04.28.2013 12:23 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: relentlessly (and dangerously) positive

Does positive work?

Canadian politicians such as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix are hoping the answer — your answer, to be precise — is yes. Both men are currently wagering their political futures on the notion that positive trumps negative. It’s a risky strategy.

In Trudeau’s case, the Conservative Party’s “Justin Over His Head” ad campaign has been underway for more than a week. The spots, which mock Trudeau’s style, appearance and some comments he’s made in the distant past, are showing up during TV programs typically watched by people who don’t think much about politics. The ads are backed by what looks to be a big media buy. And, based on anecdotal evidence, they’re having an effect.

My source, in this regard, is my 11-year-old son. “Daddy,” he said to me last weekend, “have you seen those ads making fun of Justin Trudeau? They’re funny. He looks silly.”


In Dix’s case, the frontrunner in the B.C. election campaign has also been the focus of tough ads produced by a front group linked to his main opponent, the governing B.C. Liberals. The group, “Concerned Citizens for B.C.,” has financed a $1 million ad campaign against Dix, targeting his party’s past spending record and the backdating of an internal memo nearly15 years ago.

Media reports last week suggest that, while Dix is still far ahead as the voters’ preference, the ads are starting to take a toll — they’re getting mentioned, unprompted, on the hustings. That’s never a good thing.

So, Trudeau and Dix are being bombarded with an onslaught of attack ads. In both cases, the leaders have decided not to fight fire with fire. They have explicitly ruled out “going negative” and have decided to appeal to people’s better natures in their advertising.

Can it work? Given the right circumstances, it can. In 1993, when (full disclosure) I was running Jean Chretien’s war room, we federal Liberals didn’t really have any attack ads about then-Conservative leader Kim Campbell. In that campaign, our entire focus was pushing negative stories about Campbell through so-called earned media — newspapers, radio and TV.

So, when the Conservatives unleashed the Mother of All Attack Ads — the infamous spots mocking Chretien’s face — we didn’t have anything to offset it.

It didn’t matter in the end. The Conservative ads offended voters from coast to coast, and helped reduce the once-great Conservatives to two seats in the House of Commons. Staying mainly positive with our advertising worked.

Trudeau, unlike Dix, has responded directly to his opponent’s attack ads with an ad of his own. Perched on the edge of a desk in a classroom, Trudeau says “Canadians deserve better,” but declines to rebut the Conservatives’ allegations. Is that wise? Does his ad work?

Here’s three tips on how to decide for yourself:

n Watch the Grit spot with the sound off. TV is a visual medium. When you force yourself to focus on only the pictures, Trudeau looks pretty good. But when he’s tie-less and in a classroom setting, does he look like a prime minister? Not yet. More like a guy selling Registered Education Savings Plans.

n Watch it with your emotional brain, not your logical brain. As I wrote in my book Fight The Right, political decisions are mostly emotional. The emotional response the Trudeau ad evokes is neutral; it doesn’t make you dislike Harper, necessarily, or like Trudeau. If anything, my emotional response was, he looks young for his age. That may or may not be a good thing. For Barack Obama in 2008, it was good.

n Watch it for the one thing it wants to tell you. This is where Trudeau’s spot is unclear. Is its purpose to diss the Conservatives? To promote Trudeau? To celebrate school teachers? If the objective was introduce Trudeau to the public as Liberal leader, it does that. But the staccato, fragmented delivery was off-putting, for this viewer.

Trudeau and Dix are rolling the dice, hoping their big leads in the polls — and their positive approach — will carry them to victory.

We’ll all know, soon enough, if their high-stakes gamble is going to pay off.


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    dave says:

    Here in BC the Corporate Citizens 4 BC are a 3rd party, so their ads ran before the writ. Now, in the writ period, I don’t think that they can run their ads. The BC Libs, tho, are continuing the attacks by haing their leader trying to look honest and sincere with a kitchen table of pretend ordinary BCers’, explaining, without allowing the canary out of her mouth, that ND years were the dark ages, and suggesting a vote for NDs is a vote to go back. They are pretty good ads.
    The premier is good on radio and tv. I have never seen her live, so I don’t know about that. She also fumbles scrum questions…of course, lots of politicians do that.
    ND ads show the leader with some fawning supporters behind him while he delivers some feel good phrases. I guess the ads are ok, but they don’t have the juicey trivia of gossipy attack ads.
    I have seen no Green or Conservative ads.
    The 4 main leaders, BCLib, ND,Conservative, Green, debated on Van radio Friday morn, and will debate on tv tomorrow night. I think BCLib and Green leaders will attack ND leader, ND leader will try to look premierish and try not to lose, and Conserv leader will attack BCLib.
    Polls say NDs still have somewhere between 14 and 18 point lead, with BC Libs gaining a bit, Greens hanging in there. Conservs are having a bit of pr problem with candidates being disqualified for this or that…maybe we should do what Iran does, and get some religious patriachs to vet the candidates before they run.
    Here, in my part of the oil patch, three fellows are vying with each other to wear the mantle of the purist conservative, – very important mantle in right wing country. My candidate is door knocking and meeting with some groups. Signs are blowing away in the usual spring wind gusts off the Rockies, and local newspaper ads are fairly simple.
    2 weeks to go!
    I must work harder.

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    Luke says:

    “But the staccato, fragmented delivery was off-putting, for this viewer.”

    Me too. I actually find Trudeau’s speaking to be hard to tolerate, particularly if I listen without the visuals. He sounds totally phoney and pompous. If you add the visuals, something about his appearance (facial expressions?) makes him seem much more genuine, honest, and humble, in comparison to the sound-only listen.

    I’m no expert on anything political, but I am sure there is work to be done on Trudeau’s speaking style, especially for when he ends up doing radio interviews.

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    james Smith says:

    You may be correct, but I suggest that you read Marshall McLuhan on the subject of Television; specifically that his premise is that TV is primarily an acoustic medium and that the visuals are secondary to the sound. McLuhan goes on to say that the most effective elements on TV are images that either complement or contrast the sound and the least effective are those that simply repeat what is said or those in conflict. Cool vs Hot, and Hot looses.

    Try this, watch any sporting event without the sound on. I do this all the time & it drives my dear wife crazy & she makes me turn it back on because she says “I don’t know what’s going on”. I can’t stand the idle prattle of sportscasters, but I’m sure most people need the sound to “know what’s going on”.

    Nixon won the presidential debate with Kennedy, but lost the TV version because of the counterpoint, the reaction shots were a Cool Kennedy and a Hot Nixon (to use Marshall McLuhan’s terms).

    These commercials may tarnish Mr Trudeau’s image, and for the millions of tax dollars spent on them I’d be surprised if they did not, after all, I’m sure they’ve been focus grouped to death. The difference is something Terry O’Riley said about HBO on his Radio show this week; “HBO never use focus groups”. Mr Trudeau is popular without a focus group telling him to wear a hockey jacket, all he has to do is keep showing up.

    With the sound off take ANY clip of the current PM & what image do you get? What comes across instantly is a look of a leader who is at best bored and at worst aloof & condescending – not a good contrast for the current government. Cool vs Hot, Hot looses.

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    bluegreenblogger says:

    “My source, in this regard, is my 11-year-old son. “Daddy,” he said to me last weekend, “have you seen those ads making fun of Justin Trudeau? They’re funny. He looks silly.”


    ROFL, my youngest daughter, also 11 hollered at me from the Living room on Friday: “Hey Daddy! Justin Trudeau is on TV in an Ad! I asked her what it was about and what she thought. Her answer, ‘Well it was Justin Trudeau, his ad, you know that funny ad that doesn’t like him? Trudeau was playing it and he said ‘Aw Shaddup’ and turned it off. It was funny! Then he said blah blah, I am a son father something, but he is a teacher and will work hard.’ it was ok, but the first bit was funny!”

    So there’s my anecdote for you. Yep, the CPC ad is ‘funny’ and probably effective. Seems that to an 11 year old girl the riposte was good too, if a little boring

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    Graham says:

    Dix looks like he’s starting to go negative.

    During the radio debate last Friday there were a few instances where he went negative and in a couple of places, got down right nasty. The media also seems to going after him harder.

    As for Trudeau, I think the ads are having an affect, or at the very least his buddies in the Parliamentary Press Galley are worried they might be working. They have spent the last two weeks coming up with ever increasingly ludacris stories to try and convince Canadians the ads aren’t working. Like the latest: By using the sparkle affect in the ads, the Conservatives are implying Justin is gay. WHAT???

    The Liberals themselves look concerned as well. Yesterday Dion sent a letter to Elections Canada claiming the ads go against the elections act.

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    CuJoYYC says:

    I received this FB note about an hour ago from a 57 year old, longtime Harper lover and very conservative former employee of mine.

    “FYI I am a little pissed at the trash talk and the money spent on trash ads. Our government has more important issues to deal with. Thought you should know. You are still my favourite liberal…Cheers”

    I felt it was important to share his unsolicited comment precisely as presented to me.

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      Graham says:

      So, ask him if he will still vote Conservative.

      I’m betting he will. I know lots af Conservatives who don’t care for ads like this. They’re still voting for Harper.

      And a friend of mine voted in the Liberal leadership race for Trudeau and even donated $10.00, her first political donation EVER, after receiving an email from the Liberals asking for help to counter the Conservatives ads. I showed Trudeau’s response this evening.

      Her reaction: THAT is what I donated for???

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    Ralph says:

    No doubt Canadians who follow politics have a curiosity over Justin Trudeau. The CPC attack ads will polarize Canadians as pro or con Justin. What the CPC attack ads are also attempting to do is flush policy out of Justin because he can’t proclaim himself ready or worthy to be PM of Canada.

    The Liberal go-slow, positive introduction of Justin to a wider audience may be the only viable option they have because Justin is still an unknown and unproven quantity. If Justin came out and proclaimed he was preparing to be PM of Canada within 2 years of training for leadership, he would be laughed out of politics.

    Any Liberal attack ad would have to exclude Justin’s appearance because he can’t put himself up against PM Harper. Attacking Harper personally and attacking his government could be perceived as anti-Canada and even subversive. Perhaps it’s best to hide in the sticks and rebuild the Liberal party in Justin’s image — young, progressive and new.

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    ok says:

    I do not know too much about Justin T but I start reading since he become leader of Liberal. He has 10 years university background in total and knows main courses proof his brain is working fine. He has job in politic more than 13 years and he was teacher and Harper was mail room in his Oil Company and some compute work part time before he entered in politic. Justice has half English and half French background I think. He grows up most of his life in Quebec but he born in Ottawa. He cannot keep side of French more than English as he learned from his father. Drama teacher may be link with his mother bipolar illness that two face of happy and sad as two faces or two moods like actor can make him motivation to choose drama to that time. He is 41 and not too young man any more he is father and married and saw too much to his life divorce parents but grow up in hand of his father for 29 years mostly in Quebec and death of his youngest brother and mother of married and left them in Vancouver far from Quebec and she back when youngest died to full filled her duty back as his father died and helped two other children in politic and her mother has biggest motivation to Justin Recently too help and work in public worker. He grow up rich and middle class and he choose this job because he likes to work for public and he was teacher make him today be more polite patient man since people in teacher job are act very polite and not rude or made shy of all attack ads similar like character of conservative. He was more private and not he back to more scene in public everybody knows him but he was aside as older liberal run the show and protected him.

    First week as leader and all attack ad I think made up illegal it was not based on facts and show liable and defamation as show him dum person while he is not dump person he is quit smart, educated and love children he was camp guidance and teacher and know what he is doing and his father thought him all elements he needs to know and train him to this job.
    his father enter as PM job without have a wife and then wife married and has child and not time with family make her divorce and different ages between them and some illness to his wife made father and mother separated but father not married again for sake of help children grow up while he could married again.

    Now conservative are went too far right and put them back to even center is difficult job for Justin T. is.
    We can see Justine T as positional candidate but he must live with full security as conservative seen him as enemy can be fearful for them to allow him become future PM. he needs high security guard to become PM.

    Again future of Canada and what is best for country is hand of people and we as Canadian like to allow more leader come up and give us more chance for next election whoever is best will chose to become future PM for Canada.

    His ads was to put teachers against Conservative that is reason he stay in classroom that say I am teacher and like to become PM and now conservative make fun me and that will best attack ads he could made up with polite tones as most Canadian are famous as good polite people in politic world like his father mostly. He knows children and camp because his father spend lots of time with him and he could share with other teenager too I guess. They can use S words too but usually they are not has that language in public.
    ONLY marijuana and amount of used can be danger among teenager and variable affect in different people can be discuss that with psychiatric doctors and CAMH before goes to decriminazation of that. Lesbian and gay also exist but encourage to increase number of them proudly also should get limited and find better way that people differences get less and more similarity among people and less differences among politic of world make Muslim and nonMuslim linked can be issue of gays is one of main topic can consider some solution from Muslim doctors to their life style… again these two above drug and gays is two issue Muslim care in their country need to reconsider that too. As you may guess I am Muslim and I say releastic of what muslim like or dislike mostly. sorry.

    I do not see anything major wrong in Justin T and his character. Yes we can welcome Justin T as positional candidate for future PM. To become PM Job is difficult and I think Haper job was difficult as Justin T and his father job was difficult job in difficult political change in world and Canada must keep forward. We only can Welcome Justin T as new leader of liberal and wish him Good.

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      Mauserman says:

      “can consider some solution from Muslim doctors to their life style”

      Now I think I know what you are saying, but rather than have me shout it out, please tell us all yourself.

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    ok says:

    What Justin T can do to use gifted students in school and universities to help him collect data and use powerful software such as Oracle and use mathematic algorithm to predict some for future ahead but consider risk the data for food for health for foreign politic and for economic and that data collecting and business or even human relationship or marriage and happiness relationship even drug for advantage and disadvantage and site affect some drug such as marijuana is hard job and need right sources for him to put his program ahead of his plan to become leader. Ask professional and Google and smart to help collect right data to have better politic ahead of Canada in future even for foreign policy some prediction is helpful.


    Oracle to able to easy search data but not future prediction. Something is important about prediction in future that using mathematic algorithm for future prediction is not or cannot be always right because when you can use math formula that all data facts showed or link together and knowing facts and link of all fact data without other factors involved such as human behavior are not always predictable. Even for prediction of stock market or retail stores by experts in each field also cannot always predicted future but we can use old data for preparation ahead of time consider the risk not prediction for sure.

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    Ralph says:

    Let’s assume the CPC attack ads work and they create a discontent within the veteran grassroots Liberal ranks over Trudeau’s leadership weaknesses and political shortcomings. What may happen is the Liberal party may split into Trudeau and anti-Trudeau factions.

    Looking at the Liberal caucus sitting obediently around young leader Justin, I wonder how the many distinguished Liberal parliamentarians with the title ‘Honourable’ will be able to follow Trudeau. Surely they must be irked at being swept aside by a vote based on popularity rather than competence, ability.

    Liberal party grassroot veterans cannot be happy looking at new leader Justin, an obvious “work in progress”. Is this the quizzical fate of the once mighty Liberal party?

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      bluegreenblogger says:

      You address neither the actual target audience for the ads, nor a realistic outcome.

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        Ralph says:

        Then why did the CPC include Justin’s “Quebecers are better..” out of context comment? Surely that’s to sow discontent within Liberal party ranks, and together with his “Quebecers make the best PMs..” that will destabilize the party. Kinsella calls such comments coming out of Justin’s mouth as “poison”, and the CPC will take every obvious advantage to win.

        I believe the CPC is attempting to introduce an anti-Quebec component to the political landscape and thus castigating both Trudeau and Mulcair. It’s so obvious, demonizing Quebec and Quebecers, because the CPC doesn’t need Quebec for a majority government.

        Now that Quebec has a separatist, anti-Canada PQ government, the CPC anti-Quebec strategy may have traction in the ROC. Justin may profess to love Canada, but the damage is done and no amount of explanation will remove the mistrust.

        Do you not see that?

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          Bluegreenblogger says:

          nobody spends millions of dollars targetting the MP’s and membership of anything. Hockey Night in Canada etc. is where they were aired, and that is the target audience.

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            Ralph says:

            The CPC attack ad had multiple targets. The most damage was caused by the “Quebecers are better…” comments coming out of Justin’s mouth. This could be a knockout punch to Justin’s leadership.

            Politically knowledgeable Liberal party grassroots members who work for the party during elections, will be most affected because they understand the CPC anti-Quebec attack launched by using Justin’s own words and it’s impact on the ROC.

            Please don’t dodge that reality. The CPC will ram Justin’s Quebec comments into the minds of English Canada while ignoring Quebec where Trudeau and Mulcair will be fighting for the vote.

            Taking an oblivious ‘positive’ approach is fraught with risk. The LPC must escalate attacks to erase the “Quebecers are better…” potentially fatal gaffe.

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    ok says:


    I saw Ezra Levant show said Justin T is seat with Saudi man as his advisor he must be carful
    that only Saudi arabi has wahabi culture about 50% mixed with islam law and some ideas they are saying or practise is not acceptabl with majority of people in other muslim country too. They isolate their system from rest and do what they like.

    You can not under influence of money or power or kindness of them listen to full of what they say unless talk with professional muslim before hand.

    Capital punishment in US and Saudi is still questionable with new science can help criminal but they do not wnat to help them or fix their criminal or hold them but cheaper for them to kill or execute them.
    so many of them come and go easy and they also hate Iran too.

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    Derek Pearce says:

    I like the visual of JT shutting off the TV playing the attack ad. There’s something effective about it.

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      ray says:

      believe it or not I sent the scene to them and was surprised they used most of it but in my scenario Justin says nothing till the end after we watch the cons huffing and puffing in full dudgeon from the house then looks at the camera and softly says “My name is Justin Trudeau and I do not approve of these of messages” then stands and walks off. that’s it. nothing more. Naturally I thought mine was better but it was probably overruled by some committee.

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    James Malory says:

    This positive-negative dichotomy is inaccurate e.g. Churchill was profoundly negative, about Hitler, about reactionary elements in British and American society, and took a lot of heat for attacking Hitler especially after “peace in our time” was supposedly procured; yet he remained hopeful and positive, an “optimist.” Roosevelt, perhaps the most positive politician of the last century, one who actually believed in the basic goodness of the people given a fighting chance, agreed with Churchill, and at the risk of impeachment, put pressure on the various elements in the United States who wanted to keep America out of the war against National Socialism – so it could be said they were both passionately negative and positive simultaneously.

    In a propaganda context, Warren’s favourite “Daisy” ad was at the time considered an appalling “going negative,” especially by the Republican core. Schwartz felt worried enough about the red button-happy Goldwater to go negative on behalf of the Democrats and LBJ; in his mind it was ultimately a highly positive thing i.e. saving the human race from nuclear extinction (these are the “high-stakes” dear reader.) Often times going negative is fundamentally positive while staying positive is actually nothing less than a betrayal of humanity.

    Now, considering all that has be covered on this non-blog (;P) – the great Conservative architect Tom Flannigan’s radical libertarian kiddy p@rn morality seeping out; Barbara Amiel and Christi Blatchford’s acceptance of gang rapists; the broader and radical laissez-faireist policies of the Conservative party that would like to literally liquidate every Canadian worker through outsourcing to gulags and insourcing via temporary foreign workers unto total asset stripping of all Canadian wealth. Basically, a glorified Nation-wide fire sale. There is nowhere else to go but negative.

    One problem: who’s really convinced that Trudeau or Mulcair offer much of an alternative. This is the likely explanation as to why they hesitate to go negative: they are too similar to Harper to offer a truly withering critique lest they burn themselves in the process. Will the bootlegger critique the drug runner? Will the gaming house speak out against the bawdy house? Unlikely. The only answer out of this wilderness is to move away from the politics of personality cults, pop icons and into the liberty of pure language, pure symbols – the original attack ad, the original going negative. Shelley said “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” In The First Circle Solzhenitsyn wrote: “For a country to have a great writer is like having another government. That’s why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”

    This is a zero sum game we have entered. To win is the survival of the Canadian Nation. To lose is to become slaves in our own houses or worse (these are the “high-stakes” dear reader.) I remain negative in the extreme of the illustrious powers-that-be, these nabobs. Only fools would not take all necessary measures to defeat those that gladly sell out their own people. If a plain and accurate snapshot or two of these venal, vicious, and servile swine is viewed as negative, they only have themselves to blame for behaving as such.

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      ray says:

      I miss Mordecai Richler but that Gregg guy is sure making some good speeches.

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    William says:

    By the next election, people won’t be voting for Trudeau as much as they will be voting against Harper.

    Economy is going south, again….on his watch.

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      MCBellecourt says:

      Just read in the G&M that the budget watchdog predicts that something like 67,000 jobs will be lost and the economy will be slowed with the next budget.

      Bear in mind that of the jobs that were ‘created’, a great many of them went to temporary foreign workers. Today, the Cons announced that they are ‘making changes’ to the TFW program, but it’s full of loopholes and is just a bandaid. This ‘announcement’ is nothing but a stalling tactic until the media attention blows over and after that, it will be business as usual. The difference is, this time, people are starting to see through the bullshit.

      Trudeau has a huge sword with this issue alone.

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        Y. Mouse says:

        You’re forgetting that Trudeau attempted to use his influence to get a couple of rejected TFW applications reconsidered.

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          Kaspar Juul says:

          It’s great when conbots try to get others to take responsibilities for their actions

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    Corey says:

    The problem for Harper/CPC is that the negative ads are now becoming the story. They’re now saying more about the sender than the target (Trudeau), which is where their effectiveness could be neutralized.

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    MCBellecourt says:

    Had to mention this. The CAPTCHA code I had for my last post was “KD4U”. If harper has his way, we’ll be lucky if we can afford KD 4 *anybody*!

    IMO, impoverishing your own citizens is no way to win an election. Some people mentioned that they think harper will step down before the next election and let some other poor schmuck take the fall (kinda like what’s happening in BC right now with Clark). harper’s disaster capitalism tactics are speaking louder and louder.

    I’m beginning to wonder if those folks I mentioned are correct?

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    Beth Higginson says:

    I must admit I was for a more substantial response to th attack ads – but people of my daughter’s age think they are stupid.


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