OTTAWA – A week after the federal Conservatives launched their first strike, Justin Trudeau is attempting to change the channel with a set of ads promoting positivity.
Perched on the edge of a desk in the middle of a classroom, the telegenic 41-year-old Liberal leader turns off a television featuring a Conservative attack ad trumpeting his inexperience.
With algebra equations scrawled on a chalkboard behind him, Trudeau tells the audience: “Canadians deserve better. We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws in each other or we can pull together and get to work.”
The message and the setting strikes back at the ads the Conservative party launched last week showing Trudeau stripping off his shirt at a charity fundraiser as a narrator questioned his experience and ability to run the economy given he has been a camp counsellor, rafting instructor and drama teacher.
In responding to the Conservatives, the new Trudeau ad has him stating: “I’m proud to be a teacher.”
Speaking to reporters before heading to Labrador to campaign in the upcoming byelection, Trudeau said he doesn’t know if the ads work, but he know what doesn’t.
“If you pander to Canadians’ worst instincts instead of playing to what is best and hopeful and great about Canada, you actually don’t develop the capacity to actually respond to the real challenges Canadians are facing,” he said.
“Now that Stephen Harper has so divided Canadians and made them cynical it becomes very, very difficult to govern in a responsible, long-term way, and that is something we see every single day.”
If Trudeau’s assessment of public sentiment is correct, turning the other cheek might work, according to one advertising executive.
“From a historical point of view when a party has been in power for a long period of time the positive message actually resonates quite a bit more,” said Gordon McMillan, president and CEO of McMillan, an Ottawa-based advertising agency.
But McMillan said Trudeau’s promise to stay positive shouldn’t stymie his willingness to criticize the Conservatives on policy, even if it could be considered negative.
The Liberals shied away from taking the Conservatives on when it comes to policy in the advertisement this time around, instead choosing to battle on tone.
While the ad does showcase integrity and positivity, Queen’s University marketing professor Tandy Thomas said it has a major flaw.
“What the ad didn’t do is counter the negative information put forward in the Conservative ad,” she said.
“It didn’t talk about Mr. Trudeau’s experiences of being a leader and talk about those credentials that he has that would make him a good prime minister.”
The Conservatives seem committed to continuing the attack, judging by a series of flyers, ready to be mailed.
The flyers the Conservatives created were being gleefully handed out by the Liberal party, who obtained a memo from the Conservative Resource Group promoting the advertisements to MPs .
MPs can choose to send their constituents – on the taxpayer dime – a pamphlet branded with the same sparkles, cursive writing and message as the television attack ads.
“If there’s no rule that says you shouldn’t use taxpayers’ resources to distribute partisan attack ads, then we need to change the rules,” said Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc. “They’re worried about his positive, construction message and do what they do best, which is resort to very negative, nasty partisan attacks.”
Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan defended the flyers saying they fall within parliamentary rules.
“It’s an important obligation for us to communicate with Canadians and questions of the importance of experience and leadership are actually of significance to Canadians,” he said. “So it’s entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership that they have to deal with.”
The Conservative strategy has worked in the past as they successfully branded former Liberal leader Stephane Dion as “not a leader” and his successor Michael Ignatieff as “just visiting.”
But on Wednesday, Dion said Canadians want to have a political landscape that is more engaging, positive and respectful.
“It’s not only a fight about which orientation you want to give to Canada. It’s also a fight about what kind of politics we want to implement in Canada,” he said.
WATCH: The dueling ads
1. The Conservative attack ad
2. Trudeau’s positivity
POLL: The most effective political ad