May 1, 2013 9:29 pm

Front-page B.C. Liberal election ad an ‘illusion,’ says NDP leader Adrian Dix

An ad taking up the entire front page of the Vancouver edition of 24 Hours calling Liberal Leader Christy Clark the "comeback kid" is being brushed aside by her chief rival.

An ad taking up the entire front page of the Vancouver edition of 24 Hours calling Liberal Leader Christy Clark the "comeback kid" is being brushed aside by her chief rival.

24 Hours

An advertisement taking up the entire front page of the Vancouver edition of 24 Hours calling Liberal Leader Christy Clark the “comeback kid” has left the NDP irritated, a journalism professor appalled and some readers offended.

The ad, a wraparound page that envelopes the real front page of the daily, shows a photo of a triumphant Clark underneath the words “paid advertisement” and it also shows poll figures that indicate Clark is perceived to have sounded most like a premier during the televised leaders debate earlier this week.

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NDP leader Adrian Dix says he will leave others to judge the ad, but says he thinks political parties should not be spending money on “creating illusions” around a story.

The full poll by Ipsos Reid is not referenced in the newspaper ad, but it isn’t as flattering as the ad would suggest.

The online results show of the 677 British Columbians surveyed, more people thought Dix had won the debate than Clark and a wide majority thought Dix had better ideas than Clark.

Clark said the front page ad was for sale and her party bought it, adding the fact that it’s advertising is clearly marked on the page. She said the Liberals, like all other political parties during the May 14 election campaign, are using advertising to get their messages to voters.

“That’s what we are talking to people about everyday and I’m sure the piece talks about too,” she said at a news conference in Penticton where she toured a local modular building construction company. “As you know, there are lots of TV ads, there’s lots of advertising that all the parties are doing and that’s part of the way we all communicate with the pubic, and this is part of it.”

Dix, campaigning in Cariboo on Wednesday, said he would let readers draw their own conclusions from the ads.

But he added: “I think it’s unwise for political parties who should be addressing the issues of our time to try and create the illusion around and spin around the story in that way.”

“The Liberals needed to buy the front page of the newspaper to claim victory, but I depend on the work that’s done by actual journalists on that question,” he said.

After questions were raised about the ad, the Liberals forwarded a Toronto Metro front page that ran during the 2011 federal election. The near-full-page picture shows a smiling Jack Layton with the headline: “On May 2, Vote For A Leader You Can Trust” and below the picture are brief sentences about some of the federal NDP’s campaign pledges.

Readers are notified it’s paid advertising in tiny print on the bottom of the page.

Both 24 Hours and Metro are free publications aimed at commuters.

Josephine Alesna who was selling flowers outside a Canada Line transit station in downtown Vancouver was surprised to learn the wraparound was an advertisement and not a newspaper story.

“It feels like it’s a fraud, not fraud but deceiving the people,” she said after the words “paid advertisement” were pointed out.

Just metres away and sitting on a bench eating her lunch, Leah Reimer said it took her a moment to realize the advertisement wasn’t a newspaper story, too.

“I’m a little offended,” she added, noting the ad made it look like Clark was celebrating prematurely.

Fellow Vancouver resident Laura Reimer who was sitting next to Leah said she thought the premier was sly before the ad was published but now she won’t bother voting for the Liberals.

“I think it’s an indication of what Christy Clark stands for and also 24 Hours,” she added. “Now I both see them in a bit of a different light.”

But Elizabeth Willoughby of Richmond, B.C., said the wraparound looks like an advertisement, although it hasn’t changed the way she’ll vote.

“I guess everything in the newspaper is for manipulating purposes of some description whether it’s a news story that wants us to think a certain way or an advertisement that wants to us to buy a certain product,” said Willoughby.

“This just feels like they’re trying to sell me a product and Christy Clark is that product that they’re selling, but I’m not going to buy because I’m voting NDP.”

Ross Howard, a former reporter who is now a journalism ethics professor at Langara College, suggested 24 Hours made a mistake by running the ad the way it did.

“It’s a classic political ad but 24 Hours made a serious mistake of not more clearly distinguishing that it’s a political ad. They put the words Paid Advertising in the middle of the page . . . but the ad content, the ad placement, even the style of headlines, everything looks like it’s a news story,” Howard said.

“It’s unfortunate because in effect, 24 Hours has sacrificed its credibility, its reliability and it didn’t have to. They could have controlled the way that ad was positioned or revealed.”

A spokesperson for 24 Hours was unavailable for comment.

Dix was in Quesnel visiting a forest seedling nursery to discuss his forestry platform. He said an NDP government would improve and protect the province’s forestry sector by reinstating an inventory of forest resources, investing in research and reforestation, and reducing raw log exports.

Dix stressed the importance of meeting domestic demand first, and keeping jobs in B.C., before exporting abroad.

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be raw log exports, there will,” he said. “There are many regions of our province where our manufacturing capacity is not there right now, and we have to be realistic, but it would also be unrealistic to allow domestic manufacturing to decline because of short-term market conditions.”

Dix then spent Wednesday afternoon in Barkerville, where he was given a tour by the historic site’s costume-clad staff, and spent some time in the gift shop trying on bowler hats and leafing through books.

At the Penticton tour of Britco Structures Ltd., manufacturing plant, Clark kept up her attack on Dix, saying their out-of-control spending will drive away business and increase taxes.

“We have a jobs plan,” she said. “They have an Alberta jobs plan.”

Clark said the NDP’s spending plans, which she pegs at $3 billion, will hurt communities like Penticton because there will not be enough money to fund capital projects like redevelopment plans for Penticton Regional Hospital.

– with files from Keven Drews in Vancouver

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