Conservative attack ad may not be damning enough to damage NDP

An YouTube video just released by the Conservative Party of Canada “walks us through” how the NDP swindled Canadian taxpayers of $2.7 million. But Kerry McKibbin thinks the issue is too confusing to be an effective attack.

Ad Hawk | You Tube video says New Democrats swindled Canadian taxpayers of $2.7 million

A new Conservative YouTube ad attacks the NDP for not yet repaying the House of Commons for a disputed $2.7 million drawn from MP office budgets. New Democrats deny the funds paid for parisan satellite office expenses. (YouTube)

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

An online video just released by the Conservative Party of Canada "walks us through" a narrative in which the NDP has swindled Canadian taxpayers of $2.7 million.

The advertisement uses animated headlines set against an NDP-orange background and the voice of a frank, older-sounding man. The execution feels friendly and fresh with a visual style akin to that of "infographics" – a tool often used to convey complex information in a simple and contemporary way. 

The closing thought, "is this the kind of change you want the NDP to bring to Ottawa?" nods to the NDP's tagline about Canadians looking for change. A subsequent call to action directs Canadians to a website to sign a petition.

What's the message?

The video advises that the NDP will not only waste taxpayer dollars, but also be deliberately deceitful about it.

The video outlines key points around a 2014 ruling directing 68 NDP MPs to reimburse the House of Commons for inappropriate use of public funds. This board of internal economy order addressed staffing, travel, and telecommunications costs at certain NDP satellite offices.

While the primary message is about this particular story, the greater implication is that the Canadian public should not trust the NDP with their tax dollars.

Why now?

With the Conservatives and NDP neck and neck in the polls, it makes sense for the Conservatives to turn their attention away from their "just not ready" attacks on Justin Trudeau and towards Tom Mulcair. Too much focus on burying the Liberals may, in fact, help elect a NDP government.

With the economy in a slump, Mulcair is chipping away at the Conservative position that Stephen Harper is the only suitable guardian for the Canadian economy. This ad may represent a preemptive strike at the New Democrats' economic credibility.

Finally, the title of the video — "Pay It Back" — refers to the taxpayer funds in question, but it could also be a double entendre: an attack ad in retaliation for the recent NDP video condemning members of the Conservative government.

Kernel of truth?

Whether the $2.7 million in question was "inappropriately" used is still in dispute. The NDP has challenged the ruling in Federal Court, although the suit will not see a courtroom until 2016.

The crux of dispute around the $2.7 million is that the charge was brought to bear and judged by the board of internal economy, a governing body of the House of Commons tasked with financial and administrative matters.

The NDP claims that because the board is comprised primarily of Liberals and Conservatives, it is a partisan body and therefore, so was the order. NDP House Leader Peter Julian has gone so far as to call the board a "kangaroo court."

The board operates behind closed doors. It's difficult for the press and the public to determine whether there's a kernel of truth here.

That said, while the board itself is secretive, its findings are public. It's the findings that are being used to damn the NDP.


The production value of the video is a notch above much of what we've seen in online-only campaign advertising thus far. But the content or messaging doesn't feel damning enough to be effective.

Perhaps it's that the satellite office issue remains confusing, even when articulated in this simple, graphic style.

Perhaps it's that it follows in the wake of so many Conservative scandals or that the Conservatives themselves have been accused of spending of tax dollars on partisan campaigning.

Perhaps they should have been a little more heavy-handed in their delivery. Or perhaps the Conservatives ought to have chosen a different message to be more effective.

I give it a 6/10.

Kerry McKibbin is a Group Account Director at ds+p inc. who specializes in multi-channel communications strategy including digital and social media strategy. Kerry has worked on some of Canada's biggest brands and campaigns and was previously Director of Marketing for TEDxToronto.


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