“A politician should have three hats. One for throwing into the ring, one for talking through, and one for pulling rabbits out of if elected.”
— Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), Pulitzer Prize-winning author
You know it’s getting desperate on the campaign trail when the leaders start spending more time telling people why they shouldn’t vote for the other guy and less time on why we should vote for them.
Both Stephen Harper’s and Michael Ignatieff’s latest attack ads do just that, though both leaders are being less overtly negative on the hustings.
But the messages scripted for the commercials are clearly meant to evoke dread and fear, each warning of the perils lying in wait for the country should their party lose.
The Liberals’ latest ad, “High Stakes,” shows a sinister-looking, black and white photo of Harper in triplicate, overlaid with a stark white and yellow headline: “Harper: Demanding more time in power.”
The moody piano music is eerie, like something from “Night Gallery,” or the original “Halloween” movie.
The woman’s voice is insistent: “Stephen Harper is demanding more time in power. More tax cuts for big banks and oil companies. Less protection for the environment. Massive cuts to health care. Less gun control. Billions on fighter jets. Billions more wasted. An economy that leaves you behind. Attacking anyone who stands in his way. The stakes are too high. Vote Liberal.”
The 30-second spot — as long as we all acknowledge, of course, that nothing in politics is that simplistic or clear-cut — is effective in an unsophisticated kind of way, with its loaded images of oiled birds, a smokestack belching pollution, a cache of guns and a vulnerable patient in a hospital bed under an IV drip. Harper makes three brief appearances in photographs.
Next, Google “Conservative Party of Canada” and click on the link for “Our TV ads.”
You’ll get a wicked sense of déja vu — the page is labelled 2008 and Harper’s target in the attack ads is Stephane Dion.
Navigate your way back to the Conservatives’ home page, though, and you’ll eventually find the most recent ad, circa last week, which features all Iggy, all the time, mostly in black and white images overlaid with quotes from Ignatieff, some of them from as far back as 2004.
The 31-second spot is titled “American Democrat” and focuses mostly on the more than three decades Ignatieff spent working as a faculty member and researcher in the United States and the U.K. An ominous-sounding drum provides the backbeat.
“Michael Ignatieff has a problem with the truth,” says the smugly outraged guy reading the script. “He told us he never voted in a U.S. election, but while away, he told the British he was an American, a Democrat, and that he would vote in the upcoming U.S. election. He said one thing while abroad and another back in Canada. How do we know which Michael Ignatieff to believe?”
And then there’s a suspiciously edited clip of Ignatieff himself from June 2004 (when he lived in the U.S.), saying, “You have to decide what kind of America you want. It’s your country, just as much as it is mine.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think someone who spent years and years in another country would be remiss if they didn’t vote there, or think of it as home. Would we want someone running for prime minister who hadn’t bothered to vote when given the chance?
If that’s the worst that Harper’s team can come up with, they need to get a better advertising agency: Boo! Iggy is spooky! He once lived and worked in the United States and voted in an election! How scandalous! What a traitor!
At least the Liberals’ ads target the Conservatives’ platform, not just Harper himself.
As of this writing, Harper was trying to ramp things up even further, claiming that only a majority government for the Conservatives can protect this great, shining country from the spectre of Quebec sovereignty.
Imagine if all voters had to go by was attack ads or carefully choreographed campaign stops. Who would you support?
Look, Jack Layton is eating maple syrup pie — what a patriot! And he’s playing an accordion in a Newfoundland music shop.
But wait, Stephen Harper is pouring a pint at a Halifax pub. Listen! Now he’s singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” with that 11-year-old singing sensation from Winnipeg — that’s cool, right?
But hang on — Michael Ignatieff is playing pool like a shark and sinking all kinds of shots at a seniors home! Now he’s drinking beer and wearing a hockey jersey. Now he’s flipping caribou burgers on a barbecue!
Seriously, how dumb do they think we all are?
Before we cast our ballots on May 2, we have to see past the silly set-ups and hokey photo-ops and think about our priorities.
Take the time to read party platforms. Quiz local candidates about the issues that matter to you. Check out CBC’s online Vote Compass — it’s not a perfect tool, but it can help you identify your political leanings if you’re unsure.
And then vote with your eyes wide open. To do otherwise would be a waste.
Because if the Liberals got one thing right in their ads, it’s that, this time, the stakes are incredibly high.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.