Saturday, September 13, 2008

Free Trade Issues Enter the Counter-Branding Fray

In a new ad released yesterday, the Conservative party took advantage of a trade-related issue brought up by Stephane Dion.

Dion has suggested that the allgedly weak environmental policies of the Conservative government would imperil Canadian trade, as other countries impose punitive tariffs on countries judged to have taken insufficient action fighitng climate change.

"Other countries are considering slapping carbon tariffs on those who don't take action on climate change. As hard as it is to believe, for now, Canada is one of those countries," Dion recently said.

Dion's Green Shift plan promises to impose such "carbon tariffs" on other countries judged to be dragging their feet on climate change.

The ad itself seems to have been put together rather hastily. It features a different narrator than previous Conservative ads, and relies almost overwhelmingly on the analysis of a single expert -- Carlton University's Michael Hart. It features images of numerous Canadian trading partners being stamped with the word "tariff" as it progresses toward its logical conclusion: a map of the United States -- Canada's largest trading partner -- being stamped.

Perhaps it's inevitable that trade-related issues (in particular, Free Trade-related issues) were going to come up in the election campaign. In August, David Orchard, Canada's leading anti-free trader finally secured his opportunity to run for the Liberal party.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Liberal party offered up some kind of Free Trade-related policy -- one that would inevitably require the abrogation of NAFTA -- in order to keep their newest star candidate in the fold.

Not so surprisingly, Dion's trade-related musings closely resemble musings by Barack Obama that he would try to renegotiate NAFTA in order to add environmental agreements. Considering Dion's poor performance on fighting climate change during his last go around, questions over whether or not Dion is, like Obama, merely bluffing remain lefitimate.

As such, the Conservative counter-branding effort in this case ironically tries to drive Dion closer to potentially unpopular policies of the man he would likely most like to emulate, even if Jack Layton is outdoing him on that particular front right now.

This subtext of the ad -- and reminders that many key details about Dion's Green Shift plan have been postponed in Campbellian fashion until after the election -- seem to be meant to work together to encourage voters to question Dion's genuinity and ponder the economic consequences of such a move.

The ad also represents a notable shift in the overall Conservative campaign -- moving away from tactics of ridicule and toward serious debate.

This particular ad is a bold move for the Conservative party. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect it has on the campaign.

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