Conservatives take on Trudeau brand in attack ads

The Conservatives’ ads attacking Justin Trudeau are: Pundits and pollsters alike weren’t the only ones predicting weeks ago that Justin Trudeau was a shoo-in for the Liberal leadership – so too, it would appear, were the Conservatives. The website that’s home to the widely anticipated Conservative campaign against the new Liberal leader was registered March […]


Pundits and pollsters alike weren’t the only ones predicting weeks ago that Justin Trudeau was a shoo-in for the Liberal leadership – so too, it would appear, were the Conservatives.

The website that’s home to the widely anticipated Conservative campaign against the new Liberal leader was registered March 22, three weeks before Sunday’s vote.

By Monday, the site JustinOverHisHead.com included three separate attack ads, links to a related Facebook page, and a Tory fundraising pitch.

The ads began appearing on television with hours of the Sunday night announcement that Trudeau had won the leadership; by mid-day Monday, thousands more people had seen them online.

But just as the online world giveth, it taketh away: as soon as the Conservatives posted the ads casting doubt on Trudeau’s judgment and experience, fact-checkers online were doing something similar to the ads themselves.

The ads show footage taken from a 2011 bachelor-auction fundraiser in which Trudeau is seen dancing on a stage and suggestively removing his shirt, while playful music tinkles in the background.

In one, Trudeau’s resume is highlighted alongside that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper; another takes issue with comments Trudeau has made in the past about Quebec.

The goal of the ads is to weaken Trudeau’s personal brand, said Alex Marland, a political science professor at Memorial University in St, John’s, N.L.

“This comes through in many ways: mention of being born with a famous name, the visuals of a sexy fashion show, the snickering style of the announcer, the use of merry-go-round background music, and the choice of a Tinkerbell-like moving font and sound in the closing moments,” Marland said.

The images used in the ad were traced back to a fundraiser for the Canadian Liver Foundation. Their use prompted immediate objections.

“The video clip was taken from The Huffington Post Canada without our permission or knowledge,” said Brodie Fenlon, the website’s managing director of news. “We are making our concerns known to the Conservative Party of Canada.”

The party did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

“We expected attacks, but we didn’t expect even them to attack (Justin Trudeau) for raising money for cancer research,” Gerald Butts, one of Trudeau’s chief advisers, wrote on Twitter.

The English ad about Quebec uses clips from an interview Trudeau gave to CTV in 1999.

“Quebecers are better than the rest of Canada, because, you know, we’re Quebecers or whatever,” a young Trudeau is shown as saying. The narrator describes the comment as a display of poor judgment.

The full CTV segment, a link to which quickly circulated online, suggests Trudeau was actually talking about his father.

“His philosophy, certainly as he passed it on to us, has always been, you know, Quebecers are better than the rest of Canada, because, you know, we’re Quebecers or whatever,” Trudeau says in the segment.

Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., suggested that if that ad were subject to advertising standards, it would fail because of its misleading nature.

Overall, the ads build on similar efforts by the party in the past to take down other Liberal leaders, most notably Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, Rose said.

“These are negative ads, but negative ads need not be bad,” Rose said.

“If they are directed at making sharp distinctions between policy positions, they might help electors. These do not. They are ad hominem and personal.”

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