My National Post column: it's Trudeau who should be attacking, not Harper.
The Liberals and Conservatives should switch ad agencies.
In the past few days, both the Liberals and Conservatives have released ads starring Justin Trudeau. The Conservative ad jeeringly mocked the new Liberal leader as “out of his depth.” The Liberal ad showed a soft-focus Trudeau in a school classroom meltingly promising a “better country.”
Those ads seem completely backwards. It’s Justin Trudeau who needs a hard-hitting attack ad. It’s Stephen Harper who can afford to keep it positive.
The strange thing about the Trudeau ad is that it presupposes that something is seriously wrong with Canada, but never quite gets around to saying what that something is. “We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws with each other, or we can pull together and get to work.” (To work on what? He doesn’t say.) And then, “together we will build a better country.” But better how?
Justin Trudeau is reprising themes from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. However, the Obama campaign took place in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, at the end of the weakest economic expansion since World War II, and while the United States was mired in two frustrating wars.
When candidate Obama pledged, “we can do better,” it was easy to believe him. It was hard to imagine how things could get worse.
By contrast, Canada in 2013 is by almost every measurable indicator the best-functioning and most successful of the advanced economies. The economy is growing, wages are rising, the unemployment rate is half a point lower than in Canada’s most important trading partner. In this environment, a challenger must whack the incumbents hard, then whack ‘em again.
But there’s no whacking by Justin Trudeau. His ad presupposes that Canadians think as he does: that he need only declare himself available to be hoisted into office.
The Conservative ad takes the opposite tack. Instead of a solid defense, it offers a sharp offense. Rather than humanize Stephen Harper’s image, the ad aims to muss up Justin Trudeau’s.
You can understand why the Conservatives feel stampeded. A new Decima poll shows Canadians hold a 57-40 “unfavorable” impression of Stephen Harper as opposed to a 57-30 “favorable” impression of Justin Trudeau.
Yet look closer.