Attack Ad: Yes or No?

Just for the record progressive voters really don’t care where Jason Kenney lived when he served in Harper’s government or whether he visited Alberta often enough or whether he’s using Alberta as a stepping stone in his quest for the Prime Minister’s office.

What progressives care about is Kenney’s track record in Ottawa and in Alberta.

Why is Ms Soapbox telling you this?

Because for a minute there she was worried that Alberta’s NDP might succumb to the lure of attack ads in the runup to the 2019 election.  It’s understandable that they’d consider it given who they’re up against.  Jason Kenney and the UCP have perfected the art of spinning a populist narrative loosely tethered to the facts.

Nevertheless, it would be a terrible mistake for Rachel Notley and the NDP to adopt a negative campaign strategy because progressive voters will not support a party that resorts to nasty attack ads complete with ugly photos, out of context quotes and ominous voice overs.  They expect this from the UCP, but not from the NDP who they hold to a higher standard.

This puts the NDP in a tricky position.  They need to walk a fine line between holding Kenney accountable for every blatant falsehood (also known as a lie) and misrepresentation he makes without crossing the line into vicious attack ads.

Attack Ads

Attack ads have been around for a long time in Canadian politics.  Pierre Elliot Trudeau attacked Joe Clark’s bumbling appearance and lack of experience, Kim Campbell attacked the way Jean Chretien talked in the “face ad” and Harper attacked Justin Trudeau’s experience and judgment win the “strip for charity” and “nice hair” ads.


The Kenney Playbook Ad

Which brings us to the NDP’s Kenney’s Playbook ad.  It’s a 36 second cartoon set in a locker room where the coach tells Kenney he’ll win if he keeps quiet about paying for the $700 million tax giveaway to the rich by cutting healthcare and education and about his position on a woman’s right to choose.  The UCP characterized the ad as a heinous slur and an act of desperation, however everything in the ad said about Kenney was accurate.

Kenney says he’ll bring back the 10% flat tax, this creates a $700 million shortfall in revenue that can only be made up through cuts to public services.  Kenney’s anti-abortion stance has been crystal clear since his university days when he declared himself to be an anti-abortion activist.

The Kenney Playbook ad is not an attack ad, it’s an ad holding Kenney accountable in a humourous way.

However, there is one thing the ad got wrong, not about Kenney but about Albertans.  It said Kenney was new here and created the impression Albertans don’t know him.

This is incorrect.

Albertans know Kenney based on his track record as a politician with the federal and political governments.  They know:

  • He’s hypocritical. He is attacking the extension of “unfair equalization rules” which were designed by his own Conservative government and which he supported as a federal MP.
  • He lacks compassion. He cut health benefits to refugees and detained children of asylum seekers behind razor-wire fences, guards, surveillance cameras and rooms with barred windows.
  • He’s critical of experts who disagree with him, attacking them as “academic elites”.   Kenney says Alberta’s economy suffered from the implementation of the carbon tax, but the economist Andrew Leach says since Alberta expanded carbon pricing it’s had the fastest growing economy in Canada (Leach also said Kenney “made stuff up about the regressive impacts [of carbon pricing] on low income Albertans” when Kenney testified at the federal Finance committee).
  • He doesn’t care about social issues, characterizing policies like $25/day daycare and a $15/hour minimum wage as fiscal extravagance.
  • He’s inconsistent. He said he’s tough on crime but refused to vote in favour of more funding for rural policing.
  • He opposes a woman’s right to choose and gay-straight alliances in schools, treating them as snowflake social policies that violate…what…God’s will?
  • He’s dishonest, suggesting his top priority is to balance the budget without admitting he voted for six deficit budgets between 2008 and 2013 when he was a federal MP.

The NDP don’t need to resort to attack ads.  They can create a balanced ad campaign with ads that hold Kenney to account and ads setting out the NDP’s achievements and forward-looking vision.  If they include some humourous ads like Notley dancing at Pride while Kenney promises to end the “War on Fun” (?) their ad campaign will be head and shoulders above anything the UCP will come up with.

And the progressives will reward them with a second term in office.

This entry was posted in Humour, Politics and Government and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Attack Ad: Yes or No?

  1. James Carter says:

    Actually it’s the kind of ad the proles understand. If done properly every voter except the hardcore followers will understand. If there’s no attack the slime will call me Dips out as weak and the proles, who “think” they know what they’re talking about will follow the loudest group. It’s sad but true. They want to believe they can be in the NRA and they’re being hard done by. The best way is to say, “Fuggem!” Just saying.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • James, a lot of people would agree with you. Here’s my concern with attack ads–they have no impact on Kenney’s hard core base and likely no impact on the NDP’s hard core base either. The greatest risk is with the swing voters, particularly the young, who are sick and tired of politicians who go negative. Both the UCP and the NDP need the swing voters to win. If the NDP loses a chunk of the swing vote to the Alberta Party or the Liberals they’ll lose the election.

  2. Anita says:

    I agree Susan. I do not like attack ads and think less about any party that uses them. Each party should campaign on what they have done (if they have been in power) and what they plan to do if elected.

  3. Munroe Scott says:

    Well said Susan. I believe that in Canada humour combined with truth is a powerful and acceptable weapon.

    • Anita, I agree with you in principle. What troubles me is that conservatives have no problem electing politicians like Trump, Ford and Kenney who campaign on zero policies and zero vision, with them it’s nothing but populist rhetoric. Kenney is making a meal out of the narrative that Alberta is Cinderella and Ottawa and Quebec are the wicked step sisters. So I’d urge the NDP to run two campaigns, one outlining their record and their vision and the other holding Kenney to account in the hardest terms possible without actually sliding into hard core attack ads that turn people off.

    • Indeed Munroe. Perhaps you’d agree to lend Newshawk to the NDP for the duration…? 🙂

  4. J.E. Molnar says:

    Welcome back Ms Soapbox.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly and would expect nothing less than fair play by the NDP in the next election cycle. However, the UCP and their beholden and indebted PAC followers may not be so charitable. If you look at the past year’s UCP and friends’ misinformation campaigns on Tweeter and Facebook you get the idea that they will not be cordial players in the political sandbox this time around. Jason Kenney has a long, storied history of campaign sleaze, subterfuge and shenanigans. Just look at Jason Kenney’s recent PC leadership campaign where he contemptuously flouted the rules and was fined $5,000 by organizers — not to mention disgraceful conduct by his minions that led to two female leadership candidates dropping out of the race completely.

    Thankfully Alberta has people like you, David Climenhaga and Dave Cournoyer to keep progressives abreast of developments and hold the UCP’s feet to the political fire. If there are others spreading the word, please advise.

    • Thanks J.E. I missed you guys (“guys” is a generic term 🙂 )
      To address your comment, as you correctly point out Kenney’s “history of campaign sleaze, subterfuge and shenanigans” is long indeed. He and the UCP generate so much garbage it’s tough to keep up and we run the risk of becoming weary and tuning out just like the rest of the world in the face of the constant chaos emanating from Trump’s office, I’m waiting to see whether the Kenney crowd will pick up the “let’s be civil” argument as our political race heats up. (The fact that anyone would apologize for not being “civil” in their reaction to Sarah Huckabee Sanders being refused service by the Red Hen restaurant boggles the mind.) So while I hope the NDP doesn’t sink to attack ads, I fully support the NDP going hard after Kenney’s acts of “sleaze and subterfuge” because he must be held accountable for such behavior.
      PS Thank you for including me in the two Daves club. They bring valuable insights and information to the political discussion.

  5. Katie Pearlman says:

    Very well put! I had this same conversation with a cousin this weekend. It is imperative to the survival of the NDP here that they do not fall into the easy out ‘negative ad’ syndrome. What the Alberta NDP has accomplished with what they were handed when they came to power, is nothing short of a miracle. Public Sector jobs kept – check, moving towards a more sustainable future – check, mandatory minimum wage – check ( not a proper living wage though!), diversification of economy- check, and on and on. The NDP should run on this record. It’s positive. Attack ads are lazy and it’s negative energy. Boo!

    • Well said Katie. Approximately 25% of the people who commented on this post on Twitter thought it was time for the progressives to “stop clutching their pearls” and want the NDP to meet every low blow from the UCP with a low blow of their own. They argue the UCP has made the political environment so toxic that attack ads are necessary for survival. But as I said above it’s my impression that we expect better of the NDP and will turn on them if they start running ugly attack ads. That’s not to say the NDP shouldn’t hold Kenney and the UCP to account. If the NDP wants to play hardball on Kenney’s lies and misrepresentations, I say go for it!

  6. David says:

    I didn’t see the playbook ad as an attack ad, in part because there was too much humour in it for that. I suspect the thing that might have got under Kenney’s skin the most was the portrayal of him as a dim witted tool of the conservative elite who have to explain strategy to him. Kenney is far to clever for that and he knows exactly what he is doing, although perhaps that was a message the ad was trying to get across in a very subversive way.

    I suspect Kenney will try the Ford approach in the upcoming Alberta election – to have no policy or as little as possible. It is hard to attack or punch air. However, unlike Ford the risk for Kenney is he a career politician so he has made many, many comments on the record for 20 or more years about many, many issues. There is truly a gold mine there, so we do not need to resort to attacking him for “just visiting Alberta”, as fun and perhaps as true as that may be. His initial big blue truck tour across Alberta was a way to try offset the impression of him as an Ottawa career politician and it was somewhat successful in that regard. However it is also very hard for a career politician to run a populist campaign. For instance, Kenney is currently railing against the current Federal equalization program, which is the same one he supported as a member of the Federal Harper Conservative government. While that fact might not get much coverage in the mainstream Alberta media that still seems somewhat sympathetic to Kenney, if I were a political strategist I would not let that important fact be ignored or dismissed, even if some of Kenney’s friends in the mainstream media really don’t want to bring it up.

    • David, I think you’re right, the Playbook ad struck too close to home which is why Kenney didn’t say anything to contradict its content. In the absence of policy or vision reasonable people should examine Kenney’s record to determine whether he’s fit to be premier. Sadly, many of the “reasonable people” I know (predominantly lawyers) support Kenney’s fiscal conservatism and turn a blind eye to his social conservatism.They are rich enough to benefit from Kenney’s tax cuts and can afford to sign up for the Cleveland Clinic and send their kids to private school. The majority of Kenney’s supporters don’t belong to the rich elite but they haven’t figured it out yet. Pity.

  7. GoinFawr says:

    I don’t think it was much of an attack ad, as it missed so many of Kenney’s ironic inconsistencies, but I do think it would be a good idea to have a video highlighting the NDP’s successes alongside it.

    • I agree with you GoinFawr. It wasn’t a personal attack, it focused on things Kenney has said in his effort to position himself as the savior of the conservative movement in Canada. Kenney has his work cut out for him there, Andrew Scheer is hopeless but Scott Moe or Doug Ford will be tough competition.

  8. Dwayne says:

    Susan: I don’t see negativity, other than from the UCP. They have no tangible platform, constantly attack the NDP or the federal Liberals, have lost MLAs, have MLAs who say inappropriate things, have a party debt and have a lust for power. What good is this? Hope you had a great time in France.

    • Dwayne, we had a wonderful time in France! We met some wonderful people, ate the most incredible food and witnessed a Parisian waiter tell his American customers that yes, he’d visited the US and no, Las Vegas wasn’t the greatest place ever. I guess when you’ve seen the real Eiffel Tower the ersatz version in Vegas doesn’t hold much appeal.

      Re: negativity, it just keeps rolling in. First we hear the UCP tried to sabotage Angela Pitt’s nomination then Leela Aheer applied for a restraining order to protect herself from another nominee who wants to represent the riding and still Jason Kenney says nothing. I guess that’s to be expected from the party that boycotted Bill 9.

  9. Brian Pansky says:

    I guess some critics of the ad don’t want these facts to be widely known either…

  10. jerrymacgp says:

    There are attack ads, and then there are attack ads. Attack a politician’s record, including past statements that are on the record: perfectly legitimate. As hominem personal attacks that have nothing to do with policy or how a politician would govern if elected: nope. The worst example of the latter was probably the “Chretien’s facial droop” ad, which attacked him for a neurological injury and was well below the belt. The anti-Ignatieff “he didn’t come back for you” ads were also offside, and we don’t need to see the ANDP pulling the same stunt against Jason Kenney.

    Ads and blog posts attacking Kenney for his marital status are also offside—except perhaps if/when he starts bloviating on so-called “family values” issues, when the fact he doesn’t have a partner or children becomes somewhat relevant. If you don’t play the game, don’t purport to make the rules. But even then, one would have to tread carefully. As for attacking him for his physical attributes, as was common before his recent apparent weight loss, that’s just as wrong and offensive as were the many attacks against Health Minister Sarah Hoffman when she was first sworn in in 2015. The issue here is “weight bias”, and it is just as offensive and hurtful as racism, sexism or homophobia.

  11. Harce says:

    Once Kenney is elected we will get the deep cuts we need and our lives will be better for it, with balanced budgets and tax cuts to come!

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