Before the campaign even began
It was all perfectly legal.
Harper’s Conservatives bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of television attack ads.
The purpose was to destroy the image of Liberal rival Michael Ignatieff before the election campaign began.
It was money that people had given Harper – political donations, all of them above board. They even got tax receipts.
What is so beautiful for the Conservatives is that it was all money that did not have to be tabulated as official election campaign spending, because officially the campaign had not begun.
When the Harper Conservatives went over their spending “ceiling” in the 2006 election campaign, their campaign offices were raided and four top organizers, including two Conservative senators were charged with electoral fraud.
The Liberals might have done the same, if they had the money.
For every dollar Liberals got in pre-campaign donations last year, the Conservatives got about five. It doesn’t take genius to figure out the advantage.
In fact, the Conservatives had something like $28 million dollars before the current election campaign began, way above the ceiling of about $20 million. They had to figure some way to get rid of that money before the election began.
Harper could have run five times as many negative ads on television as he did, and still have begun his “official” election campaign on an “even-Stephen” basis with Ignatieff.
History shows that negative ads work. They’ve got to be well done though. Don’t try using an ad laughing at Jean Chrétien’s facial deformity, because that kind of mean ad will backfire every time.
The Conservatives learned that lesson the hard way in the 1993 campaign.
But a negative attack ad which depicts Ignatieff as some sort of foreigner who is “ just visiting” Canada and is only in politics for himself is exactly the kind of nasty little piece of television that works wonders on the electorate.
U.S. Republicans have been portraying President Barack Obama as a Muslim Kenyan who is “just visiting” the United States.
There are people who believe that sort of thing. Some will even ask to see a birth certificate. Surprisingly, so far the Conservatives haven’t asked to see Ignatieff’s “Russian” birth certificate.
The Harper attack ads were used to counter the image of Ignatieff as an accomplished Harvard professor (how many Harper cabinet ministers have taught at Harvard, attended Harvard, or even know where it is?)
The Conservative ads cancel out the image of Ignatieff as an accomplished author of 17 political books read around the world, and make us forget that Harper is still working on his first book, a tome about hockey he promised us 10 years ago.
It was the Conservatives’ negative attack ads that destroyed Stéphane Dion before the 2008 campaign had even begun.
Nothing destroys as effectively as ridicule.
Remember the ad with the Puffin bird that flew over Dion and “pooped” on him. Everybody laughed.
Is there anything more demeaning than having birds poop on you? That’s what people remember.
It worked. That is the enduring image we have of Dion. What about an image of Dion as an erudite university professor respected by environmentalists and political scientists around the world? Huh!
The best attack ads are those that unwittingly politicians set up against themselves.
Remember how Stockwell Day’s leadership career ended the day he arrived for a lakeside news conference dressed in a wet suit riding on a water-ski. Nobody remembers what he had to say, except there was a huge fan-tail trailing behind him when he sped off afterwards.
Have the Liberals even thought of digging up some of the things that Harper said while he worked at Imperial Oil in Calgary?
Ignatieff says he wouldn’t want to get down and dirty like that. He prefers the high road in politics.
That’s what Dion used to say.
Say, where is Dion these days?