Ten days after the Conservative Party mounted an aggressive advertising campaign to discredit Justin Trudeau, Liberals have responded with an ad buy of their own, buoyed by a fundraising wave and a poll surge in Quebec.
Speaking on his way into the Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning on Parliament Hill, the Liberal leader said his new English and French ads were built on the same positive, hopeful and hard-working tone he pursued during his leadership campaign.
"The one thing I've heard across the country is Canadians are tired of negativity, of cynicism, of attacks. And whether [attacks] work or not is something that remains to be seen and is secondary for me," Trudeau said.
Trudeau suggested in French that an advertising campaign was always part of the Liberal post-leadership plan, but acknowledged some surprise at the speed and intensity of the personal attacks the Tories threw at him.
"What doesn't work is if you attack, and if you go negative and 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 told reporters.
"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's something we see every day," he concluded.
In launching the ads, Liberals said they intended to not only make them available online for social media play, but also to match the Tories in a national television campaign.
Parties target fundraising
Apart from the on-air battle, Liberal and Conservative party fundraising messages have bombarded potential donors on email to capitalize on the appeal or distaste for Trudeau's April 14 leadership victory.
In an email to supporters, Trudeau thanked some 7,000 Liberal donors who contributed $500,000 during his first seven days as leader. He also appealed for more help, to reach the $1-million mark.
Liberals on Parliament Hill Wednesday also showed reporters copies of anti-Trudeau flyers they said Conservatives were sending out across Canada from their MPs' offices, allegedly at taxpayers' expense.
One flyer design, using the tagline "a famous last name is not enough to run Canada's economy," shows side-by-side photos of Trudeau and Harper, mirroring the English television ad by contrasting details from Trudeau's background of "inexperience," like being a camp counsellor, with highlights from Harper's "experience" as prime minister, like cutting the GST.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said the flyers – originally intended for MPs to deliver public service announcements to households in their riding – were in compliance with House of Commons rules, saying they were about the "importance for Canadians to have real leadership."
Conservative MP John Duncan denied the flyers were another form of attack ad.
"It's informational," the former minister said before question period. "Come on. It's politics, you know that."
In English, the Tory ads launched last week said Justin Trudeau is "in over his head," mocking his past experience as a drama teacher and showing the leader in a frivolous light, taking off his shirt at a charity fundraiser.
That charity, the Canadian Liver Foundation, experienced a fundraising surge of its own after Trudeau asked those upset with the Conservatives attacks to not only donate to the Liberal Party, but also send a message by supporting the charity.
Two languages, two strategies
The Liberal ads launching Wednesday, named "Channel Change" on YouTube, show Trudeau sitting in a classroom, expressing his pride at having been a teacher. He turns off the start of the Tory attack ad on a nearby television and says, "Canadians deserve better.
"We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws in each other, or we can pull together and get to work," he says in the ad.
Just as the French version of the Conservative ad had an entirely different script, so too does the French Liberal ad.
No acknowledgement of the Conservative attack is made during the French Liberal ad. Instead, Trudeau introduces himself as a hard-working father who wants to work together on the same things Canadians want, concluding with the French tag line "the future is in our hands."
Treasury Board President Tony Clement refuted the suggestion that Trudeau's more positive approach would play better with Canadians.
"I just see what comes out of his mouth as a leader and the first thing out of his mouth on a major issue at a time when the United States was being attacked by terrorists was to look at social exclusion issues. You know, he goes to the perpetrators rather than worrying about the victims," Clement said after the Conservative caucus meeting.
"It shows that his instincts are very poor. He has very poor judgment. That isn’t something you can fix, quite frankly. It’s something that will stay with him as a leader as long as he’s leader," the minister said.
Poll suggests Liberal bump in Quebec
A new CROP poll released Wednesday morning offered Trudeau a lift onto the higher road he's seeking for his appeal to French Canadians.
An online survey of voting intentions of 1,000 Quebecers, conducted April 17-22, suggested Trudeau's federal Liberals had surged to 38 per cent in the province, compared to 30 per cent for the New Democrats, 18 per cent for the Bloc Québécois and 10 per cent for the Conservatives. There is no margin of error for this poll.
The same survey suggests 32 per cent of francophones could now vote for the federal Liberal party, a level not seen since Trudeau's father led the party more than three decades ago.
Conservative Senator Jacques Demers attributed Trudeau's popularity to his charisma, telling reporters in French that people in Quebec like Trudeau and are attracted to someone who smiles.
The rise in Liberal support could cost leader Tom Mulcair's NDP, whose 2011 electoral success was centred on Quebec.
Mulcair told reporters Wednesday he had not yet seen the new Liberal ads, but dismissed the duelling Liberal and Conservative campaigns as part of the "normal cut and thrust," noting his leadership win last year was followed by an ad campaign to introduce him to Canadians.
Mulcair dismissed the suggestion that the Liberals' positive tone was encroaching on the turf staked out by the positive, everyday appeal of former NDP leader Jack Layton, particularly in Quebec.
"The NDP is the only party that can replace Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Canadians understand that," Mulcair said.
Trudeau is on his way to Labrador later Wednesday, to campaign with Yvonne Jones, the Liberal candidate in the May 13 byelection in that riding.
Newfoundland MP Scott Simms said his party was confident Jones will win "the first of many" seats in Labrador, thanks in part to its new leader.
He also said he was proud of the tone of the new ad campaign.
"It's about time someone inspired me to vote or to move in a certain direction politically, as opposed to being just simply hateful of someone or something that is out there," Simms said.
"If you fight fire with fire, all you've got is the whole place is burned down. You can only do that so much."