Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Liberal Ad Strikes Back at Conservatives

In only their second English-language ad released during this election campaign, the Liberal party has finally deployed its first English-language counter-branding spot against Stephen Harper.

For some political parties, a week would be a long time to wait. For the cash-strapped Liberal party, maybe not so much.

That being said, the ad begins by pushing Harper's image closer to that of an unpopular American president. In a marginally creative shift, however, that president isn't George W Bush, although it is a Republican.

Instead, it's Ronald Regan, as the spot substitutes Harper's name into the "Reganomics" label so often used to describe Regan's trickle-down economic policies.

The ad first questions Harper's commitment to environmental policy. Obviously, the ad doesn't mention that Liberal MP Ralph Goodale recently admitted that, by the criteria that most environmental groups allegedly judge environmental policy, the Tory Green Plan is superior to the Liberal Green Shift.

The spot accuses the Conservatives of writing a "blank cheque" to oil companies to pollute and gouge Canadians at the gas pumps. Conservative Environment Minister John Baird has already struck back for the Tories on this issue, pointing out that the Green Shift plan would allow oilsand developers to continue polluting so long as they're willing to pay carbon taxes.

The spot also points out some of Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's comments about Ontario last year, wherein he questioned whether or not the province needed to cut corporate taxes in order to make investment in the province more viable.

The ad also notes the number of programs -- 66 in total according to the ad -- and accuses Harper of "divide and conquer politics".

This overlooks the fact that it's traditionally been the Liberals who have indulged themselves in "divide and conquer politics", pandering to Quebec and Ontario while largely ignoring the rest of the country. Only after the rise of the Bloc Quebecois have the Liberals been required to win seats across the country in order to form governments.

It's intriguing to see the Liberals, in the course of their counter-branding effort, trying to brand the Conservatives with a fault that has traditionally been their own.

Whether or not it works will be another story entirely.

The ad concludes by welcoming Canadians to "turn the page" with the Liberal Green Shift plan. The drab black-and-white images played during the "Harpernomics" portion of the ad is then substituted for colour images of promised environmentally-friendly prosperity under the Green Shift.

However, with the release of this ad -- their second ad promoting their vaunted Green Shift plan -- the Liberals are at risk of becoming a single-issue party.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have released ads concerning immigration, foreign policy, trade policy, and child care. While none of these ads tell the viewer very much about the related Conservative policies, they make the Conservative platform seem a good deal more comprehensive than the Liberal alternative.

Meanwhile, the ad also has a pivotal weakness: it's certain to remind voters who don't like Harper why they dislike him, but they're unlikely to convince many undecided voters against him, nor do they make any real specific appeal for NDP or Green party voters to switch to the Liberals.

At least one thing can be said for certain: with their first anti-Harper ad on the air in English Canada, the Liberal campaign's gloves have effectively come off.

The second round of this election has officially begun.

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