British Columbia·Analysis

B.C. politics see gloves come off in new ads

It's already been painted as the 'Party of No,' so maybe the NDP felt it had nothing to lose by launching a negative ad this week against the B.C. Liberals.

Can a politician ever turn a negative into a positive?

The new attack ad "Five Years" from the B.C. NDP hits hard on the point that Premier Christy Clark is wasting taxpayers' money and time with what the NDP see as a constant parade of photo ops. (NDP)

It's already been painted as the 'Party of No,' so maybe the B.C. NDP felt it had nothing to lose by launching a negative ad this week against the B.C. Liberals.

How else to explain the rather un-New Democratic move by a party whose leader campaigned so vociferously in the last election against the very idea of attack ads?

The new negative spot is focused squarely at voters in the upcoming Coquitlam-Burke Mountain byelection.

The NDP has never won in that riding, so perhaps has decided that instead of their same tried-and-true method of staying positive and pulling out the vote, they would try something new. 

The ominous music and damning newspaper headlines scrolling across the screen may be nasty, but they strike a chord with voters.

The ad hits hard on the point that B.C. Premier Christy Clark is wasting taxpayers' money and time with what the NDP see as a constant parade of photo ops.

"What we are hearing back from voters in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain is that they feel she is in it for herself and that she is more interested in photo ops than she is helping people with their lives," says NDP party spokesperson Trish Webb. 

"That's political campaigning to hold the government to account. We aren't doing anything revolutionary here," adds Webb.

Most likely the reason the party has had a change of heart, of course, is that negative political ads work.

Uncharted territory 

While the idea may not be revolutionary to political campaigning, it is uncharted territory for this group of New Democrats. 

The party has failed in four consecutive elections to convince voters that its positive message works. In 2013, then leader Adrian Dix's vow to stay positive likely hurt on election day, as Dix was widely criticized for not attacking the B.C. Liberals on the HST debacle.

At the same time, because of his opposition to some major projects in the province, Dix was painted by the Liberals as 'Mr. No' — a moniker that has been splashed on to Horgan — and echoes of which appeared in an entirely different attack ad released in January. 

'Forces of No'

Earlier this month, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. also uploaded a video of their own.

While the ICBA isn't a political organization, it has in the past supported many Liberal policies, and much of the language in the new ad will sound familiar, largely because both Clark and ICBA head Philip Hochstein blame the "Forces of No" for slowing down the economy.

"The people who are the 'Forces of No' are a very loud, but small minority," says Hochstein. "It's not a political ad. It doesn't say vote for this party or vote for that party. It's really an economic ad."

But that's the fine line with political advertising; put enough out there to make people feel uncomfortable with the images they are seeing and hopefully that will make them uncomfortable with the party they see as responsible for them.

Doing the opposite

Getting out from under the catchy "Forces of No" label won't be an easy task for Horgan. The NDP has been in opposition for 15 years, and by definition the role has been plenty negative, but that negativity has not been focused.

No more Mr. Nice Guy? B.C. NDP leader John Horgan. (Michael Hall/B.C. NDP)

The NDP leader will need to present a clear plan on resource development.

It is unclear for most British Columbians where the party stands on the Site C dam and Horgan needs a vision for job creation if he is going to object to environmentally-concerning projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline twinning.

Horgan must also provide an alternative to Clark and the kind of behaviour his party attacks.

If the NDP is to convince voters that the premier has wasted time and money by doing photo ops, Horgan needs to be seen as doing the opposite. Expect then a lot of social media shots of Horgan visiting with people across the province in the lead up to the election. 

The NDP could also find their negative ads working so well they ramp them up, especially leading up to an election, when people who don't follow politics closely are able to be swayed more easily.

Closer to the election the Liberals are expected to release their own ads that will attempt to paint Horgan as against economic growth. 

And so the cut and thrust may have already begun -- which may not be pretty, but is the most effective way to outrage voters and get them to support you.


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