British Columbia·Analysis

The politics of the B.C. Liberal 'troll' truck

Members of the B.C. Liberal party are renting a truck with anti-NDP slogans emblazoned on the side. The trucks follow NDP leader John Horgan to campaign events. It's unclear how effective they are, but experts agree it’s a sign the election campaign is shaping up to be nasty.

Experts say the tactic is a sign the election campaign is shaping up to be nasty

Shane Mills with the B.C. Liberal party pictured next to a truck that has followed NDP Leader John Horgan to some events. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

It's not every day a truck hijacks a press conference.

On Tuesday, as reporters gathered in the kitchen of NDP candidate Ravi Kahlon for an announcement about money for infrastructure projects, a large truck pulled in front of the living room window.

On the side of the truck — a massive orange poster with the words, "Say Anything John," with two photographs of B.C. NDP leader John Horgan. The truck is being called a "troll" truck by some critics on Twitter. 

One by one, reporters walked out of the announcement to go outside and take a closer look.

In the front seat of the truck: B.C. Liberal staffer Shane Mills. He explained the poster is trying to highlight what he calls Horgan's hypocrisy when it comes to donations.

"[Horgan] was going to attack our record and we think that he has a record that people don't know about," said Mills.

"This works in terms of getting people's attention."

twitter account which appears to be linked to the truck is named 'the truth truck.'

A new strategy

At his campaign event, NDP leader John Horgan shrugged off the truck and said he doesn't plan to fire back.

"If the B.C. Liberals want to hire people to drive around in a truck and follow me, at least they gave someone a job," quipped Horgan.

Some political experts say it's the first time they've seen this kind tactic on the B.C. election campaign trail. A truck popped up at NDP events as early as last Tuesday when the writ dropped and the official campaign season got underway.

A closeup of the "troll" truck parked outside an NDP event in Delta. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

"We are already seeing a fairly high level of negativity in this campaign," said Max Cameron, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia.

"Whether it's effective or not is often a big question."

Cameron said political parties use these strategies when they're trying to get a pejorative term or slogan to stick to their opponents.

"The risk is if you have a strategy that is to go negative, and it doesn't stick well with your opponent, it can do as much damage to you as it does to your adversary." said Cameron.

This "troll" truck attacking John Horgan for a political donation was parked outside an NDP event on Wednesday April 11th. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

UBC political scientist Richard Johnston said that both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP made it clear from the outset that this campaign was going to be dirtier than 2013.

"This is turning out to be an exceptionally negative campaign," said Johnston.

But he views the truck as an act of desperation.

"It does make me think that the Liberal are more worried than they let on before the campaign."

A spokesperson from the B.C. Liberals didn't respond to a request for comment about the truck. Liberal leader Christy Clark was asked at a campaign event on Tuesday in Fort St. John about the tactic.

Clark deferred the question to her staffers and other members of her party.

"I'm not here to talk about what the opposition is doing today. I'm here to talk about our vision for British Columbia," said Clark.

The social media effect

Pictures of the truck on social media have attracted a flurry of backlash tweets in response.

What's unclear is whether all the attention to the trucks on social media will work for or against the B.C. Liberals.

"This is now just part of 21st century politics," said Jesse Miller, founder of Mediated Reality and an expert in social media.

"You're vying for an audience and trying to see if you can get that audience to go viral."

Miller said the B.C. Liberals took a calculated risk with the truck, and that when it comes down to the idea of dirty politics, the Internet is a place of fair game.

"Hopefully, the voters aren't necessarily being skewed by a billboard or by Twitter and they're looking at the candidates and the issues that are in front of British Columbians."