Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals released a new ad this weekend taking a run at Andrea Horwath. But if you ever see it on TV, it won’t be until May 21, when Elections Ontario’s blackout on campaign advertising ends.
Of the three parties, the Liberals in one sense suffer least for that moratorium, because they already did a heavy ad buy during the pre-writ period. But it might also complicate their campaign strategy more than it does with the others.
The Liberals’ re-election hopes revolve around creating a two-way race against Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, in which they can argue a vote for the NDP is wasted. At the risk of oversimplifying things, my understanding of how that’s supposed to work is that the Liberals focus their efforts largely on driving down the New Democrats’ numbers in the first half of the campaign, so that in the final weeks they can squarely take on the Tories with the NDP off to the side.
When the Liberals were settling on this approach, though, they were probably counting on the official campaign period lasting 29 days, as it usually does. In that case, the advertising blackout would only last a week, because by rule it kicks in on the first day of the writ period and lasts until 22 days before election day.
Instead, because Elections Ontario didn’t want to have election day coincide with the Jewish holiday Shavuot, the official campaign period is a longer-than usual 36 days, and hence the blackout is twice as long as usual. If you like percentages, that ups it from the first 24 per cent of the campaign to the first 39 per cent of it.
All this is to say that if your plan was to spend the first half of the campaign primarily focusing on the NDP before pivoting to the Tories, and advertising was a key component of that plan, it’s a small hitch that for most of the first half you can’t actually advertise.
Of course, a lot may more than that may be different than the Liberals expected when they were gaming these things out. Ms. Horwath arguably had a rocky start to the campaign that made it a little easier to create the Liberals’ preferred dynamic even without advertising. And by taking a harder turn to the right than most had expected, Tim Hudak might have forced his opponents to adjust their messaging anyway.
Still, considering they released that anti-NDP ad despite not being able to buy space for it, the Liberals are clearly itching to execute Phase 1 of their strategy. If that spot or something similar to it starts airing in heavy rotation on May 21, it will be their attempt to make up for lost time.