Only a few weeks ago, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives were bracing themselves – and trying to brace the public – for a barrage of attack ads from the union group Working Families Coalition.
As it turns out, while the Tories were entirely right to fear an onslaught from organized labour, they were a bit off in predicting where it would come from.
Working Families has indeed been running ads, but the organization has been less of a factor than in elections past. Whatever one thinks of spots like this one, the buys for them just don’t seem to have been as big as in other campaigns (and the lead-ups to them), including 2011’s.
But if the coalition has been relatively quiet, individual unions have more than stepped in to make up for it. In the three weeks between an early-campaign advertising blackout and another one that will be imposed on Wednesday, it’s been hard to turn on the TV without seeing ads like this one, from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation:
Meanwhile, on many radio stations, pretty much every commercial break has included ads like this one from the Ontario Nurses’ Association:
It’s hard to say precisely why unions have gone it alone more than previously. Working Families has always been a bit of an unwieldy group with plenty of potential fault lines, including between public- and private-sector unions, and it’s possible they just had their own ideas of how to go about things. As much as anything, it seems to be that with Mr. Hudak running on an agenda much more threatening to them than the one he campaigned on last time, unions wanted to be more hands-on.
And maybe they figured that going directly to voters as teachers, nurses or other generally well-liked professions would be more effective than as part of an amorphous coalition that the Tories have spent a lot of time trying to discredit.
Whatever the case, the way it’s played out has rendered pre-emptive efforts like the one above somewhat useless. But particularly with the likes of the Ontario Provincial Police Association joining the fray (and yes, to the chagrin of many of us, also a union that represents journalists), the impression that the Tories are under simultaneous assault from pretty much every union in the province is, if anything, likelier to stir a debate about third-party spending rules than if it were mostly just Working Families again.
In the improbable event that Mr. Hudak wins a majority government, one has to imagine he’ll move fairly swiftly to try to prevent anything like this from happening again.
Update: A couple of people have pointed out that, while less heavy on TV this time, Working Families has taken more of a plunge into radio, online and print advertising. Perhaps that has something to do with individual unions largely covering off the TV side of things, and it’s almost certainly related to the relative scarcity of ad space in that medium with the parties and the third parties all competing for it after a sudden election call.