The New Democrats and the Conservatives are waging an internet battle for economic credibility with the release of new online ads that take vicious swipes at the other party’s ability to foster Canadian prosperity.
As the hours tick down to Thursday night and the first leadership debate of this extended campaign, let’s look at what the parties are saying about each other.
The Tory ad, which was posted online on Monday, features a male voice ominously reminding Canadians that the October 19 election is about “our economy, your job, your family, your retirement … the wrong leader will do real harm.” (‘That’s a lovely family you’ve got there, it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.’)
It begins with some mudslinging at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Referring to Mr. Trudeau as Justin – a Tory strategy for diminishing him in the eyes of voters – the ad says he “thinks budgets balance themselves.” That’s a reference to an interview that the Liberal Leader did with CPAC in February in which he said: “The commitment needs to be a commitment to grow the economy and the budget will balance itself.”
It goes on to say that NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is a career politician who “would wreck our economy.” Flashing over a video of Mr. Mulcair are the words “economic chaos” and “out of control spending.”
It is a simple message – one that demonizes the Conservatives’ foes and reinforces the message that any leader but Mr. Harper’s party real risks to a voter’s economic security. (Here be dragons!) It’s also one that is difficult for the opposition to counter because it is based on perceptions rather than something that can be easily refuted.
An NDP ad posted Wednesday relies more heavily on numbers than characterization – but numbers can be manipulated for political advantage.
In the NDP spot, a woman’s voice is heard (over music that could have been used in Star Wars to portend the arrival of the Death Star) telling viewers that Mr. Harper has failed in his promise to create jobs and strengthen the economy.
The ad accuses Mr. Harper of having the “worst jobs record since the Second World War.” For this statistic, the party looks at average annual growth in total employment under each prime minister dating back to William Lyon Mackenzie King. And yes, Mr. Harper sits at the bottom of that list.
But, if a viewer was left with the impression that Mr. Harper had the worst record for unemployment over that period of time, he or she would be wrong. The unemployment rate in the early ‘80s and again in the early ‘90s was much higher than it has been under the Conservatives, even during the worst of the 2008 recession. And Canada has had some of the strongest job growth of all the G7countries over the past seven years.
The ad goes on to say Mr. Harper has presided over “the lowest economic growth since the Great Depression.” It is true that average annual economic growth under Mr. Harper has been the lowest of any Prime Minister since the 1930. On the other hand, it has been a tough few years and Canada has performed well on an annual basis compared to other G7 countries, sometimes outperforming all of them.
“Household debt is skyrocketing” says the ad. That is true – mostly as a result of a growth in residential mortgages.
“Incomes flatlining,” says the ad. The NDP uses Statistics Canada numbers to show that median market income fell from $51,300 in 1976 to $47,700 in 2011. But the disposable income of Canadians has been on a strong upward trend since 2010 and the median income of people in this country has surpassed the median income in the United States.
“Eight straight deficits and $150-billion more in debt,” says the ad. For the Conservatives, there’s no getting around that one. Mr. Harper says the budget will be balanced this year. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is dubious.
Canadians will be bombarded with election ads over the next 11 weeks, some with simple messages, some more complex. And, like much of what will come out of the leaders’ mouths during the debate on Thursday, it will take some careful analysis to discern truth from political fudgery.
This story corrects an earlier version that incorrectly stated the date of the election