The common feature of attack ads is that they usually target individuals, and Stephen Harper has become a superb marksman. Attacking the Liberal Party is probably fair game – after all, the first attack ads that I can remember battered Joe Clark after an airline lost his luggage during a campaign in the late 70s or very early 80s. However, the Harper Government has adopted the attack ad as the weapon of choice, aimed precisely at the individual they feel they need to destroy.
Stephane Dion, for example, had a somewhat green agenda, and wanted Canada to comply with its Kyoto Treaty obligations. He even had a workable program to accomplish this, and had it worked, Canadians perhaps would not be feeling quite so much of the pain caused by the Arab Crisis. This, of course, would have been a serious setback for Big Oil and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, so Dion became “Not a Leader.”
As for the attacks on Ignatieff, these have become so vitriolic as to be almost laughable, and difficult for most people to take seriously.
If one were to ask the majority of Canadians, who voted for anyone but Harper in the last election, what they would feature in an attack on Harper, the answers would be endless. For example, two prorogations, Bev Oda, Rahim Jaffer and his wife, the “Integrity” Commissioner…, the list goes on. There are so many legitimate targets for attack ads that in the end, Canadians might have to sit through a 2-hour infomercial.
Instead of attacking Harper directly, the ad neutralises Harper’s weapon itself. Nowhere in the short commercial is there a mention of Harper, Big Oil, the environment, climate change, or the far right agenda. Instead, by attacking the whole concept of these negative below-the-belt ads, the relatively financially challenged Green Party hit the government PR operatives squarely on the head, sending them reeling.
The Green ad is probably the only attack ad ever produced that does not belittle any person or party, yet Harper mindlessly took the bait, and is coming out swinging. If Harper and the PMO were as smart as they pretend, they would simply roll with the punch, lay low, and perhaps cut back on their own attack ads for a little while. Their best and obvious defence would be simply to ignore this ad, pretend nothing has happened, and continue with “business as usual.”
Unfortunately for Harper, however, (and fortunately for the Greens) the Toronto Sun’s Senior Associate Editor Lorrie Goldstein has jumped into the fray with an article that, on the surface, attacks May and the Greens. The big shame is that the average Toronto Sun reader might not notice that Goldstein brings up some of the very real mistakes of both the Harper Party and Jack Layton of the NDP, events that many people had probably forgotten.
The endless repetition of election advertising gets boring after a while, and may be a factor discouraging voting and active participation in democracy. Will the new Green Party attack ad signal a departure from the established form, and get people actually talking about the issues? Maybe that would be too much to hope for, but who knows? With this new ad, Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada have definitely come of age, and have shown Canadians they are ready to be taken seriously.