Sunday, September 28, 2008

NDP Steps Up Its Attacks on Harper

As the 2008 federal election campaign passes halftime, the NDP has stepped up its attacks on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his governing Conservative party.

Over the last few days, the NDP has continued to release negative ads addressing health care and the environment, trying to counter-brand Harper as negligent on each.

In the first spot, the NDP accuses Harper of complacency on health care, repeating their prior claim that five million Canadians don't have a family doctor.

The ad features a cut-out image of Harper pointing, while a legion of silhouetted Canadians waits in a long and winding line to see a single doctor.

It also suggests that Harper's policies have deprived "millions" of Canadians of access to medication and early detection techniques.

The ad finishes its point with another cut-out image of Harper with syringes, medical thermometers and stethoscopes raining down the screen -- seeming to symbolize health care going "down the drain" under Harper's leadership.

Naturally, the ad doesn't address the fact that health care remains largely an area of provincial jurisdiction, and that none of the provinces recently governed by his country have medication plans in place -- in an area of their jurisdiction.

As with the previous NDP ads, the spot makes an abrupt shift toward the end, as the NDP strategists try to shift it into a positive ad. Jack Layton again appears against an orange background, promising a plan to train more doctors and nurses, as well as a program to make medication more affordable.

The second ad begins with a cut out of a bemused-looking Stephen Harper cast against a time-lapsed photo of the Canadian rockies. As the ad accuses the Conservatives of "giving oil companies an unlimited license to pollute", the rockies turn black and spouting oil derricks appear on the landscape.

Oil barrels are shown tipped on their side, leaking oil into lakes as pipelines stretch out from CO2-spewing factories stretched out across the horizon (Which is an odd image coming from a party that claims it's intent on protecting Ontarian manufacturing jobs).

The ad also claims Canada has a "worse environmental record than George Bush" (something that is actually unequivocally untrue).

The ad also claims that Harper has "no plan to do anything about it" despite having put forth a Climate Change policy that is actually more in line with the demands being made by most of the environmental lobby than his competitors (including the NDP).

Not to mention that oil companies don't even write themselves an "unlimited license to pollute" -- although the ads are clearly meant to play for Eastern and Central Canadians who have never so much as seen a Western Canadian oil well, and never seen the myriad of measures typically in place to minimize environmental impact.

In short, these particular ads are designed to play to the ignorance of the Eastern and Central Canadian voter.

An intriguing theme has emerged in NDP ads in the portrayal of the two leaders. Whenever Stephen Harper appears, it's as a cut out image, superimposed against nightmarish images slapped on a Tory blue background. When Jack Layton appears, its Layton himself, "in the flesh", as it were.

It's an intriguing way of portraying a time-old theme in political advertising: parties portraying themselves as lively and energetic, and their opponents as lifeless and static.

Again, the ads rely heavily on music composed of unsettling drum beats and remain reminiscent of 2006's batch of Liberal attack ads.

In focusing their ads almost entirely on Harper, the NDP seems to understand how they'll achieve success in this election -- not by fighting Stephen Harper and the Conservatives for the anti-Liberal vote, but rather by fighting Stephane Dion and the Liberals for the anti-Conservative vote.

Interestingly, by focusing their attack on Harper and the Conservatives, the NDP may well grow their vote total -- again -- at the expense of the Liberal party.

At least, that seems to be what they're trying to do. One could think of it as using Stephen Harper as a voodoo doll to hurt Stephane Dion. And, as recent polls suggest, it just might be working.

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