The First Federal Election Ads: Guilt by Association

I’ve started looking at the first election ads of the two major parties, and both are using the rhetoric of guilt by association against each other.

The Liberals’ “Choose Forward” ad associates Conservative leader Andrew Scheer with his predecessor Stephen Harper and his colleague Doug Ford as a practitioner of the politics of backwardness. Prime Minister Trudeau, dressed informally in an open collar and speaking directly to the camera, tells us that the Conservatives opposed the Liberals’ tax increases for the wealthiest one percent and tax cuts for the middle class, also opposed the child care benefit, and continue to oppose the government’s carbon plan. He concludes that the Conservatives will cut taxes for the wealthy and services for everyone else, so the choice is moving forward for everyone or back to the politics of the Harper years.

While the Conservatives are vocal opponents of carbon pricing, their opposition to the 2015 tax changes and child care benefit was more perfunctory. These were key components of the 2015 Liberal platform that were enacted soon after the Liberals took power. Conservatives voted against them in parliament in 2015, but since then have said little about them.

The Conservatives are running three ads on their website and YouTube page. In “My Plan,’ Andrew Scheer, also dressed informally in an open collar and looking at the camera, tells us that he has a plan to lower the cost of living and put more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians. He also presents the campaign slogan “it’s time for you to get ahead.” He doesn’t tell us, however, what is in the plan. Depending on where you put the emphasis, the slogan can have different meanings. Put it on “time,” and the suggestion is one of urgency. Put it on “you,” and the suggestion is that the Liberal politicians have put themselves and their closest supporters ahead of the general public. We’ll see which of these meanings the Conservatives focus on as the campaign unfolds.

The second ad, titled “Turning Point,” features the Liberals’ bete noire, Stephen Harper himself, speaking on behalf of Andrew Scheer. Harper, dressed formally in suit and tie, echoes Scheer’s theme that families are not getting ahead. He hints at the content of the Conservative platform, which is that “government should live within its means,” implying spending cuts and subsequent tax cuts.

The third ad, titled “Not as Advertised,” starts with a picture of Donald Trump, as an unseen narrator declaims about an administration rocked by scandal and controversy, the firing of its Attorney General, the resignations of its top advisers, and its leader engaging in a cover-up. Then the camera shifts to a smiling Justin Trudeau standing beside Donald Trump, making it clear that the narrator is talking about Trudeau, not Trump. The narrator ends with the accusation, “Justin Trudeau: he’s not who you thought he was, he’s not as advertised.” This ad, which is about the SNC-Lavallin Affair though it never uses those words, is the first to associate a Canadian leader with Donald Trump. I would have expected the Liberals to associate Scheer with Trump as well as Harper and Ford, but the Conservatives got there first. The ad is also reminiscent of an ad Trump’s PAC, Future 45, aired late in the campaign, entitled Crook, that drew parallels between Richard (“I am not a crook”) Nixon and “crooked” Hillary Clinton.

None of the Liberals’ or Conservatives’ ads, all with YouTube viewcounts below 35,000, have gotten much traction, let alone gone viral. But they are a taste of things to come.

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