As Liberal Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier said in 1918, love is better than hate. And as NDP leader Jack Layton very similarly wrote in his farwell letter nearly a century later, love is better than anger.
But is it always? Here are 10 moments from the recent by-election campaigns that would seem to indicate that, at least in the minds of some, hate and anger may be the better way to go.
Now, there's no innocents here of course. My Liberals have been no stranger to the hard negative attack ad -- they even lost my vote one election over one ad I felt was way over the line. Here's all I ask though: don't claim to be holier than thou when you're in the mud with everyone else.
Anyway, did Laurier (and, a century later, Layton) get it wrong? We leave it to you to decide.
1. Your leader is stupid
The tone for the NDP campaign in Toronto-Centre was set early, at the nomination meeting. Linda McQuaig, who would go on to be the candidate, told attendees that, unlike Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has substance and brains. The NDP would often return to this “Trudeau is a brainless simpleton” theme during the weeks to come.
2. Go home you carpetbagger
Apparently having been such big fans of the way the Conservatives attacked Michael Ignatieff for daring to be internationally successful, Chrystia Freeland was attacked by the NDP for having had a successful career outside of Canada before returning to Toronto, where her daughter was born, to run for public office. NDP/Tory, same old story? While they managed to not completely ape the Conservative talking points – no reports of “she didn’t come back for you” quotes – it was a slap in the face to the thousands in the community who have lived elsewhere.
3. Your house is too nice
When Freeland bought a home in the riding in the community of Summerhill, the NDP pounced. Did they say the $1.275 million pricetag, for which Freeland took out a substantial mortgage and needed a parental co-sign, was a sign housing prices are too high for many families? No, they attacked Freeland as a richy rich who bought a fancy house. Of course, their class warfare ignored that McQuaig lives just down the street. And when McQuaig’s former home – worth many times more than that after extensive renovations – was mentioned later in the campaign, they decried this irrelevant personal attack. Sadly, irony may well be dead.
4. You didn’t single-handedly stop the global decline of the media industry
After a report that, when Freeland was a mid-level manager at Reuters, a number of people in a Toronto division she oversaw were laid-off, the NDP pounced. Never mind the fact that the layoffs weren’t her decision, as the article noted; never mind the fact media organizations around the world are shedding staff as they struggle to adjust to a fracturing audience, the Internet and new business models. No, somehow, they contended, a mid-level manager at a media conglomerate should have been able to single-handedly reverse the global decline of the media industry. If she couldn’t save their jobs, how can she save yours, and so on.
*This may not actually be a hate is better moment; the NDP may actually think this is how the economy works.
5. You’re not entitled to Tom Mulcair’s entitlements
When Emmanuel Dubourg resigned from Quebec’s National Assembly to run for the Liberal nomination in Bourassa, he was entitled to a severance package, which he accepted. Every resigning MNA has the same entitlement. This became a prime attack point for NDP candidate Stephane Moraille, who plastered the riding with very negative signs showing Dubourg and Trudeau, surrounded by what the kids call bling. They would prefer that you ignore the fact that NDP leader Tom Mulcair, when his term ended as an MNA, took the same payment. Just two months later, he was an NDP candidate in Outremont. Do as I say, not as my leader does?
6. I’m gonna poke your eye with a stick; don’t swat it away
Now I’m sure there were Moraille signs around Bourassa, but I’m told those negative Dubourg signs were *everywhere* -- including one on a lamp post right in front of Dubourg’s campaign office. Now, putting up a sign – let alone a negative attack sign – in front of your opponent’s office is kind of a dick move to begin with. But here’s how the NDP tried to manufacture a story: they put up the sign, then staked it out from a car across the street, video camera at the ready. When Dubourg’s campaign manager called Moraille’s office to request they remove the sign as a courtesy, they kept him on hold for nearly an hour, and then took a message. Several more messages weren’t returned. When the Liberals finally removed the sign, the NDP taped it, anonymously uploaded the video to YouTube, and received anonymity when tipping the press to the video. They then went on to trumpet how bad the Liberals were for removing the sign. I’m not sure if the calls ever got returned.
7. Lies under the Prime Minister’s signature
Concerned at polling showing the Conservative stronghold of Brandon-Souris was at risk to a surging Liberal candidate in Rolf Dinsdale, the party took the unprecedented step of having a sitting Prime Minister wade into a byelection campaign. And they certainly didn’t take the high road. In a hate-filled letter delivered to every resident of the riding, Harper lashed out at Trudeau, intentionally distorting his policy on marijuana legalization (which will actually make it harder for children to access the drug and choke off a major revenue source for organized crime) and also flat-out lying – he said Trudeau has promised to revive the long gun registry when, in fact, Trudeau – to some controversy during the leadership campaign – promised to do the very opposite.
8. But were you really bullied?
It was auspicious timing – right around anti-bullying week, and the time the government was introducing anti-cyber bullying legislation. The Conservative candidate in Provencher, Ted Falk, took this opportunity to question whether an area high school student, who is openly gay, was really taunted during his efforts to start a gay-straight alliance at his high school. Apparently the fact the bullying was caught by CBC cameras wasn’t enough to convince Falk, who said he couldn’t rule out it all being fabricated by the student to help his efforts to start the student club. Falk refused to apologize.
9. I only want to debate the other candidate that I think matters
10. You’re not Canadian enough to have an opinion
When Mulcair made national unity a by-election issue by telling a Montreal audience he would “wipe the floor” with Trudeau over Liberal support of the Clarity Act and refusal to accept a vote of 50 per cent plus one on a hinky question be enough to break up the country, the topic was naturally brought up in the next by-election debate. When Steve Paikin raised the issue during the TVO debate, Freeland questioned the NDP 50+1 is fine with us position. McQuaig, though, didn’t want to hear it. “I'm not going to take lectures on this from somebody who hasn't even been in the country..." she told Freeland. Even Conservative candidate Geoff Pollock, who spent much of the campaign telling people to vote NDP, was appalled. I’ll let Freeland have the last word: "Who is allowed to be part of the debate? It is disqualifying for people... What about someone who just became a Canadian citizen yesterday. Do you say actually you're not allowed to have an opinion on Quebec?...Or allowed to have an opinion in discussion with Linda?"
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