The campaign, set to launch Tuesday, includes three TV ads as well as digital and print spots, and is expected to cost more than $3 million over three months.
The Conservatives have been test-driving a new style for their leader over the summer, and the advertising — shared with Global News by a senior Conservative source who declined to be named — projects a kinder, gentler image of a man known in Ottawa circles as a sharp-elbowed partisan.
One of the three new ads — dubbed internally as “Who is Pierre?” — features a voiceover by Poilievre’s wife, Anaida, set against images of the Conservative leader playing at a park with his young children.
“Who is Pierre Poilievre? Many know him as the common-sense leader the country needs,” the script reads, before launching into how those close to Poilievre — his parents, children, and wife — understand their man.
A second ad features Poilievre putting together a puzzle of Canada with one of his children. Poilievre provides the voiceover, suggesting that “everything feels broken in Canada” before he succeeds at putting the puzzle back together.
“Unaffordable, unsafe, divided. But we can put the puzzle back together,” Poilievre said.
The price tag and the length of the campaign — $3 million and three months — make it a significant ad buy outside an election period. But despite their lead in the polls, the source said they don’t have the luxury of knowing when the Liberal and NDP deal to keep this minority Parliament alive will end.
Since his time as a backbench MP and later minister in the Harper government, Poilievre has been known for relishing the partisan cut-and-thrust of Question Period. Asked by Maclean’s magazine in 2014 if he thought debate in the House of Commons had become too partisan, Poilievre said, “The average Canadian couldn’t care less if some politician’s feelings are hurt because of an unkind word.”
The source disputed, however, the idea that the ad blitz was aimed at presenting a different side of Poilievre to Canadian voters.
“This is not a branding campaign, it is an amplification of who Pierre is and always has been,” the source, who agreed to discuss the internal thinking around the campaign on the condition they not be named, said in an interview.
“As we have seen in the public polls the (Conservative Party of Canada), for the first time in a decade, are leading among voter groups that have traditionally favoured the (Liberals) like youth, union members, women and immigrants.”
Richard Jenkins, the director of public sector research at Abacus Data, said that it’s nevertheless a “smart move” to “humanize” Poilievre at this point in his leadership — and ahead of the next general election, whenever it arrives.
Jenkins noted that the Conservative Party has been successful in growing its lead in the national polls, and that negative impressions of Poilievre could be a drag on the party’s electoral success. Improving voters’ impressions of Poilievre would guard against that.
It’s almost the opposite of the received wisdom in Ottawa about Trudeau, still seen as the Liberals’ greatest asset despite the party’s flagging fortunes in the polls.
“This is a good time for (the Conservatives) to do that, because election campaigns are so short now that there just isn’t time to really grow a sense of who someone really is,” Jenkins said in an interview Friday.
“The one thing (Poilievre) has at his advantage is the economy, and affordability, and housing, those things are the top concerns for people … so now he just really needs to work on his electability, because he has the advantage on the other things, at least right now.”
A final ad set to be released by the Conservatives Tuesday reiterates the party’s promise to cut the Liberals’ carbon pricing system — the centrepiece of the government’s environmental initiatives over the last eight years. The ad, again voiced by Poilievre, suggests the carbon price is a key driver in Canadians’ affordability concerns — an issue that the Conservative leader has frequently highlighted over the past two years.
Recent public polling has indeed suggested the Conservatives are starting to break through with Canadian voters, after the national horserace numbers have remained relatively static over the two years since the last federal election.
A July 26 poll from Abacus had Poilievre’s Conservatives with a 10 percentage point lead over the Liberals nationally, with 38 per cent of the popular vote. Perhaps more concerning for the Liberals, Abacus found that the Conservatives led by six percentage points in Ontario — a pivotal province for Poilievre’s ambition to form government.
Abacus also found that voters’ impressions of Poilievre appear to be improving, with 31 per cent of respondents saying they had a positive impression of the Conservative leader compared with 37 per cent who had a negative impression. By contrast, 51 per cent of respondents had a negative impression of Justin Trudeau, while just 29 per cent viewed the prime minister in a positive light.
The Abacus poll interviewed 2,486 voting-aged Canadians from July 20 to July 25, and is considered accurate within two percentage points 19 times out of 20 — although regional samples, like the Ontario numbers, are more volatile.
A Legér poll conducted earlier in July had similar national numbers, with the Conservatives leading by nine percentage points nationally, as did Mainstreet Research, which had the party leading by seven percentage points.