Liberals release election-style ads

The federal Liberal party launched several campaign-style TV ads Sunday, featuring leader Michael Ignatieff criticizing the Conservatives' record on the environment, the economy and the growing deficit.

The federal Liberal party launched several campaign-style TV ads Sunday, featuring leader Michael Ignatieff criticizing the Conservatives' record on the environment, the economy and the growing deficit.

Ignatieff declared last week he could no longer support the Conservative government, and the commercials — which first appeared on Facebook and YouTube — are the party's first pre-electoral strike of this kind.

They're also a sign the party is more flush. Former leader Stéphane Dion never had the luxury of expensive national ads before a campaign kicked off.

Dressed in a plain blue shirt and set against a sunlit forest backdrop in the 30-second English spot, Ignatieff smiles as he tells viewers that Canada "needs a new way of thinking, a government that thinks big, that has a global perspective."

He says Canada should be reaching out to China and India and notes that Canadians he has met on his travels are "the best the world has to offer."

It's a deliberately positive response to the Conservative attack ads released earlier in the year that portrayed Ignatieff as an arrogant international academic with no sincere connection to Canada.

"For years, the Conservatives have used the tactic of pre-writ advertising that's focused on personal attacks on the opposing leader," says Rocco Rossi, the Liberal party's national director.

"We believe we can do better, not only in policy but in attitude and tone in campaigning. These ads strike a tone and message that we believe that Canadians want to hear. That's a message of hope and a message focused on vision and contrasting vision and record, instead of personal attacks."

The slogan in English — which Rossi says has worked well in focused testing — is "We can do better." In French, it's "We deserve better."

Observers say the Liberals are trying to present a new image of their leader.

"It's an attempt to soften Michael Ignatieff's image," said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "I don't think he's unknown to Canadians, but this will appear on other programs that aren't news-oriented and that's the idea."

On Sunday, the Conservatives tried to trump the Liberal ads by presenting an audiotape to the media that they say captures Ignatieff talking to his colleagues at Harvard University in 2005.

"I'm among friends, and to hell with it. This may be the last time when I can be the way I actually am," the speaker says on the tape.

"Canadians deserve to know the real Michael Ignatieff — not the one he's pretending to be to Canadian voters now, but the one he said he actually was with his American friends," Conservative MP Jason Kenney said at a news conference in Vancouver.

The Conservatives didn't say how they got the tape. The Liberals said they don't know its origin and can't verify its authenticity.

Conservatives criticized on economy, environment

Two other ads in French are more critical of the Conservatives.

Ignatieff is set against a dark studio background, and in one spot he earnestly reminds voters that the Tories predicted there would be no recession or deficit and admitted to both within the same year.

"The Tories are completely disconnected from reality and irresponsible," he says.

In the second commercial, focused on the environment, Ignatieff says that after four years and three environment ministers, Canada has slipped to the bottom of the pack of G8 countries in fighting climate change.

The Liberals are trying to take Ignatieff's international expertise, as a journalist, professor and author, and turn it into a positive rather than a negative.

The focus on the leader in the commercials is also key — the party is working to better acquaint Canadians with Ignatieff and define him in the eyes of voters before the Conservatives can do more damage to his image.

"Surely, a leader that is more open and curious and committed to Canada's place in the world ... is the kind of leadership that not only Canadians want, but that Canadians need in the current circumstances," said Rossi.

With files from CBC News