What attack ads actually attack

Here we go again. The Harper Conservatives are chafing at the bit, unable to wait until the writ drops before launching the latest round of attack ads.

The Conservative mantra is that they do not want an election, but their actions suggest they do. A minority government interested in maintaining the confidence of the House works in collaborative fashion. Remember the minority Liberals under Paul Martin? The budget preparations involved extensive consultations with the NDP. In fact, Jack Layton boasted that he had written the 2005 Liberal budget.

A Prime Minister in a Minority government preparing a budget should be meeting with Opposition leaders. The Finance minister should be doing the rounds with opposition finance critics. Key stakeholders should be getting a lot of time for their proposals to fight the deficit, while continuing economic recovery and creating full-time, well-paying jobs.

But collaboration and olive branches are not in Mr. Harper’s repertoire. Attack ads clearly are.

A lot of them were unleashed today. I think it sets a new record for political attack ads in one day. Some attack Jack Layton, with Gilles Duceppe thrown in as though he was some sort of Rasputin, cast as an evil side-kick. The primary villain in the Harper attack ad narrative is Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Clearly Mr. Harper is in no mood to make Parliament work. These ads are the Parliamentary equivalent of a declaration of war.

On November 2, 2010, we issued a press release calling for the banning of political television ads. The worsening political climate in this country stems, in large part, from the nastiness of the political rhetoric found in attack ads. Learning that many countries around the world prohibit the airwaves carrying paid political advertising, it seemed we should at least raise the idea.

In that press release, I warned:

“We are on a very dangerous trajectory, as it is well understood in public opinion research that attack ads 'work' by reducing voter turn-out. Those who use attack ads have the goal of reducing voter turn-out. It is a deliberate strategy of their campaigns.”

Attack ads are anti-democratic by definition.

It turns out they are also anti-Canadian. Thanks to Toronto Star journalist Susan Delacourt’s blog "Ad standards" I read the plea from Advertising Standards Canada to political parties.

Political parties are exempt from “truth in advertising” requirements of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

The Code says advertisements “must not contain inaccurate or deceptive claims….” And that they must not “demean, denigrate or disparage any identifiable person … or attempt to bring them into public ridicule.”

The ASC asked that “political parties adhere to the principles contained in the Code to help maintain public confidence in Canadian advertising.”

Attack ads are anti-democratic and anti-Canadian. So what are we to make of a Prime Minister who resorts to using the nastiest of slurs when the House is in recess, there is no election and there is work to be done?


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Harper is a chess master

Stephen Harper is two-to-three moves ahead of his opposition.  And he plays on two boards at once.  In this next session of Parliament, he will make his next double-up move: reduce corporate taxes even further, and eliminate ‘per-vote’ funding of political parties.  The first is an incentive to increase donations to the Conservatives from employees of corporations that stand to benefit.  The second will reduce the funding the other parties absolutely depend on and will cripple his competition

If the opposition vote down these measures, he will cry, “coalition”, call it a vote of non-confidence and blame them for the election.  If they try to form a ‘formal’ coalition to govern – he’s got a hand-picked, vetted Governor General who will deny the request and call an election.

Whenever the next election comes, rest assured he already has slick commercials prepared that frame the election as:  He, the duly democratically elected PM, verses, a ‘coup d’etat’ – a treasonous coalition that includes the ‘separatist’ BLOC party. 

Instead of always being in 'reaction' mode, the opposition parties need a crash course in multi-scenario planning or in the next few moves it will be check and mate.  (From Arabic meaning, the king (sheik) is dead (mat). The king being in this case, the Liberals who believed they would always govern by divine entitlement.)


Respectfully, D. Scott Barclay

Harper is no Grand Master

Thanks for that extremely interesting explaination of the origin of the word 'check mate'. I wouldn't be as complimentary to Mr. Harper as to say he is a great chess player, you need much more than military strategy for that.

Harper just wants to win and his concept of winning is to remain in power. He must now realize that he is not capable of winning a majority with his divisive and alienating tactics.

You can't do politics in a military fashion in todays open and democratic society. It may work well in a poorly educated and feudal society, but it will simply result in another hung parliament in modern Canada. this is not good. As Elizabeth says it will (is) destroying any sort of social cohesiveness and making us more like the modern USA.

I have no suggestions except that the wise amongst us (primarily the Greens) reject this zero sum game. We will have allies as long as the other progressive parties (all but the Tories) realize what is going on.

As Elizabeth says, alienating the public might, in the short term, get the most votes but it breeds a distrust of all the political establishment. Let's hope we don't degenerate to the same level as the US and cause the mentally deranged to start shooting people.

Agree with qualifications:

I couldn’t agree with you more. I do not admire him, but let’s face facts; we need to understand how he operates.  The point I was trying to make is that he is extremely shrewd; he plans many strategic moves ahead.  He uses multi-scenario analysis. While the opposition is always in ‘reaction-mode’, and the most they can do is whine.

I’m not suggesting we resort to these bottom-of-the-barrel tactics, but the opposition needs to be out-front setting their agenda, stealing the lime-light, anticipating his divisive arguments and neutralizing his phony fear tactics before they even take hold. Its not hard to anticipate, he is using the U.S. Republican play-book.  But as Jean Chrétien noted cynically, Canadians are a nation of complainers. Not hard to defeat politically. 

And if he wins another minority government with a few more seats, he will still be in control - he will then be able to pass his legislation because the opposition will be bankrupt financially and won’t be able to trigger another election.    


Respectfully, D. Scott Barclay

My own comments

I agree somewhat with both your comments. Harper is a viscious, shrewd no holds barred person who at times outplays his opponents. I would also say though that this next election will also be his last as leader if he doesn't get his coveted majority. At that point his own party will have to run him off. Harper is also a one man band so looking at the talent behind him the benches are very thin indeed. I personally feel that the Liberal strategy of highlighting the stealth fighter purchase, warship purchases and corporate tax breaks is probably going to be very effective. I feel they are more in keeping with Canadians priorities and will resonate moreso than these "sexy" items the Conservatives are promoting. I feel Canadians would much rather see money spent on education, retraining, help for the unemployed as in our own Green platform than these from George Bush junior. If the Liberals and us Greens pound away with that message and don't allow Harper to sidetrack them Harper will end up back where he started and then out the door. 

These are my own thoughts and not necesarilty those of the Green party.

Win it for the little guys.

Faint hope clause ?

Traditionally, leaders (of Liberals or Conservatives) who are not able to obtain a majority are replaced.  But traditionally, minority governments have not been able to successfully govern for more than a year and a half.  Enter Stephen Harper - he has governed for five years.

He has advanced his agenda (photocopied from the official U.S.-Republican Manual), albeit more slowly than with a majority, but relentlessly nevertheless.  He has defied the Supreme Court, appointed his own man as GG (who will likely deny any formal coalition against him), stacked the Senate to kill-off bills passed by the majority of the House of Commons, intimidated and ruined whistle-blowers, fired civil servants for doing their job, muzzled scientists and his own cabinet and shut-down parliament at will.  

Most significantly, he plays ‘ultimate brinkmanship’ with the opposition and in this way has had the vast majority of his legislation passed.  He does not need a Majority.  Even if he gains no seats in the next election he will have emptied the opposition’s coffers and they will be more vulnerable to the prospect of another election in the next year and a half.  He will offer them up a bone to get his legislation through, while carrying the big stick of another election if they resist.  The Liberals will cave-in again and absent themselves to allow his bills to pass.

Who in the Conservative party is poised to do better?  If the Conservatives pour out the glass that is three-quarters full yearning for an overflowing cup, they seal their own fate.  Yes we can wish.  But its a faint hope.


Respectfully, D. Scott Barclay

Look forward to coalition version II

I would argue that he hasn't achieved a fraction of his (hidden) agenda. No doubt he has been successful as a minority, if longevity is the benchmark. There is absolutely no doubt that the accomplishement of getting out of a situation when cornered is his hallmark, but that does not a statesman make.

If we are suggesting that racing to the bottom of the cess-pool is a worthy goal then I for one want no part of it. Look no further than the USA to see where that gets you. Instead place your faith in the inherent wisdom of Canadians. Thus far only about 35% of the ones who actually go out and vote have given Harper their consistent support. I can't see that changing very soon.

We've been in the influence of the 'far right' for over 30 years already and it has produced a virtual standstill in the economy. As the nasty situation continues we should be thankful that the neo-cons, at least in Canada, will be taking the rap for it.

Growth is over and things will get much worse before they get worse. However, in the short time Harper will be the scapegoat.

He may have put a compliant GG in place but the GG's powers do not go as far as to defy the wishes of parliament. That, and the unlikely possibility of yet a third prorogation bode well for the country.


We don’t know what fraction of his agenda he has advanced, but I think we agree, he has taken the country in a direction that two-thirds of the population is against.  Again, I think I’ve created the wrong impression - I am not complimenting Stephen Harper explicitly or indirectly.  And I am not implying we should play ‘dirty’ in a race to the bottom.  Barak Obama did not digress to the lowest common denominator to win.  But he fought the good fight, he fought hard and pulled no punches. 

Canadians need to learn how to assert themselves without being belligerent or getting personal.  Tell it like it is, fight fire with fire, instead of saying ‘sorry’ when someone elbows you in the face.  Stephen Harper has a very vulnerable record both in power and also when he was President of the NCC – that needs to be fully exposed and yes – exploited, not swept under the carpet because its the polite Canadian thing to do.  That’s not attacking the person, its rebuking his actions.  But then equally important, focus on the positive: contrast point-for-point, head-to-head, what a progressive party would do in the sectors that matter most to Canadians - right now, starting with; the economy & jobs, health and education.  Not complain incessantly about the climate deniers.

I think that the strategy you are suggesting is to wait until things get so bad that the Conservatives will be thrown out.  Appeal to everyone’s better nature let their inherent wisdom surface, take the high moral ground. Can’t disagree, its good, to a point.  I just can't think of a time in history when democracy has been advanced this way.  Its been a continuous battle. 


Respectfully, D. Scott Barclay

Harper as a minority

Well, one thing is for certain.  Harper as a minority leader is at least better than any current option as a majority.  In fact, I'd be quite happy if there were never again another majority government in Canada.