The Conservative party is blanketing the country with a fresh round of television ads attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau – but unlike past campaigns, it hasn’t posted the spots online nor informed its supporters about the big ad buy.
Vigilant politics watchers began posting ad sightings on Twitter on Monday, and by week’s end it was evident that three different Trudeau ads are being aired on everything from morning news shows to prime time network TV and sports channels.
Sharply worded spots playing off Trudeau comments on deficits, terrorism and marijuana legalization have been reported airing during popular fare such as The Bachelor finale, Grey’s Anatomy, Jeopardy, Corner Gas, Modern Family, The Goldbergs and Hell’s Kitchen.
All the ads feature Trudeau peeling off his shirt, a video clip from a 2011 charity fundraiser for the Canadian Liver Foundation.
Cory Hann, a spokesman for the Conservative party, would not agree to an interview Friday but said in an e-mail that “Canadians should know where a man who wants to be prime minister stands on important questions like how to balance the budget, create jobs, manage the economy and keep communities and families strong.”
The governing party launched a barrage of television ads against Trudeau last spring immediately after he was elected Liberal party leader and have had a long-running series of Trudeau-focused radio ads airing across the country.
An anti-Trudeau ad unveiled in April 2013
Unlike previous high-profile Conservative ad campaigns, the party has not posted the latest spots online where they can be shared, reviewed and critiqued.
Hann would only say the ads are for television only. He wouldn’t comment on the scope and duration of the current ad buy.
Alex Marland, a professor at Memorial University who specializes in political communication, says the Liberals under Trudeau have become adept at using Conservative attacks to stir the Liberal base and raise funds – which may explain why the Tories haven’t provided an online record of the ads.
“Now the Liberals seem to be using these Conservative ads to try to galvanize their own base – ‘My goodness, look at this latest attack on Justin! Why don’t you donate to the Liberal party to help us prevent this from happening again?’” said the academic.
Marland said the tactic of getting media coverage in order to amplify paid advertising campaigns may have reached the point of diminishing returns.
“They’re focused on bypassing the mainstream media and going directly to their target audiences.”
Allan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, also suspects the Conservatives are trying to do an end run around media scrutiny of the campaign.
“You (reporters) get to see the whole campaign and comment on it,” he said. “That part might be making them nervous.”
Middleton notes the Conservatives have been highly successful with negative ad campaigns during non-election periods targeting previous Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
“But the first time they seemed to have got a real push back was on Trudeau. They undoubtedly recognize they’re dealing with a slightly different property here.”
MP Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal deputy leader, said the latest Conservative barrage isn’t surprising.
“They’re obsessed with Mr. Trudeau,” said LeBlanc.
The pricey TV ads targeting Trudeau come as some NDP MPs are noticing a much more low-tech Conservative attack directed their way.
Cheap, single-page leaflets – known as 10-per-centers – are currently arriving in some NDP-held ridings with a photo of an angry-looking NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in the House of Commons under the words “Reckless Spending, Higher Taxes.”
The leaflets ask recipients to respond to a survey about “who’s on the right track for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity?” – a Conservative talking point.
The leaflets are paid for by taxpayers.
Under the Conservative government’s fixed election date law, Canadians are not scheduled to go back to the polls for a general election until October 2015.
“We have fixed election dates and we do not expect nor are we planning for an earlier election,” Jason MacDonald, Harper’s communications director, said Friday in an e-mail.