04.29.2015 12:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: the campaign(s) against The Foreigner

When polled, voters will always say that they dislike attack ads.  Always.

But political attack ads are like car crashes on the side of the highway.  Nobody likes those, either, but everyone always slows down to take a look, don’t they? 

As reviled as they may be, attack ads are the ads that voters remember.  They’re the ads that have the greatest impact on Election Day.  Disliked as they may be, attack ads are extremely motivational.  

That is, they motivate wavering supporters of the authors of the ads (say, the Conservative Party of Canada) to get out and vote.  And they motivate those affiliated with the target of the ads (say, the Liberal Party of Canada) to stay home on Election Day, and contemplate the wallpaper.

That’s what happened in 2006, 2008 and 2011, of course.  The Conservatives blanketed the airwaves to motivate their core vote, and de-motivate traditional Grit voters.

Thus, Paul Martin was depicted in 2006 as a multi-millionaire who flew his steamships under foreign flags to avoid paying Canadian taxes – while, with Stephen Harper, “they see a leader who is more like one of them,” as it was famously put in one Conservative ad.

Thus, Stephane Dion was depicted in 2008 as an out-of-touch academic elitist with a foreign passport, someone who was “not a leader, not worth the risk.”  While Stephen Harper was a sweater vest-wearing hockey Dad, one who believed that “family is everything.”

Thus, Michael Ignatieff was depicted in 2011 as a literal foreigner, a cold-blooded artistocrat who had not lived in Canada for three decades, and who was “just visiting.”  While Stephen Harper was working long hours, photos of his family over his shoulder, sipping Tim’s from a Beatles coffee mug.

The objective, every time, was to depict successive Liberal leaders as foreigners – foreigners to Canada, and (in particular) foreigners to the values of everyday Canadians. While Stephen was just like them, a Tim Horton’s-drinking hockey Dad.  The Everyman.

In a contest between the Everyman and the Elitist, the Everyman will win, ten times out of ten.  And, in the coming contest between Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau – with a supporting role being played by Tom Mulcair – the Conservative Party plans to again do what they did so successfully before.  Make it a choice between the Everyman and the Elitist.  The Regular Guy versus the Rich Guy.  The guy who is Middle Class, taking on the guy who Isn’t.

Justin Trudeau talks about the middle class a lot.  He has done so going back to his very first speech as a Liberal leadership aspirant, in his home riding of Papineau. He mentions the amorphous “middle class” every chance he gets, in fact.  He did it again, in both official languages, when responding to last week’s federal budget.

The problem, of course, is that many Canadians suspect that Justin Trudeau isn’t middle class. He may know how to say those words, but they believe he’s never actually lived those words. And that’s clearly why, inter alia, Stephen Harper has taken to reminding Trudeau in the Commons that he is a trust fund kid – and why they positively love it when Trudeau claims to be preoccupied with the middle class.

“Mitt Romney talked about the middle class a lot, too,” one smart Conservative said to me over lunch, recently. “But he sure didn’t look or sound very middle class, did he?”

TV is about pictures, and all of the best political ads therefore make effective use of pictures to make their point.  As such, get ready for lots of visuals of the Tim Horton’s-loving Hockey Dad Everyman, schlepping his son’s hockey bag to early-morning hockey rinks.  

And lots of footage of the trust fund kid motoring around town in an inherited Mercedes Benz 300SL, worth somewhere between $1 and $2 million, locks flowing.  Or growing up in that mansion on Sussex Drive, the one with the subsidized rent. Or looking less like an average Canadian, and a bit more like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.

In effect, the Conservatives plan to remind voters, over and over, that Justin Trudeau has never had to worry about paying the mortgage or putting food on the table. While Stephen Harper is – to recall the words that 2006 ad, in which they spoke directly to the Canadian middle class – “a leader who is more like one of them.”

The Conservatives are readying to do to Trudeau what they did to Martin, Dion and Ignatieff: they getting ready to turn Trudeau’s own words/life against him, and at precisely the wrong time, too.  They are getting ready to say that Justin Trudeau is a risk, and that he’s just visiting the middle class.

Will it work? Well, it sure did in 2006, 2008 and 2011.  The Conservatives think it will again in 2015.



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    Yukon Cornelius says:

    I think the question isn’t ‘will it work?’ but ‘is it true?’. When I see Trudeau, I see a dilettante. That may not be fair, but it’s how he comes across to me.

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    WalterM says:

    I’m interested what Mulcair will do to Trudeau in Quebec where both of them will battle to a bloody end. Will Mulcair be able to turn Quebecers against the hated Trudeau clan, or will Quebecers see Justin like un bon fils …. a good quebecois boy who deserves a chance to govern Canada with and through Quebec support.

    In his leadership speech at the Montreal leadership convention, Justin started his monologue with the declaration:

    “I stand before you a son of Quebec. A grandson of British Columbia. And a servant of Canada.

    He eschews his Ottawa, Ontario birthplace and goes to his father’s side of the family by declaring himself “a son of Quebec” and then refers obliquely to his mother’s side of the family in B.C. as it’s “grandson”; not his mother’s “son of B.C.”. We understand his dilemma, his plight.

    Quizzically he calls himself “a servant of Canada” whatever that means. Perhaps he means he will serve the ROC from his quebecois perspective, not as an Ontarian. I think Canadians will not want a prime minister who calls himself “a servant” because it sounds weak and suspicious coming from somebody who also declares himself “a son of Quebec”.

    Politics can get tribal, and that’s what will affect the electability of all the candidates…. painful as it is to Justin’s ardent supporters.

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      Ron W. says:

      You got that right, and the devious Cons tested out Justin’s pro-Quebec belief with this youtube video of one of the early Con attack ads to define justin:

      Justin Trudeau — Judgement — He’s in way over his head

      Young Justin: “Quebecers are better than the rest of Canada because you know, because we’re Quebecers or whatever.”
      He calls himself a “Quebecer” even though he was born in Ottawa and that will condemn him in the eyes of Canadians in the rest of Canada.

      Will the Cons continue to press their attack at Justin’s Quebec nationalism? Will it also drag down Quebecer Mulcair?

      Politics is a dirty business and Justin has provided a lot of political poison.

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    Patrick says:

    I don’t get why the other parties have not yet tried to poke holes in Harper’s “everyman” image given he has never worked at a real job, at least not one the everyman can relate to.

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      sezme says:

      Because they’re not sure the “everyman” can relate to the jobs the leaders of their parties have held in the past either.

      I’d hereby like to nominate for Prime Minister that one lady who works as a cashier at my local Metro supermarket. She’s very relatable and very good with money.

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        KenzoS says:

        I’d like to second that nomination…..whomever she may be.

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      Ron W. says:

      Harper will have been PM for ~10 years when the election is called and then to attack him on his past work record will infer that Canadians were wrong to have voted for him and elected and reelected him. That is tantamount to telling Canadians they were stupid for 10 years, and I think that will not be a winning election strategy. He must be attacked on his governmental record because he is now a proven prime minister and well recognized internationally.

      The endemic problem is that the Liberals and NDP will again be splitting the centre-left vote, and that’s the grim reality. Resolve that problem before attacking the Conservatives in futility.

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    Liam Young says:

    There’s no doubt that the Cons do it well. This election is for the Liberals and NDP to lose because the Cons have messed up so much in the past decade.

    That said, here’s my take on the Con’s basic strategy for 2015:
    – understand that a higher volume of Boomers and retirees vote
    – understand that these people are still the few people that are connected to traditional advertising (TV ads, magazines)
    – shape new policies to benefit this group and beat this message into the ground (RRIF changes, TSFA, etc)
    – stand by the entitlement / ‘not my problem’ message that so many Boomers also stick to
    – supplement Con advertising with messages from CRA, Dept of Defence (‘terror’ anyone?), other government bodies bidding up the price of air time with feel-good ‘Public Service Announcements’
    – blast the airwaves with mock ‘he’s the little rich kid’, ‘they’re soft on terror’ or ‘he’s the grumpy old socialist’ ads

    Ultimately, they’ll vote for the Cons because they’ll lap up the lies like a starving kitten lap up warm milk.

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      Danny says:

      I think this mindset is why the Liberals will lose. They think and actually say that voters are stupid. As Liberals, they think they are smarter than everyone else. But they are still arogant and tell people this. Until Liberals start treating voters with respect, actually listening to their concerns and developing policies that the majority of voters like, as the Conservative have, they will continue to be a second or third teir party. Until you give voters and your Con opponents the respect that they just might be as smart as you, you will never bring your ‘A game’.

      I think the Cons strategy is pretty clear, but not what you are saying.

      They need to hold most of the ridings they have. They are reaching out to communities like the Sikhs & Hindus from India as we saw a few weeks ago with the Modi visit. That will help.
      They will lose some seats in Toronto that are not natural Con seats, but plan to make those up in the 30 new seats which are natural Con seats.
      They are working to win 10 or 12 seats in Quebec. Natural Con seats. The Oath to Canada in a hijab comments and the anti-terrorist position will help that. As will tax cuts. People in Quebec are taxed way to much.
      They will campaign saying they promised 10 things and delivered them. ie. Long gun registry gone, GST cut, budget balanced, hard on criminals, support Israel, fixed elections, etc
      They will say they have delivered family friendly tax breaks, and deliver the first cheque for 6 months in July. And warn that Trudy plans to take it away.

      That is my two cents.

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    P Brennan says:

    I am no fan of mad tom and NDP but will cons not have to go at him as well…

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      Patrice Boivin says:

      I don’t think so… the NDP is their best tool to help split up the “progressive” vote.

      They will let him do his thing as long as the polls show the NDP in distant third place.

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      Matt says:

      Not too much.

      The CPC need a strong NDP to suck the non committed left leaning voters away from the Liberals.

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      Ron W. says:

      By attacking Justin’s “Quebec nationalism” that will also drag down Quebecer Mulcair. Nationalism is a political poison that affects everybody.

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        P Brennan says:

        thanks guys

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    Billy Boy says:

    If any of the previous Lib leaders actually deserves to be pilloried for his leadership it is Justin Trudeau. I’m obviously no Liberal but I had grudging respect for Chretien, Martin, Dion, Ignatieff, even Rae but particularly Dion.

    But Trudeau has done nothing to earn any respect. He’s not overly intelligent and surprisingly under educated. He hasn’t much time or experience in the political ring. He was handed the leadership. He’s never had a real job. He’s lived a life of luxury so he can afford to volunteer as a ski instructor, or drama teacher, or door man or whatever.

    He’s likable. I’m sure he works hard. Kudos to all politicians, even nothing else their jobs consume them. He’s charismatic (although it’s difficult to tell whether the aura is in the name or the man). And if likability over leadership is the ballot box issue, he could win big.

    But he’s mostly an embodiment of the worst aspects of the LPC (i.e. entitlement & pure crass opportunism) without any of the substance. There was a time when Liberal leaders were principled, intelligent, and even mildly progressive.

    So far, Trudeau has back pedaled on every progressive position he’s ever held (long gun registry, proportional electoral reform, decentralizing power and open nominations) and has adopted some truly regressive positions such as supporting C-51 and bringing in Adams and Blair.

    Admittedly I’m too far left to ever truly consider voting Liberal (I have a difficult enough time voting NDP). But, for the nothing that it is worth, that’s the view from here.

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      Ron W. says:

      Trudeau is an actor, a front for the Liberal party. He is scripted and controlled by Gerald Butts, the eclectic Liberal senior strategists, the dark intellect behind Justin.

      It is so obvious that Justin is just a thespian on the big political stage and loving every minute of fame and adulation by his equally air-headed fans. He’s a joke, and it’s slowly sinking in with time. Justin’s superficial popularity has peaked and now it’s all downward momentum as Canadians begin their tortuous torturous trek to the October election.

      Mulcair is starting to look good the more exposure he gets from the print and tv media; he can think on his feet/seat while Justin just repeats his monotonous talking points provided by Butts. Mulcair’s problem is that the NDP/NPD if filled with champagne socialists and university students… just like the AB NDP.

      The Harper Cons must spook Canadians away from the Lib-Dip crypto-coalition threat and they will do that with ein Sturm of vicious attack ads! Hold on, folks, it’s gonna get hot hot hot.

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    Matt from Ottawa says:

    I think both the Conservatives and the NDP are definitely going to pounce on this. There is one factor that I also think will make JT vulnerable. Going back to the last election, Ignatieff was hammered for not living in his riding, even though he had promised to live there. He represented Etobicoke (a relatively middle class part of Toronto) while living in Yorkville (a relatively posh area of Toronto). Was it fair? Well, many MPs do not live in their ridings, however live close, but for the voters, this was an issue because a) Iggy didnt make an effort to move there even though he promised and b) It came off Elitist and not only did he lose the election, he lost his seat.

    With regards to JT, after winning the leadership not only did he sell his Montreal home, he decided to rent a mansion in Rockcliffe Park (the richest are of Ottawa)and uses that as his primary residence. I see this presenting 2 issues for JT. 1) Is the other parties can hammer him for not only not having a residence in his riding or even city, but not even in his own province and 2) As a champion of the middle class, how many of us in the middle class can afford paying 5K a month to rent a mansion in Rockcliffe. It will be very interesting how this will affect him both within his riding and as a champion of the middle class.

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      doconnor says:

      Unlike regular MPs, party leaders need to spend most pf thier time in Ottawa so they need a residence there. The fact he can’t also maintain a house in Montreal means he isn’t as rich as you think.

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        Matt from Ottawa says:

        With all due respect…. No. Every MP that lives a certain distance from Parliament is entitled to a housing allowance to pay for their Ottawa residence. Furthermore, Leaders of opposition are paid approx $223,000 per year. It is also well known that JT sold his Montreal house for about a million. To say that he cant afford a house in Ottawa and a house in Montreal is rubbish considering MPs making base $163,000 per year can, while still getting their Ottawa residence stipend on top of that. If the matter is money, maybe JT shouldnt be paying 5K/mnth for a Rockcliffe mansion or maybe he needs a better financial advisor

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          doconnor says:

          He may be renting because he expected to move to to 24 Sussex or at least Stornoway in three years.

          I’m not sure why he didn’t keep his Montreal home. Its not because he is excessively wealthy or excessively loyal to Quebec like some accuse him of being.

          He maybe upper middle class, but not a member of the 1%.

          Republican candidate McCain lost track of how many houses he owned and Romney was even richer.

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    edward nuff says:

    George Carlin was right. “Most people are fucking stupid and the rest are full of shit.”

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    G. Babbitt says:

    This is probably what you are saying but I want to emphasize that its not the fact that Trudeau is a trust fund kid that is the fatal wound. It’s the Liberal party using a strategy of Justin Trudeau, defender of the middle class that kills. I find the bundling of a group of people (no matter how large) who need defending from others to be offputting. Harper uses working people or taxpayers which includes everyone from WalMart greeters to CEOs. He marginalizes some people with that language but so does Trudeau when he talks of a middle class. It doesn’t matter if you show that your policies help the middle class the fact that you have someone who has never been middle class saying he will defend them is condescending. It is the condescension that the Harper attack team zeroes in on. Jack Layton was from a wealthy background and was a stereotype of a Toronto effete, but he connected with a lot of middle class voters by not condescending and sticking with a political vision (that frankly few Canadians probably supported). You can’t make Trudeau middle class so you have to concentrate other elements of his character that may be appealing. One of the great head shake moments from the Ignatieff campaign was Iggy claiming that when he just graduated from university in England he was “worried about whether he would be able to save enough money for retirement,” so can relate to those worried about retirement. No that is a political tin ear.

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      eric weiss says:

      If JT can’t even define middle class how can he defend it?

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    Joe says:

    An old friend of mine who was a successful business man once explained his business philosophy as being like motocross racing. He said “Regardless of what your competitors are doing you have to run your own race”. The fact is the LPC lost the last few elections on their own not because of the Conservatives attack ads. Paul Martin lost my vote with his million – billion dollar top priorities. I really liked Dion but he wasn’t grounded in the reality. His goofy green plan just didn’t make sense in the real world. I simply never cared for Iggy who was so arrogant that the thought he could run a country he hadn’t lived in for 20 odd years. I don’t like Trudeau because he is an intellectual fly weight with dictatorial tendencies who is completely clueless when it comes to the concerns of the average Canadian. Regardless of my dislike of Harper the LPC is going to have to start getting serious about presenting a real alternative view and leader before I will vote for them.

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      edward nuff says:

      wow. you nailed it and in only five words. intellectual flyweight with dictatorial tendencies.

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    Gayle says:

    Again, I would point out that Trudeau’s childhood is not news. Is there a single voter who does not know he was born into wealth? Well, if there ever was any such voter, Trudeau informed them all of the state of his personal fortune when he disclosed it during his leadership campaign.

    That tells me he is aware it’s a potential issue, and he’s willing to meet it head on. So yes, it may work, but then again for the past two years Canadians have been donating to this trust fund baby in numbers that far eclipse his most recent predecessors.

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    G. Babbitt says:

    I just looked at my Liberal candidate’s Twitter account. Last two tweets “@justin has plan for middle class” and “middle class needs help…” so this looks like the horse they are going to run. My first thought was “I really don’t need help” Sure a few extra dollars wouldn’t hurt, but honestly I would rather be grateful for what I have and turn to look at those who are at the margins, rather than having a rich kid tell me that I’m a loser needing his help.

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    Jacob Trouba says:

    Very entertaining article Warren, really got a laugh out of this.

    And lots of footage of the trust fund kid motoring around town in an inherited Mercedes Benz 300SL, worth somewhere between $1 and $2 million, locks flowing. Or growing up in that mansion on Sussex Drive, the one with the subsidized rent. Or looking less like an average Canadian, and a bit more like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.

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    MC says:

    G. Babbitt leans the conversation toward a good place. Part of the problem with political campaigns is not simply that opponents are negative about each other, but they are negative about us. The Liberals are really riding that horse this time. (Of course, it might be that that kind of fear-mongering is all they’ve got.)

    Frankly, the great mass of middle-class Canadians have it pretty darned good, and could do with the influence of perspective sharpening expressions of gratitude rather than continually being told how much they need the inexperienced rich kid to come save them (though, you know, not by putting his own money into it, of course). However, thanks, JT, for telling us how hopeless our situation is. I had no idea. I guess I missed that memo while resting in my recliner after a day at my desk-jockey job, with three square meals, and getting ready to watch some Netflix. Thank goodness for your silver steed and shining armour, riding to my rescue by letting me know my situation is bleak enough to need it.

    Maybe it is just a crazy idea — it must be, because nobody in politics seems to do it except sometimes the guys trying to stay in power — but maybe Canadians would actually be more motivated to care, and vote, if they were allowed to feel good about themselves for a moment.

    However, I digress. More in keeping with the point of your post, it might be, in fact, Mr. Trudeau’s pandering to the middle-class vote that most clearly indicates his complete detachment from the reality of Canadian life, and demonstrates his sole and exclusive devotion to his own political ambitions. It is emblematic of Mr. Trudeau’s insulated and privileged experience that he doesn’t recognize that pandering to the middle-class is simply low-minded politicking and that the people in really need are down a bit further from that. There are people in our country for whom “middle-class” status is a dream. That’s who our system should be seeking to lift.

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    Matt says:


    Trudeau Liberals fall significantly in Atlantic Canada.


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    It’s long overdue to call bullshit on the CPC ads. We can have our own with brave soldiers who got their deserved life-time pensions taken away by Harper — or the struggling middle class who hoped and were counting on OAS when they turned 65.

    And the list goes on and on. Dig LPC war room, dig.

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    e.a.f. says:

    Dion would have made a good P.M. It was such a shame he didn’t win. I never liked Iggy, but as long as Dion is sitting in the House of Commons behind Trudeau, I would consider the party, if I were in a riding where it mattered.

    The old line of fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, works here, except Canadians have let the Cons fool them so many times, they deserve what they get, if they vote this bunch of jackels back into office. I don’t know if Trudeau would be any better, but as far as I’m concerned its ABC.

    One of the major unions is currently running ads about Steve and his cons. its good. It reminds people stevie and his cons haven’t done much for the people of Canada.

    Perhaps the Liberals ought to embrace what Trudeau is. Get out in front and say, yes, I have a trust fund and yes my Dad was rich and yes I inherited and here is what my DAD also taught me; then go over some of the good things Trudeau senior did for Canada, not the least of them being Plan 71, the U.I. Act. which saved a lot of communities and people from poverty. The federal Liberals may want to attack Steve, because steve has never had a job, not a real job. After his mail room job, he went to his “thinkless” tank and from there to politics. Steve has been living rent free in Sussex Dr. for 10 yrs. making things ever so comfortable for his corporate friends while Canadians went down the toilet.

    I’d suggest the federal Liberals run ads taking the cons ads on, head on, like hi this is what Steve says about Justin, well lets look at how different are they really. Then go for it. Justin Trudeau may have a trust fund, but he may have more in common with Canadians raising their kids right now than Steve does, and that is the message the federal Liberals need to get out.

    Trudeau doesn’t have members of his party under investigation, in jail, on trial, etc.
    Trudeau hasn’t sold the country to foreign governments.
    Trudeau hasn’t invaded people’s privacy, etc.

    It might be time to attack Steve and his party for what they are, a bunch of elitist crooks, with no regard for Canada, its military, its First Nations people, its tax payers, its young. Steve is all about making China happy. that isn’t being Canadian, its being a traitor.

    Monteal Simon, on his blog has some lovely pictures of Steve drinking beer, and drinking more beer, and more beer. Perhaps its time to use some of Montreal Simons art work in a campaign against harper. its fun stuff, makes you laugh and gives a message. HAVING Steve in his 70s pimp suite in an oil puddle is just so much better than words can say.

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      Ron W. says:

      The more the Big Unions say “Stephen Harper this…. Harper that”…. the more that embeds the name “Harper” in the minds of Canadian voters. That’s why the CBC NN avoids calling Harper “Prime Minister Harper” because that boosts his general image. So keep on reminding confused Canadians that Harper is PM and is the man.

      Montreal Simons blog is just one sick anal fuck…. and will get shut down once C-51 becomes law. Obviously, you are in high panic mode now.

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        e.a.f. says:

        Montreal Simon has a great blog and funny. You may not like it because it pokes fun of the Cons, but really, get over it. Montreal Simon has a following and yes he may well get shut down once Bill C-51 is enacted. He might even be arrested, but so will a lot of the rest of us. Welcome to the world as designed by the fat fuck running this country and his 60 religious zeolots, members of the Christian and missionary Alliance church. yes, they believe the bible is “inerrant” and the second coming is “imminent”. Talk about bringing their religion into the House of Commons. With beliefs like that, we can see why the country is going down the toilet. Why the P.M. would rather bomb people in the middle east than ensure there is adequate medical care in the north.

        You can see why Rona is in B.C. flapping her gums about the “evil weed”, while the B.C. chief medical officer, has a totally different opinion. Yes, they think god or whatever is on their side, well by Tuesday we might see their farm team has been “deserted” by their god. We can only hope.

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    Africon says:

    Some of that could be but you might want to also consider that when tar sands production it was barely on anyone’s radar. Too bad to SH that tar sands production became significant on his watch.

    As for Keystone, we’ll never know what O’Bama’s view of it was all along.
    In any event, I’ve always thought it was a stupid idea.
    To me a pipeline to our eastern refineries makes far more sense than importing from the ME or any other nasty dictators.

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    Felipe Morales says:

    Warren: Easily answered (provided Justin’s entourage have the stones to go through with this!) Yes I grew up amongst the privileged, with people who hire lackeys to do their bidding…..so I know a lackey when I see one. Mr. Harper is a lackey for the privileged. I chose to run convinced that every man should make their destiny and a level playing field is in the best interest of all and our birth should not determine our entire life.

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      eric weiss says:

      Like the LPC isn’t the lackey of elites and big business?

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    Northern PoV says:

    Nervous Nellies

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