Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Conservative ads possibly "funny face" redux

With the winter sitting of Parliament set to begin tomorrow, word comes out that the ruling minority Conservatives are going to run a set of negative ads during that time of year that attracts the biggest television audience -- the Super Bowl next Sunday. Reportedly, the commercials are drawn from the Liberals' leadership debates and Michael Ignatieff (now deputy leader of the party) questioning the environmental credentials of the ultimate winner, Stéphane Dion.

This is either a brilliant move on the part of Con strategists or it could really backfire the way the old Tory Party's "funny face" ads did in a last minute attempt to attack Jean Chrétien. I tend to think that it's the latter, and here's why.

For fully a year now, the Conservatives have tried to do anything to pretend that the environment is not a problem. All of a sudden, in the last month, they've decided to take it seriously. Perhaps they realize people in Central Canada and in the Lower Mainland understand just how bad the air and water is. Or the fact what's left of the fish stocks on both coasts are being destroyed not just by overfishing but by rapidly warming water.

Making a flip-flop like this without at least a reasonable explanation to its core constituents is tough enough (especially the most extreme branch of evangelicalism that denies global warming; to be fair many if not most "born again" people also recognize we're destroying the world). Try explaining that to the rest of Canadians who are already jaded and it becomes more of a problem.

Mind you, Dion does have some explaining to do of his own. Not on the environment but his openly musing earlier this week that the ten former members of the Liberal Party who were expelled for their roles in Sponsorgate might be welcomed back. This is something the Cons can definitely pounce on (and probably will in another ad next week) and he needs to make it absolutely clear that once you're out, you're out for good.

So, my advice to Dion would be this: Be relentless this week in Question Period and at the committee level. Be completely relentless. Ask why the change of heart, and why now. And don't just focus on the environment but the entire Conservative agenda and the potential impact and even damage it can have on Canada and Canadians in the short and long term. Talk about the air, yes; but also talk about families, defence policy, fisheries, and the fiscal imbalance. Take the wind out of the Conservatives so that when the ads air on Sunday, it's the Cons and not the Liberals who look like the indecisive ones.

And don't just do it this week, but every week until the election.

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