Academic Arthur Dobrin once remarked, “There is always a way to be honest without being brutal.” Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative Party seemed to have mixed up the quote altogether, and recently released a series of attack ads that are definitely brutal, and not entirely honest.
For instance, one ad, complete with all the grainy videos, red backgrounds, and spooky voiceovers such attack ads tend toward, states that Michael Ignatieff will attempt to form a coalition government. This, by the way, after Ignatieff has repeatedly said he is not interested in a coalition. But that’s not all; the Tories have just started to scare you into voting Conservative.
A second ad scolds Ignatieff for effectively saying that he will not rule out using tax policy if he were in a position to solve Canada’s deficit problem. The tax in question was the GST – a consumption tax – that, if increased, would raise additional money from those who can afford to spend. The very notion of middle and high-income Canadians spending a few cents more on a toaster so we can eliminate a deficit is outlandish, downright Bolshevik, I say. Thank goodness the Conservatives are around to remind me, using black text and frightening music, that taxes are just another manifestation of the devil.
Perhaps the most laughable of Stephen Harper’s new attack ads is the one that tries – and fails – to make Ignatieff look like a villain for saying he wished Canada was a little better. Because, you know, I wish that too. Don’t we all wish Canada were a little better? Is that not the very basis of citizenship, politics, and policy? Why is Stephen Harper our prime minister if not to make Canada, in his eyes, better? It’s simply stupid to suggest that a party leader would be sitting in the House of Commons to make Canada worse off – Gilles Duceppe aside.
Speaking of those separatists, the Conservatives created one ad that focused on the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party. The advertisement brought out the big guns, calling Jack Layton “ambitious” – the horror – and even blasting the left-leaning party for wanting to work with the other leaders to present a progressive alternative to Stephen Harper’s right-wing government. The ad reeks of irony, in that it accuses Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe of being deceitful and blind to the needs of Canadians – this coming from a prime minister who runs to the Governor General and begs for prorogation every time he screws up.
With ads such as these and rumors that some parties have already booked campaign planes, it appears to be likely that an election will occur after the introduction of the next federal budget. The Conservatives are dripping in money from their rich corporate backers and can afford to throw mud. However – and it is all too common with conservative parties everywhere – they never aim to raise the level of debate or talk about real issues facing Canadians. I, for instance, am no fan of Michael Ignatieff. I find him condescending, cold, pretentious, and out of touch. I prescribe to the idiom that Liberals are Tories too, and if I were Mercutio I would no doubt curse a plague on both their houses. But even I think these attacks against Ignatieff and the other leaders are unfair – they’re meant to be brutal, with little attention paid to honesty.
Kent E. Peterson