Conservative Party launches attack ads as election season begins

The Conservative Party of Canada on Wednesday fired the first major broadside in what is expected to be an acrimonious federal election campaign, launching a series of attack ads on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The TV ads, which will be supported by a “multi-million dollar ad buy” according to a party spokesperson quoted by Global News’ chief political correspondent David Akin, feature the tagline “Not as advertised.” See the ads below.

The ads hew closely to traditional Conservative themes, with actors noting the rising costs of everyday items like gasoline and food. “He’s raising taxes and making things even more expensive,” says one woman in a 30-second ad entitled “Affordability.”

The same spot portrays Trudeau as a leader who is out of touch with regular Canadians. “We’re the people who keep this country going, and he just doesn’t get us. I think it’s time for him to go.”

Predictably, the Conservatives are also using the SNC Lavalin scandal and last month’s expulsion of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal Party caucus in their advertising. “All she did was tell the truth—and he didn’t,” says one woman in an ad called “Scandals.”

Headspace Marketing president Eric Blais, who predicted that this federal election could be the nastiest in history in a column for The Message earlier this year, said that tactics are reminiscent of the “Just Not Ready” ads used by the Conservative Party in the 2015 federal election.

Attack ads were successful against both Stéphane Dion (“Not a leader. Not worth the risk.”) and Michael Ignatieff (“He’s been away for 34 years. He’s just visiting.”), and nearly worked against Trudeau says Blais. “They’re betting the Trudeau fatigue and the erosion of his brand equity will ensure this works again,” he says.

Blais calls the “Not as advertised” tagline clever, but notes that it’s also somewhat ironic to have political advertising acknowledging that partisan advertising is misleading.

What’s unclear at this point is whether the other parties, including the Liberals, will follow the Conservatives down the attack advertising path, something Blais thinks is inevitable. “They keep saying they’ll focus on their policies and avoid personal attacks. They may try that for a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the sunny ways are eventually replaced by darker ways,” he says.

The Liberals were successful in 2015 because they successfully positioned Trudeau as a youthful, vibrant antidote to the staid sweater vest-wearing incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But while Trudeau’s “sunny ways” have helped him cultivate an international reputation, Blais believes the Liberals’ approach should be about the Liberal brand, not the Trudeau brand. “They should avoid turning this election into a referendum on Trudeau,” he says. “Make it a choice between party policies and their track record, rather than about the leaders.

“The Liberals should also try to own what makes Canada different at a time when we see the result of nasty, divisive discourse elsewhere.”

Chris Powell