Canadians are used to conservative party political attack ads, even when there isn’t an imminent election. Since 2007, the norm has been for the ad to run and the Liberal Party not to respond. The Liberals lost the last two elections. Apparently, Canada’s new Opposition Party, the ultra-left NDP, has had enough.
Some history: The old ads from the party of the Canadian Prime Minster, Stephen Harper, suggested that the Liberal Leader of the Opposition was “not a leader”; the Liberals sat on their hands, and Leader Stephane Dion was subsequently trounced in the next election. The Liberals then got a new Leader, Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor and frequent expat. Harper painted Ignatieff as a crass opportunist who “didn’t come back [to Canada] for you.” Ignatieff also chose not to respond and promptly led his party to the biggest defeat in Liberal history.
Canada got a new Opposition Party with the NDP. Harper started attack ads on the new Leader of the NDP, admonishing the Party with the innuendo, “This is the best you can do?” This time, the NDP shot back with an ad accusing Harper of attacking the most vulnerable Canadians during the recession. Even without an election in the offing, the ads say that current policies aren’t working and that Canadians will have to pay the price. The war is on–but who will win?
The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the NDP. While necessary to respond to the attack ads, the NDP policy wonks obviously won the day by attacking policies, not personalities.
The PR Takeaway: Politics is about popularity, rarely policy. The Prime Minister’s attack ads are directed at the subject’s image and reputation; these attributes take years to build, but only 30 seconds to undermine. The NDP took the moral high ground by talking about policies, which Canadians find tough but pragmatic in a recession. Leading up to the next election, the Prime Minister can backtrack, soften, or amend these policies to diffuse the NDP’s salvos. More likely than not, the NDP will find it harder to fight the PM’s more personal attack campaign. Hitting back with policy is a hard sell.
Is the NDP attack tactic effective, or should they have stayed out of the muck altogether? What’s your PR Verdict?