Politics·CBC Explains

Political insiders reveal the thinking behind some key election campaign mainstays

The photo op. Talking points. Those attack ads that everyone loves to hate. Why do parties seemingly use the same tactics in campaign after campaign?

Pulling back the curtain on why candidates do the things they do during an election

The leaders of Canada's main political parties, clockwise from left — the Liberals' Justin Trudeau, NDP's Jagmeet Singh, Green Party's Elizabeth May, Conservatives' Andrew Scheer — will unleash specific and often similar tactics leading up to next month's federal election.

The photo op. Talking points. Those attack ads that everyone loves to hate. Why do parties seemingly use the same tactics in election campaign after election campaign? 

It's all about control, according to party insiders from the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. And there is a well-considered, well-thought-out reason for almost everything you see and hear in the lead-up to October's election day in Canada. 

Using their behind-the-scenes experiences — and some historical examples — CBC's Power and Politics host Vassy Kapelos pulls back the curtain on some of the most well-worn, oft-used tactics of political campaigns. 

Talking points

You know them when you hear them. The same lines, repeated over and over and over, by the party leader and candidates — so often that, by the end of the campaign, you can recite the lines right along with them.

But that's only one reason parties rely so heavily on talking points.

Politicians say the same things over and over: Here's why

4 years ago
Duration 7:33
Talking points are a public relations tool used by politicians and parties at every level. The intention is to keep politicians on track and ensure the party message sinks into the public consciousness, but some experts say sticking too close to a talking point risks losing the message entirely.

Photo ops

A leader, a podium and a carefully chosen backdrop of "everyday Canadians." That's what the campaign photo op has, for the most part, evolved into these days. Parties know a photo op can make or break a campaign. Those that go well just fade into memory.

Those that don't can haunt a leader for years — even decades — after the vote. 

How politicians avoid a photo-op fail: Unpacking the staged campaign event

4 years ago
Duration 7:12
Can one bad photo op make or break a leader’s chances at winning an election? Strategists stage events that are highly controlled and co-ordinated to avoid the risk of being derailed by gaffes. But you can’t avoid them all, and experts say being too controlled can sometimes be just as risky.

Attack ads

Going into every election, many leaders pledge to run a positive campaign. And study after study suggests Canadians don't like negativity — either on the campaign trail, or in the ads they see on TV or in social media. So why do so many parties rely on them come election time? Insiders say they have impact. 

But they can backfire, too. 

Why political parties run attack ads even if you don’t like them

4 years ago
Duration 7:22
It’s widely known that most people don’t like negative ads, so why do parties rely on them when election time comes around? Political strategists say even though people say they don't like them, they are one of the most effective tools for changing public opinion. But there are unofficial rules, and if they aren’t followed they can be disastrous for parties.

Fake news

There doesn't have to be an election going on to prompt a tidal wave of news and information in your favourite feeds. But it is increasingly impossible to assume that all of it is accurate or even true. So how do you discern the real from the fake?

Here's a short primer on what to look for and how to protect yourself from falling for election disinformation and misinformation.

Why it’s so easy to fall for fake news and how to spot it

4 years ago
Duration 6:57
Whether during an election or just a regular day of the year, people are bombarded with news and information in their feeds. So how do we know what's true and what's false? A lot of it unravels with a little digging. We show you what to look for and how to protect yourself from falling for disinformation and misinformation.


They've been part of the Canadian election landscape since 1968. And a lot of time and energy is spent preparing party leaders for the main, televised campaign debate. They draw big audiences, but do they change votes?

On this question, party strategists and political scientists diverge. 

Do leaders' debates change how people vote?

4 years ago
Duration 8:39
Debates have been a hallmark of Canadian elections since 1968, but what effect do they actually have on voters? Strategists will tell you they’re critical to elections and a lot of planning goes into them. Researchers, on the other hand, say there’s evidence they can change votes, though often they don't.