Justin Trudeau takes back seat to 'star' candidates in new Liberal ad

The Liberal Party's newest ad tries to bolster Justin Trudeau's leadership credentials and counter the Conservatives' "He's just not ready" message by shifting attention away from him and onto the party's star candidates — and it works, to a degree, says our Ad Hawk expert.

Ad Hawk | Ad attempts to shift focus from Trudeau to his team in order to bolster leader's credentials

A new Liberal Party ad features party leader Justin Trudeau, left, but focuses much more on some of the party's star candidates, including Canadian Forces Gen. (Ret'd) Andrew Leslie, right, in an attempt to underscore the strength of Trudeau's team and counter the Conservative claim that he's inexperienced. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Ad Hawk is an occasional series evaluating the effectiveness of political advertising.

A new TV ad from the Liberals demonstrates that the Conservatives' long-running "He's just not ready" ads continue to reverberate in the 2015 election campaign.

The Liberals' new ad begins with party leader Justin Trudeau talking about Canadians' appetite for political change and "real leadership," but it is really about broadening the value proposition of voting Liberal beyond Trudeau to his stable of candidates — "Team Trudeau" in the ad script.

Note: Ads are produced by the candidates, their parties or their agents. They are embedded here for informational purposes only, and their placement does not constitute an endorsement by CBC News.

What's the message?

The main message Liberals are trying to send to Canadians seems to be, "Don't worry, we have a strong team behind the leader."

The ad begins with a simple sentence on the screen: "What does real leadership mean?"

The Conservative Party has put television ads in high-rotation claiming Trudeau is 'just not ready' to be prime minister. (Conservative Party/YouTube)

It continues with Trudeau reading the start of the first line of the script, but then some of the Liberals' so-called star candidates appear, look into the camera and read the subsequent lines. 

The backgrounds are cheering crowds at events, smiling faces and people holding up signs while Trudeau promises "real change for our middle class." The visual message is a sense of momentum.

It's worth noting that one Liberal candidate in the ad says NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair offers "no real new ideas for our economy." The ad doesn't bother to mention Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, other than to say that Canadians "are fed up with closed, secretive government."

Why now?

Opinion polls have tightened as the election race heads into the home stretch. To the extent the Liberal Party's own internal research shows that some damage still lingers from the Conservatives' "He's just not ready" ads, this effort is designed to highlight the strength of Trudeau's bench of candidates, which includes a former finance minister, Ralph Goodale. 

Kernel of truth here?

The Liberals have some accomplished candidates in the Oct. 19 election who represent change and are featured in the ad:

  • Former Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan
  • Bay St. lawyer Raj Grewal.
  • Markham lawyer Bang-Gu Jiang.
  • Retired Canadian Army Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie. 
  • Bay St. pension expert Bill Morneau.
  • Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair.
  • Former B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief Jody Wilson-Raybould.
  • Accountant Lawrence Woo.
  • Former police detective and Canadian Forces veteran Harjit Sajjan.
  • Journalist Chrystia Freeland.

As hard as the ad tries to emphasize change, some of the content undermines that effort.

Former prime minister Paul Martin, centre left, greets his former finance minister, Ralph Goodale, at a Liberal campaign event in Toronto. The new Liberal ad seeks to remind voters of the party's experienced shadow cabinet. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Along with Goodale, other long-time caucus members featured in the ad include Judy Sgro, Scott Brison and Marc Garneau. Plus, the ad features several glimpses of Paul Martin. The former prime minister can be seen in the background at a campaign event he spoke at with Trudeau, although when he raises Trudeau's arm, he is out of the frame.

What score or rating would you give?

This ad scores a 3/5, but mostly because of the sense of momentum around Trudeau created by the visuals. On the downside, the star candidates fly by far too quickly and their credentials are far too inside baseball for the average Canadian voter to recognize who these people are and what they bring to the table.

Overall, it's a good ad that addresses a weak Liberal flank.

Bill Walker is president of MidtownPR. He was previously the Ottawa and Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star. His assessment is part of an occasional series evaluating the effectiveness of political advertising.


  • This story has been updated from an earlier version that incorrectly identified Chrystia Freeland as an "economist and journalist." In fact, Freeland has a Bachelor's degree in history and literature and a Master's in Russian and Eurasian Studies.
    Sep 24, 2015 11:03 AM ET


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