Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Just Another Reason Why Unions Should Leave Political Campaigns to the Pros

With a provincial election just around the corner, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees union is gearing up to take a serious run at Liberal BC Premier Gordon Campbell.

Their message for BCers is actually a simple one: Gordon Campbell may possibly hate you.

In an ad recently uploaded to YouTube, COPE seems to poke fun at some of bombastic messages of amateur political ads. An obnoxiously-loud voice asks "did you know", then lists off a litany of imaginary Campbell offenses -- trying to "kill your grandma", "is fighting a secret war against wild salmon and river otters", and "eats children" while a more moderate and evidently skeptical voice questions the assertions, although noting that Campbell has closed down hospitals, approved hydro-electric development and ignored child poverty.

A myriad of poorly-photoshopped images flash by on the screen, including one of Campell firing a gun off into the air while flames engulf fish and otters.

Yet at the end of the ad, the one assertion that seems reasonable is that "Gordon Campbell hates you".

"Hmmmm," the narrator's seemingly-more moderate foil muses. "That actually seems reasonable, based on everything he's done so far."

"Maybe everyone should be asking 'does Gordon Campbell hate you?'" he concludes.

While it clearly has an amusing edge to it, the ad's conclusion clearly falls well short of its evident goal of parodying childish political rhetoric. When the ad concludes that all BCers should wonder if Campbell hates them, the ad's attempt to counter-brand Gordon Campbell as antithetical to the ads' evident targets values instead embraces that childish rhetoric.

The ad is reminiscent of the Albertans for change ads -- which were bankrolled by Alberta unions -- in which some "ordinary Albertans" were shown professing distrust for Premier Ed Stelmach with smiles on their faces.

The ads were a flop, as Stelmach was reelected with a dominant majority government.

COPE's ironically petulant anti-Campbell ad could turn out having the same effect. This, along with CUPE's recent anti-Israel debacles and then-CAW President Buzz Hargrove's 2006 self-humiliation, is just another reason why labour unions should leave political campaigning to those who know how to do it.

Hilarious addendum - It's amazing what can turn up in the "related videos" section:


  1. Whether it's Stephen Harper bullying St├ęphane Dion, the Liberals scaremongering the Conservatives, or the unions scaremongering their general opposition whether Liberal or Conservative, these attack ads all have the same effect of cheapening our political discourse and turning the average viewer off politics, without actually having anything positive to say.

    You have to wonder if attack ads even work in Canada. They certainly didn't work in Alberta, and despite Harper pummelling away at Dion for two years, Dion remained stubbornly within catching distance of Harper until his own mistakes caused the Liberal campaign to fall apart. They certainly didn't translate into more votes for Harper-remember, he lost votes when you compare the actual numeric totals of the 2006 and 2008 elections.

    You want to know why people are so disgusted and turned off by politics these days? It's because of crap like this. Whether it's Warren Kinsella's organized smear campaigns, or Harper throwing mud at Dion while saying nothing of actual substance, this is the reason our voting turnouts are at such record lows.

    Meanwhile, south of the border Barack Obama was elected largely on how he emphasized the positive, which electrified his campaign and rallied record numbers of supporters. The dignified, classy speeches of both Obama and McCain on election night gave Americans something to look forward to, and maybe a reason to get out and vote again.

    Meanwhile, north of the border the Conservatives are planning to run attack ads against Michael Ignatieff, even as they constantly threatened to make every bill a confidence motion, forcing Dion to either support it and then leave him open to accusations of not doing his job as Opposition leader, or of bringing down the government and giving Canadians an election they don't want.

    All of a sudden, I have a splitting headache.

  2. Sadly, both attack ads and negative ads work.

    Politicians would have stopped a long time ago if they didn't.

  3. Sadly, both attack ads and negative ads work.

    Politicians would have stopped a long time ago if they didn't.

    Most of the examples we've cited don't seem to have worked, however, aside from Kinsella's attacks. Again, Harper could never really shake Dion despite his lengthy Not a Leader blitz, while the Stelmach attack ads went over with Albertans like a lead balloon. The Liberals' fear-based ads in 2006 obviously didn't work either.

    When, then, have attack ads worked the way politicians intended?

  4. Many Canadians still claim to be afraid of a Harper government, despite the fact that Harper's government has proven to be anything but what the Liberal attack ads insisted it would be.

    I don't recall martial law being declared over Canadian cities, for example.

  5. I actually agree with you. Let's take unions (who's membership likely does not 100% support the ads their name is behind) and business out of politics. No more donations, no more ads. Democracy is (supposed to be) about the people.

  6. I don't think we need to go quite that far.

    Unions should certainly be able to support candidates they feel would best support their interests -- although I think there should be a high degree of consensus on that among union membership, especially when it relates to especially controversial matters, such as anything regarding Israel.

    What I would suggest is that labour unions need to commit to either campaigning right, or not do it at all.


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