, be a way to encourage a sense of overconfidence on the Cons part. The sort of arrogrance Brazeau and the press had about a charity boxing match.

    Remember, there are plenty of people and pundits that are dying to use JT as their whipping boy, and wait breathlessly for him to stumble. As with any whipping boy, the slightest error or misstep, will be magnified and exaggrerated by some as a sign of JT’s shallowness and the pundit’s brilliant observations of riding the Old Man’s coattails, such as Rex Murphy and other’s at the National Pest.

    After all, Brazeau pretty much handed himself a victory before it even began, and the chattering classes didn’t ask if JT even knew how to box.




    I’m hoping the Brazeau gene pool extends into the PMO!

  5. Bruce A says:

    Oh and here’s some more wisdom from the pundit’s.



    Only fools underestimate an opponent.

  6. George Smilios says:

    A radical approach, but if you want to awaken the Dauphin with an icy splash of reality, whip up a mysterious front group or two – you know something like Citizen’s Coalition Against M@rxist Infiltration or something like that – push out some real heavy, nasty stuff to awaken team Trudeau out his naiveté – “look here, this is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming down the pike – wake up boy!”

    I do think a combination of m@rijuana use, punch drunkness, New Age yoga bullshi), Margoism, psychological lag i.e. this is federal politics not high school etc. has impaired clarity. You better get a psychological team in there that can get the job done – this is not a good tack…

  7. Rick Thomson says:

    Round One to Harper.

  8. Michael says:

    The problem with generals is that they are always fighting the last war.

  9. Vankleek Hill says:

    “Liberal values are Canadian values”; “Faith in the young”; “We need to unite as a country” Rinse, repeat….. Yawn. Instead of attack ads, Trudeau should try to come up with some kind of tangible platform.

    • Windsurfer says:

      Name a Canadian politician in the last 25 years who has run on a national unity program.

      And all that such a program would involve……..

      • Vankleek Hill says:

        Paul Martin….. And I’m sure what that program would involve, because it is mere rhetoric, and posing. Liberal pols (and British royalty), put on cowboy hats when they visit Alberta.

  10. VH says:

    Not too worried about this, Warren. Unlike his immediate 3 Liberal party predecessors, Trudeau actually knows how to fight and campaign.

    Let’s run the tape:
    1) JT – Bruising fight to win and then repeat in Papineau despite massive risk and lots of naysayers
    2) PMPM – despite having lifelong golden connectons via his father, loses to Chretien in the only real race in his political life
    3) Dion – “star” candidate parachuted into a super safe riding. Loses first and only real contested election race to Harper.
    4) Iggy – “star” candidate parachuted into lib leadership. Despite backroom boys’ backing, loses lib leadership and then years later loses first and only real contested election race.

    One of these things is not like the others.


    • Michael Bluth says:

      Winning a competitive local race is preparation for a national campaign against a seasoned Prime Minister?

      Papineau is a traditional Liberal seat that the Bloc won once.

      Please tell me there is more that points to JTs ability to win a national campaign.

      • VH says:

        Not my job, mon. Life is not without risk. Either one understands a qualitative assessment or one doesn’t. That is all.

  11. dave says:

    Do what is happening here in BC. During last night’s hockey game on tv, ads from parasitical friends of the BC Libs at pretty well every break in the game! One slamming the leader of the opposition for a past wrong doing (well done scare/attack ad, actually)!None attributed to the BC Libs!

  12. Andy says:

    All the more reason to vote for Joyce Murray!

    • kitt says:

      Why so the Liberal party can stay in 3rd place or even fade into the sunset? Is she a closet CON? NDP? Green? Cause she sure thinks the Liberal party can’t win anything.

  13. Sean says:

    If you honestly don’t want to run attack ads you have no business in this arena, should stop wasting everyone’s time and just walk away. I am so sick of the tiny group of people who say “don’t go negative”. Every party does it, all five of them.

    The reality is these ads move votes more than any good ideas ever will. Canadian’s are preconditioned to respond to anger and bitterness much more effectively than anything that will make them feel good. Its not nice, but its the age we live in. No politician is going to change that culture. My suspicion is that Trudeau knows this and will indeed be using ads which tell the truth about Tory corruption, joblessness and electoral fraud.

  14. Ridiculosity says:

    It’s not negative if you tell the truth…

    “Manage the dialogue, as former Clinton advisor Dick Morris advises. And you do that – as another former Clinton advisor, James Carville says – by striking first. “It’s hard for anybody to hit you when you’ve already got your fist in their face,” Carville once succinctly observed. Says Carville: “The voters deserve more information, you know? We’re not in this business to be mean or negative. We’re in it to draw distinctions, and to draw distinctions that favour our side. So we just go out and try and be very honest about these distinctions, these differences.” – Fight the Right, Warren Kinsella

  15. Brad Young says:

    I don’t understand why nobody ever calls Harper out on the huge deficit he created. The stupid action plan ads that are costing us 100 of millions of dollars.

    I think this time thru, people will see thru the negative ads, you can only blame other people for so long.

  16. K says:

    Is it too early to say I told you so? Leadership ain’t an entry-level position folks.

  17. Michael says:

    Trudeau may completely agree with you Warren. It is not “negative” to tell the truth. Trudeau will not go negative, and if true to his word, he can still tell the truth about his opponents.

    Obama was the master of this against McCain/Palin. To paraphrase many a speech: “I won’t talk about my opponents the way they talk about. I won’t engage in trash talking, the way they trash me. I won’t act like the Republicans. Unlike my opponents, I believe X. Let me tell you about me.”

    It’s less direct that I would prefer, but it probably works well with his squeaky-clean image.

  18. General election is still 2 years away. Building the Party is the priority right now, and you do not build on negative. Come 2015, the CPC will be very vulnerable, unless they magically manage to balance the budget, there are a chunk of fiscal conservatives who will need to be reminded forcfully how the CPC has failed miserably as fiscal managers. Then there are a whole lot of social conservatives who will need reminding that the Cons have talked the talk about abortion, but will never ever deliver. I bet that the So-Cons can be kept at home in droves on EDay, and the fiscal conservatives can be enticed back home to the Liberals, with the help of some ‘negative’, or ‘truth telling’ or whatever the heck you want to cvall it. In the meantime, not going negative equals using your money for other things that will build the party up.

  19. Austin So says:

    Dion and Ignatieff were undefined, and the media leapt on anything that would help define them. Going negative worked on them because there was nothing else to go on. The LPC had to fight that characterization right off the bat.

    However, Trudeau has already been defined by the media and has been since birth. He is a known quantity and represents, like it or not, Mr. Canada. The CPC will only spend tons of money trying to paint him as something that he is not. Trudeau going negative only becomes an antithesis to that image, and instead would probably backfire and make him look more as an opportunistic politician.

    BTW…this is a reason why Rae would have faired better had he won over Dion and Ignatieff…

  20. frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

    I suspect Justin Trudeau’s heritage, good looks, charisma, and hair……plus his easy demeanour with people of all stripes and social classes will make him impervious to the Con generated veritable shitstorm of abuse and negativity that is headed his way……our own “teflon man” if you will…..at least here’s hoping so…….

    Personally I’d be happier if our next leader stated he(sorry female contendahs) was going to curbstomp the Cons…….but JT has waaaay too much class for this…….

    He will finesse, duck and weave, until the Neandertals exhaust themselves, and he gives ’em the coup de grace….

    At which time I will fall to my knees and give thanks for divine deliverance from the Harper cabal’s reign of error…..

    My biggest thrill will be seeing the Liberals restore every single piece of environmental legislation the Con cabal has removed, eviscerated, or watered down…….what a joyous day that will be for environmentally conscious Canadians everywhere….

  21. m5slib says:

    What I liked is that he managed to point injure the differences between he and Mulcair while saying he wasn’t going negative.

  22. Lance says:

    So “Albertans” are political opponents? Well, thats news…..

  23. Anne Peterson says:

    It is not negative attack politics to tell the truth. And there are plenty of terrible truths to tell about the conservatives. If I was a conservative I would be hiding my head under the cushions in shame at the things they do and have done. And somehow they seem to be under the crazed notion that nobody has noticed. I have two really smart grandchildren who will be voting next election and so does almost everyone in Canada. They will never be polled because they are cell phone kids. And they care about the environment and they care about society and as I have said they live north of the tar sands and care about their health and the health of the land around them.

    I would vote for my neighbour’s dog before I would vote for Harper. If anyone isn’t worthy it’s him. Harper, I mean, not the dog. Maybe a lot of us can rush in and fill the negativity gap. There is no limit to the negative stuff I have to say.

  24. Elizabeth says:

    Trudeau doesn’t need to “go negative”. He’s a fighter, but he isn’t vicious. He’s also street-smart and media-savvy. He might also be aware that Harper’s attack ad clock is running out of steam. If Harper can’t “go negative”, what else can he do? That’s what he does, he doesn’t know how to operate in any other way. Faced with someone who is fighting him with the white fire of a pissed off patriot; he just might have himself a new one cut.
    Harper isn’t the “smartest guy in the room”, but he might be the most cunning – and cunning doesn’t last forever.

    “Cunning is the dark sanctuary of incapacity.” (Chesterton)

    Trudeau looks to me like he can hardly wait. Just has to get this leadership bid over, and get Mulcair out of the way; then look out Harper. He’s not afraid of him, he’s lived in the “halls of power” his entire life. He met world leaders as a kid – there is nothing about Harper that can really scare him. And he’s not afraid of the media, at all. Glad to see WK is leaving Sun News.

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