Amazing Comebacks Christy Clark Hopes to Emulate

BC’s Premier Clark: Big ground to make up, but stranger things have happened.

Four election shockers that keep BC’s New Dems up at night
By Tom Barrett

With less than three months to go until Election Day, Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals are betting on a major come-from-behind surge to wipe out the New Democratic Party’s lead in the polls.

It’s a tall order, but it wouldn’t be the first time voters have shifted that much, that fast.
“Things can change very quickly,” said Angus Reid pollster Mario Canseco. Even when an opposition party enters an election campaign with a healthy lead, voters can abandon it if they decide the party isn’t ready to govern.

For the past several years, the NDP has held a robust lead over the BC Liberals in the polls. Although the lead has dropped from highs of 20 points or more, the most recent polls still show the NDP up by 10 to 15 percentage points.

But headlines like Hudak Tories Roaring Toward a Majority: Poll and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose on Track for Majority suggest just how volatile voters can be. And headlines like ‘We Were Wrong’: Alberta Election Pollsters Red-faced as Tories Crush Wildrose serve as a reminder that polls are a snapshot in time, not a forecast.

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Dix’s Big Gamble: No Dirt

As Libs sling mud, NDP leader refuses to go negative. Will out-of-the-box strategy box him in?
By Tom Barrett

Mr. Nice Guy: Adrian Dix
Mr. Nice Guy: Adrian Dix

The New Democratic Party intends to win the May 14 election by campaigning against negative campaigning. NDP leader Adrian Dix has said the party won’t fight fire with fire — or, in this case, mud with mud — no matter how nasty the other side gets.

Like pornography, negative campaigning is hard to define, but we know it when we see it. And most of us say we hate it.

Still, political strategists tend to believe it works. Just look at what the Stephen Harper Conservatives did to Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Will negative ads hurt Dix in the same way? And if they do, is being positive an effective counter-strategy?

As election day approaches, the NDP’s lead on Christy Clark’s Liberals is likely to narrow. If that happens, “the NDP may have to resort to some harder-hitting commentary on the Liberals generally and Christy Clark in particular,” said political scientist Hamish Telford. “And that will raise all sorts of questions: ‘Well, Mr. Dix, you said you were going to have a positive campaign, now you’re doing this that and the other’…

“So it does box him in a bit and that may cause him a problem for sure.”

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Attack Ads Through the Ages

A brief, inherently dirty history, with video reminders of how low they can go.
By Tom Barrett

When Adrian Dix refuses to engage in negative campaigning, he is turning his back on a Canadian tradition older than Confederation. An early biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald wrote of an 1844 election in Kingston that “every editor dipped his pen in gall; every column reeked with libel. Those who had no newspapers issued handbills, that might have fired the fences on which they were posted.”

Politics became more polite over the years. But in the 20th century, television gave politicians a weapon far more powerful than Macdonald’s fiery handbills.

In 1964, the U.S. Democratic party aired what’s become known as the “daisy” ad. The ad, which communications scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson has called “arguably the most controversial ad in the history of political broadcasting,” played upon fears that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war.

Designed by media sage Tony Schwartz, the ad showed a small girl standing in a field, pulling petals from a daisy. She counts the petals — “one, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine” — until she is suddenly drowned out by a robotic voice counting down a missile launch: “10, nine, eight…” The camera zooms in on the girl’s eye. A mushroom cloud fills the screen.

President Lyndon Johnson’s voice is heard: “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.”

The spot, which never mentions Goldwater by name, aired only once as a paid ad. But it was shown again and again by the news media.

The 1988 U.S. presidential election appears to have been a watershed in negative campaigning. “Never before in a presidential campaign have televised ads sponsored by a major party candidate lied so blatantly as in the campaign of 1988,” Jamieson wrote.

One of the most famous ads from that campaign showed a procession of scary-looking prisoners shuffling through a revolving door, as a voice-over claimed that, as governor of Massachusetts, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis turned killers loose to kidnap and rape.

The ad was, to be charitable, misleading, but it helped sink Dukakis.

In recent years, Canadian campaigners have done their best to catch up to the Americans. Probably the best-known Canadian attack ad was the Jean Chrétien “face” spot, run by the Progressive Conservatives in 1993. Over a montage of shots that played up Chrétien’s facial paralysis, the ad suggested that Canadians may not want someone who looks like that representing us on the international stage.

The ad was pulled and is generally thought to have backfired, although some Tories insist that it was working.

The Liberals had some success with their own negative ads over the next few campaigns. But the Stephen Harper Conservatives took negative campaigning to a new level in 2007, when they began running attack ads aimed at the Liberals between elections — something that Canadian parties had rarely done before.

Almost as soon as Stéphane Dion was chosen Liberal leader, the Conservatives began a 20-month attack based on the idea that Dion was “not a leader” and “not worth the risk.”

The anti-Dion campaign included a website that featured a “pooping puffin” that crapped on Dion’s shoulder. It was pulled and Harper was forced to apologize.

After Dion flamed out in the 2008 election, the Conservatives used the same tactics against his successor, Michael Ignatieff. The new Liberal leader was “just visiting” Canada, the Conservatives informed us. He was a “citizen of the world,” who moved in “elite circles.” Not the kind of guy you’d meet at Tim Hortons.

A second wave of ads talked of Ignatieff’s “reckless coalition” and claimed he “didn’t come back for you.” Like Dion, Ignatieff was unable to tell a story that effectively countered the ads.