Monday, January 29, 2007

WE don’t need to go negative

Having now seen the Conservative attack ads frankly, I’m more amused than anything else. It will be interesting to see how Canadians at large react. I don’t see them having much impact, but much will depend on our reaction.

As Rob and others have noted with these CPC ads the media are going to be coming to us for reaction. While they’re going to want reaction to the ads specifically there’s no reason for us to respond specifically to the ads. Don’t be defensive. For Stephane particularly, each interview opportunity is a chance to pivot to our message. Well Jane, it’s not going to distract us from our three pillars approach…

By using each chance we’re given to respond to these negative attacks as an opportunity to pivot to our vision and policy message not only are we getting our message out to Canadians, we’re leaving an unspoken impression in the minds of Canadians: while the Conservatives are launching personal attacks, the Liberals are talking about a positive message about the issues that matter to Canadians. The direct contrast will be quite stark. They're trying to define Dion, well, he's also getting a chance here to define himself.

It’s up to others, such as us bloggers, to make other points about these ads. Such as pondering if launching attack ads months before an election is strong leadership or weak leadership. Or, pointing out that when they say Under the Liberals, emissions have risen 27 per cent since 1990, that’s inaccurate and misleading. As I recall, the Liberals didn’t come into office until 1993. From 1990 to 1993 it was a Conservative government. Some inflating of the numbers there. Or we could mention ads on policy are one thing, but ads attacking personality are desperate.

Finally, we might point out that Stephane is right. Setting priorities isn’t easy. Particularly when the Conservatives leave you with a huge deficit. We had to make tough choices, but we made them always with Liberal compassion while cleaning up their mess. Setting priorities takes leadership, and when it comes to our priorities and Conservative priorities I’ll take ours any day, and I think given a choice most Canadians will too.

Anyway, that’s all secondary, a debate for us politicos to engage in amongst ourselves. Most Canadians could care less. They’ll see the Conservative ads, and they’ll see a clip of the Liberal response on the media. On the latter note, I think Dion has it about right with the video posted on the LPC Web site yesterday. Let’s keep on this track.

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17 comments:

Olaf said...

Jeff,

Interesting take, but I'm not really sure of what you're trying to say. Negative ads work, that's why people use them. It was Paul Martin's staple, and without the whole "Harper is scary" line of reasoning, Harper may have even come close to a majority.

Usually, people don't distinguish between attacks on policy and on personality, as they blend together easily (Harper is scary because of his policies, etc.) So are you suggesting that the Liberals shouldn't be negative in responding at all? Or just not negative personality wise (which would be a MASSIVE reversal from the "mean-spirited neo-con" catch phrasing that has been predominant so far)?

Or are you saying the Liberals should not respond to the claims that they have a dismal record on the environment, and instead of shooting back with the "Harper has done even worse", Dion should stick to "yes, but we have a good plan and we will actually implement it this time, I promise"?

Or are you saying that all of a sudden, people are going to become interested in complicated policy debates concerning issues most don't understand (environmental and economic policy), and will appreciate Dion for sticking to the issues in a respectful, positive manner?

I guess I don't get your point at all... maybe a week off has taken its toll.

William Demers said...

The Liberals are more notorious for this style of attack ads than anyone else. Their attempts to smear Harper's name in the past has likely contributed to the reasons for these ads to be released.

I, like most Conservatives I've spoken with, do not think these ads were a good idea and in fact it is because they are so similar to Liberal ads in the past that we are so embarrassed that our government has stooped to your level.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Welcome back Olaf.

A few things. First of all, it's a tad to simplistic to say "negative ads work." I think it'd be more accurate to say GOOD negative ads CAN work, but only in certain circumstances.

You mention the Martin example. He went heavily negative in the last two elections. But the ads didn't start to score until the Cons created the environment to allow them to, whether it was stupidity eruptions from Randy White and Cheryl Gallant or Harper's own comments on the Liberal courts and bureaucracy. Until then, the negative ads weren't scoring.I'm not sure the environment has been created here for such attacks to score.

Plus, that was during an election campaign, where while not liked negative ads are tolerated and, in the right circumstances, be effective. Last I checked we're not in an election campaign. And after three years of constant minority bickering I'm not sure how welcome the public is going to be to negative attacks outside of an election campaign. There seems strong potential for this to backfire, as even Con supporters are admitting.

So, given all those things I see no need to fight fire with fire here. Taking the high road would seem far more appropriate. And the CPC's ad buy has given the Libs a free media opportunity. Why not use it to dismiss the attacks and, rather than fight over who has sucked worse on the environment in the past, use this window to talk about what we actually want to do about it in the future?

I'm saying in every "Conservatives go negative" news story, with a clip of a redfaced Jason Kenney foaming at the mouth, let's have the clip from our side being Dion or whomever calmly saying the Conservatives can talk about the past, but here's out plan for the future. I like that contrast.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Not months before an election call William, but during campaigns for sure. Anyway, I hate to break it to you but the Cons aren't stooping anywhere, this is their level and they've been here all along. I'm not saying the Liberals have any claim to moral superiority, far from it, just that neither do the Cons.

Anonymous said...

I's be careful on accusing any party of leaving a debt or deficit, for one will only be reminded of what Trudeau left this country.

In fact why don't we do that right now, to get it out of the way, and from a more or less non-conservative type, Eric Margolis:

http://www.ericmargolis.com/archives/2000/10/trudeau_canadas.php

"In 1968, when Trudeau went from rich, socialist professor who had never held a real job in his life to prime minister, Canada’s national debt was a modest $11.3 billion; the federal deficit was zero. When Trudeau left office in 1984, the debt had mushroomed to $128 billion; the deficit to $25 billion annually. But this was just the beginning.

*Canada’s Great Helmsman created a vast bureaucracy, and massive welfare programs to buy votes for his Liberal Party. He restricted trade and free markets, imposing confiscatory taxes.

When Trudeau entered office, Ottawa spent 30% of Canada’s total economic output(the same as the USA). When he left, government spending had skyrocketed to almost 53%."

As for the ads, the news channels ran that sweet huff-puff moment between 2 so-called friends, Ignatief and Dion, during their leadership campaign.

That moment, the confrontation between 'friends', the begging for understanding, the stamping of 'oral footsies' stood out then.

That will be your difficulty...that moment stuck with people.

It stands out, but not in some attacking way...in some amusing way.

And if we know much at all about politicians, being made fun of is an particularly embarassing way to lose ground.

Mike said...

Anon,

Trudeau created a deficit and debt in the 70's. Gosh so did Nixon and just about every other country. I'll also point out that under Mulroney, the guy supposedly elected to clean this mess up, the debt and deficit doubled.

So I would avoid the partisan smear tactics, they can backfire.

Like accusing your opponent of supporting Child Porn 3 days before election day.

Or talking about soldiers. In our streets. I'm not making this up. I'm not allowed to.

Frankly they didn't work and indeed contributed to the lose suffered by their purveyors.

Anonymous said...

Tories are getting desperate. Given that Canadians do not like Tories they try to get Canadians to hate the other parties more. They should run attack ads and say nothing about their own record.

bigcitylib said...

And these don't seem to be "good" negative ads. The sound on the television of the voice-over is awful. Its like they used equioment left over from a pron movie. They also aren't particularly funny, and the idea of broadcasting them up against a multi-million dollar ad from Budweiser during the Superbowl seems odd.

Another good indication they won't work particularly well is the ambiguous reaction from other Tories, blogging or not. It just seems bizarre behavior.

Anonymous said...

Mike, that was my point. For every rise in debt burden, there was some government in power to link it to, obviously.

The 80s stand out for those of us old enough to bear the scars of those interest rates, and hit to the economy.

The difference is that Mulroney's supporters wouldn't put up with it anymore.

Older voters understand all too well, that their votes are not fixed to anyone's star....that even the most faithful have to reconsider what their party, their guy, has done.

That is where your party is at now, with these ads.

It shows the struggle, the tension, the spoken words, within your own party...all in your guys' own words.

Sometimes, even the most loyal party supporters have to take a step back and reassess things.

bigcitylib said...

anon,

Mulroney is where Conservatives lost the issue of fiscal responsibility. They've never got it back.

Kitchener Conservative said...

"Not months before an election call William, but during campaigns for sure"

Well......Not quite

Anonymous said...

These ads suck. Stephane Dion not a leader? Compared to Harper? Au Contraire. Dion, in one month, has unified a party quite divided and argumentative during a long and sometimes, bitter leadership campaign. He did it by pulling everyone together and focusing them on setting priorities. (What? The subject of the other ad.) He did it without having to muzzle anyone, but by convincing them, good leadership again. He has set a clear agenda with three guiding principles ( oh my God, setting THREE priorities, what will come next, I am sure it was hard to decide between aboriginals, healthcare, childcare, farmers, CWB, SWC, deficits, debt, GHG, OH MY, what is that you say, these are ALL covered by the original THREE priorities??), leadership again. He has gotten behind all his team and former rivals and they behind him, leadership. He wants to put his team's talents to use, out in front, not hide them, like Harper (oops, leadership again!)

Do they seriously think that trying to say the man at the center of the Montreal Kyoto Mtg is NOT Mr. Environment? And Harper is Mr. Environment? After giving Kyoto the finger? I won't swallow that anymore than I would take pig's feet home from the grocery store and try to make something edible of them. Really.

I know the Connies (will never call them Tories because that insults Tories) think Canadians are stupid, but hey, this is not America. We know the difference between beer and swill.

-Blackstar

burlivespipe said...

Yeah, I like that tory thinking... Heck, lets start digging up the dirt on ol' Mackenzie King, smack it out there for all to see! After we disembowel the legacy of Trudeau, by george I think Harpor should slam ol' Louis St. Laurent!
What a crock... Canadians demanded a gov't deal with the deficit/debt. Mulroney mushroomed it into a huge gorilla. Chretien and Martin did the job -- not to everyone's liking, and not without some pain. Canadians made the sacrifices and the Liberals made some missteps. But Jeff is bang on. Some people need to map out the lies in the message they are sending (Dion was environment minister in 2004-05 and laid the groundwork for a $10b plan, many of the programs that were quickly cancelled and not replaced by Harpor). I think there needs to be a message sent out to all the newspapers, as the tory crowd does regularly, pointing out that Harpor lacks both integrity and honesty when he has mapped out his program. Safer streets, hitting hard at crime and then cutting policing budget. Interested in minorities and middle class - raises personal income taxes, cuts services to women's centres/child care centres, trashes Kelowna etc.
Let our leader show his stuff. But we need to marshall the forces to do a job of spreading the truths that Tories don't want the public to know.

Olaf said...

Jeff,

Fair enough, I see what you're saying, I think. Not that the Liberals shouldn't ever be negative when referring to the Conservatives record, or Stephen Harper in general, but just in these narrow circumstances (responding to the attack ads on the news), the higher road should be taken.

Its so crazy, it just might work - so long as Dion doesn't think he's going to win environment votes during the election by admitting "we screwed up, but this time, it will be different".

Also, BCL is right, the attack ads do kind of suck, visually speaking (and with the "Liberals need to get back in power" ads, content-wise as well). I liked this quote of his:

they were put together by a grade-schooler using sound equipment from 1940s Czechoslovakia.

They do seem like something some random blogger put together during their lunch break.

Anonymous said...

The Tories have'nt run a balanced budget since 1920 - hmmmm.

One thing to have a deficit - BUT to run the country into bankruptcy and put the Canada Pension in crisis like Mulroney did is another. We musn't forget that a cabinet minister went to jail and/or were in doo doo each and every year of Mulroney's tenure and Airbus is still questionable. I remember the anger when the Mulroney's hired a French teach "from France" for their children on "taxpayer" money when we had good teachers here. Oh yes, and Mulroney racked up a lot of expenses on taxpayer money doing his international goodbye circuit.

They didn't call him "Lyin Brian" for nothing.

Speaking of negative people - where is NDP's Brad Lavigne - haven't seen him on any of the political shows since before Xmas...hmmm.

Budd Campbell said...

I haven't actually seen these ads, except on the Tory website, and I wasn't able to play the soundtrack.

I think the use of a deep red colouring, the Liberal Party colour, is an interesting touch. I agree with the point that Dion's environmental record is weak, and that his demand that Liberals must get back into power as soon as possible is indicative of an extraordinarily offensive and arrogant attitude.

Hardened political smart asses who haven't seen the light of day in years may think it's cute for political handlers to mimic sports coaches hollering "Winning isn't everything, it's just the only thing". But for the party leader to be talking this kind of rubbish in public is very off-putting. The general public want their politicians to be a bit more idealistic and a bit more service and policy oriented that do the political junkies and campaign groupies.

Finally, I think the two ads that end with a group shot showing Dion with Martin and some other dude cheering at the end of the convention is a good ploy. It visually reinforces the image of a Liberal gang bent on winning elections, and nothing else.

So all in all, reasonably good marks for the Tory effort in technical terms. However, the most important consideration here is why do political commercials attract so much attention? Why don't other political manifestations, such as a major address, a demonstration, or a policy workshop attract this kind of audience?

Because the infotainment industry has succeeded in dumbing down political discourse in a way that suits their own financial purposes. If the message is in TV ads costing hundreds of thousands to run, it's deemed serious politics, it's news. If it's a petition raised by ordinary folks, costing a few hundred dollars, pay no attention. And guess which industry is the recipient of the immense sums spent on these ads?

Jason Hickman said...

Amongst his other, perhaps more libelous comments, "Anon. 6:41pm" writes:

One thing to have a deficit - BUT to run the country into bankruptcy and put the Canada Pension in crisis like Mulroney did is another.

Interesting. Shouldn't some responsibility for the pre-95 deficit/debt be borne by the Liberals who, while in opposition from '84 to '93, opposed any and all efforts at spending control, including (but not limited to) de-indexing pensions? No?

... Sounds like a dumb thing, to blame the opposition facing a majority government, doesn't it? Someone, then, should tell Dion that blaming the failure to come up with a workable Kyoto plan, especially during the Chretien majority years, on the opposition of the day is pretty dumb, too.