Ontario's election ads: Profiling the leaders' messages

The ads are out and the personas are on full display. The CBC's Nil Köksal looks at how Ontario's three main party leaders aiming to win next month's election want you to see them.

How are Wynne, Horwath and Hudak coming across through ads?

The Teacher: Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne's latest commercials show her being direct. (YouTube)

Three leaders. Each a hard sell in his or her own way, each with a laundry list of unflattering customer reviews. 

For voters, even if you're not sold on what's on offer, how the product is pitched can make a big impact on whether you'll buy what they're selling.

For politicians, ads are another level of reach. Beyond knocking on doors, staged town halls and photo-ops, advertising is the closest the party leaders will get to many voters.

Ads can be crucial to success, and they can be campaign killers. Sometimes they fail (remember former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell's backfiring Chrétien ads?) sometimes they stick (recall the federal Conservatives’ "not a leader" Stéphane Dion spots?).

The goal is for the message to be crisp and memorable.

In this Ontario campaign leading up to the June 12 vote, we're seeing tactics as varied as the leaders' platforms, with three profiles emerging.

The Teacher

We've learned so far in this campaign that Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne can walk and talk (and run) on camera.

Direct conversation is the tactic. There's the tone of a teacher there, a message that you're in safe, sincere hands.  

"She's your neighbour, she's your friend, she's your premier," you can almost hear the production team whispering.

Personal attacks are not her style, Wynne says. Attack the policies, not the person. Kathleen Wynne does not sling mud.

Her party, though, will and has.

See the Million CUTS Plan video the Liberals dubbed the "corrected" PC ad, doing a cut and paste job on the PCs’ "I want to work" ad in support of Tim Hudak's Million Jobs Plan.

When their YouTube version was pulled down due to a copyright complaint, the Liberal war room made sure journalists still had a copy.

Wynne knows the power of a perfectly timed, powerful speech. Think back to the speech at the Liberal convention nearly two years ago. It captivated the room and helped win her the party leadership and the job as premier.

The Liberal ads so far don't capture that magic.

The Scrapper

Andrea Horwath is the reason you're heading to the polls. She has to justify why — and the ads you're seeing from the NDP leader and her party are part of how she'll do that.

The Scrapper: NDP ads have attacked the Liberals' record and portrayed Andrea Horwath as someone who'll respect "taxpayers' dollars." (NDP/YouTube)

Though criticized for a disorganized start to her campaign — she only just released her party's platform on Thursday — the moment the ad ban was lifted, the NDP held little back.

Long gone is the light soundtrack and positive-change promise from the 2011 NDP campaign ads, the clips from Horwath telling voters not to be cynical about politics, that she was different.

But 2014 is different.

Wrapping the Toronto Sun in a sleeve covered with her opponents' faces over the headline "NONSENSE" was a bold, maybe even shrewd move, but will it actually convince Sun readers to lean left?

On video, the NDP attack on the Liberals is equally pointed. A ticking, multibillion-dollar tally totals what Horwath alleges is Liberal mismanagement.

Horwath herself isn't in that ad. But now that her platform is out, expect to see and hear more of her "Change That Makes Sense" message on screen.

The Single-Message Man

Tim Hudak is sticking to his message: jobs.

The Single-Message Man: Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak depicted in a recent ad, bringing his message of hope. (YouTube)

The first of the ads his PC team rolled out was the only slight variation from that path, but still meant to enforce it.

Hudak pushed a word U.S. President Barack Obama used way back when: Hope. Hudak says it is what he would offer as premier.

Hope for more jobs — a million of them!

A strange thing, though, to hearken back to one of the most well-executed campaigns in modern history, led by one of the most charismatic politicians in modern history, when Hudak himself has taken great pains to say his campaign isn't about the cult of personality.

Hudak has said several times on the campaign trail that if you're looking for personality, don't vote for him.

But we know personality, and how voters relate to a candidate, does matter in politics.

Hudak's second video offering is a trio of voices saying "I want to work" followed by clips of Hudak in the legislature.

In person, in print and on video, the goal is to show Hudak is ready to lead and, trying desperately to shrug off the links the Liberals keep drawing to that spectre from the past, former PC premier — and Hudak's old boss — Mike Harris.

There's another ad out there, the one from Elections Ontario. I'd argue its message is the simplest and strongest.

The easiest plan to execute, the one you have control over. The one that tells you when and how to vote.

What would you ask the leaders during the June 3 leaders debate? Email us at and you may be chosen to ask your question on-camera during the televised broadcast. Please include your contact information and a bit of information about yourself.

About the Author

Nil Köksal

CBC News

Nil Köksal is the host of World Report, CBC's flagship national radio news show. She begins her mornings with more than a million loyal listeners. She recently returned from her post as CBC’s foreign correspondent in Turkey.


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