PCs release new ad, Liberals remix it

The original Progressive Conservative ad:

The Liberal remix:

(Update: The original YouTube link is now dead. The Liberals say they had to take it down because of a copyright complaint the PCs lodged with YouTube.)

Which party accused the other’s supporters of being ‘male, pale and stale’?

As noted previously, the union group that reliably runs ads attacking Progressive Conservatives was unusually quiet in the run-up to this election.

Working Families Coalition is expected to get a lot louder when the advertising blackout lifts on Wednesday, with what’s sure to be a seven-figure spend on ads warning Ontarians that they can’t trust Tim Hudak. So unsurprisingly, the Tories are trying to get out ahead of it.

What is a little surprising is how they’re going about it. The one major party in Ontario currently led by a white male is accusing those campaigning against it (including former Liberal campaign director Don Guy, who is neither involved in current Ontario campaign efforts nor a “union boss”) of being “male, pale and stale.”

I suspect this will get more attention than just about any other low-cost online ad the Tories could have used for this purpose. And it fits into their broader effort to cast their policies – in particular to change skilled-trades rules that they think have been stacked toward union interests – as being about giving opportunity to younger workers being held down by entrenched interests.

Still, one can imagine the reaction if an official communication from the Liberals or New Democrats tried to attach the “male, pale and stale” tag to Mr. Hudak or his caucus members.

If the Tories are able to get away with it, it will be for the same reason sexist Facebook posts by a couple of their candidates didn’t cause the Liberals more grief. That’s not to say that alleging a lack of diversity among organized-labour leaders is equivalent to offering analysis about why women’s brains function differently from men’s, or posting photos comparing female posteriors. But just as nobody is going to accuse a party led by Kathleen Wynne of being anti-woman, the Tories are probably not going to lose a lot of votes to the perception they have it in for old white men.

Why Andrea Horwath’s new ad sounds a lot like Jack Layton

Andrea Horwath has been fairly overt about borrowing from Jack Layton’s playbook.

Mostly, that’s involved steering the NDP away from its traditional turf and loosening ties with organized labour in hope of making it palatable to a broader swath of voters – something the provincial leader has done even more bluntly than her late federal counterpart.

It also appears to involve borrowing some of the specific messaging Mr. Layton used in the 2005-06 election campaign, when he was in a very similar situation to the one Ms. Horwath is in now.

Here’s the new ad released this weekend by Ms. Horwath’s party:

Note the kicker, which the NDP described in an accompanying press release as the most important question for voters in this election: “Aren’t you ready to put the Liberals in the penalty box?”

The “penalty box” is something Mr. Layton invoked back in the 2005-06 federal campaign, after he had been the one to bring down a scandal-plagued Liberal government with which he had previously co-operated. More often, he also referred to Paul Martin’s Liberals needing a “time out.”

For New Democrats, there’s an obvious reason to make that argument in this sort of situation. For all the usual talk of “change” from politicians of all stripes, there are soft Liberal voters nervous about abandoning the party they usually vote for, not to mention about voting for one with very little experience in government. So the NDP is trying to downplay the magnitude of making such a decision.

That wasn’t the only case Mr. Layton made to voters in that 2005-06 election, which saw his party go from 18 to 29 seats in the House of Commons while the Liberals lost power, and it’s not the only one Ms. Horwath is making in this one. But with opinion research showing lots of voters upset with the Liberals but not completely writing them off – and plenty of room for movement between the Liberals and the NDP – there will probably be lots more talk about teaching the Liberals a lesson rather than giving up on them and their style of government altogether.

Can the Tories attach an ‘angry’ label to Kathleen Wynne?

When the Progressive Conservatives unveiled their sunny new campaign ad on Saturday, deputy leader Christine Elliott pointedly drew a contrast between Tim Hudak being optimistic and Kathleen Wynne being “angry, negative and lashing out at others.”

It wasn’t the first time this election Mr. Hudak’s party has accused Ms. Wynne of being “angry,” and I doubt it will be the last.

Months before the campaign started, I asked a couple of provincial Tories what their research told them about how the rookie premier played with Ontarians. They conceded that in general, first impressions were fairly positive. But they also said their focus groups had pointed to potential vulnerabilities. One of them was that, if she wasn’t careful, Ms. Wynne could be seen as unappealingly angry.

To those who have watched or interacted with Ms. Wynne on a regular basis, this might seem an odd accusation. Whatever her other flaws, Ms. Wynne hardly ranks among the more ornery politicians Ontario has seen; quite the contrary, really.

But the Tories believe that’s how she can come across on TV. And no doubt, when they saw the ads the Liberals ran in the run-up to the campaign, they thought she was putting herself in precisely the wrong light – or, from their perspective, precisely the right one.



Those spots set an aggressive tone that Ms. Wynne has maintained during the campaign. Although the Liberals have trotted out a few other MPPs to take shots at their opponents, Ms. Wynne is unusually willing to take them herself rather than leaning on her surrogates.

Her strategists think that makes her look honest and tough; Mr. Hudak’s evidently think it makes her look like what those focus groups told them she could. The more aggressive she is between now and June 12, the more the Tories can be expected to try to attach that other a-word to her as well.


Why the Liberals are impatient to attack Andrea Horwath


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.


Waiting for Working Families

Making the case this morning for his policy to change Ontario’s apprenticeship rules, Tim Hudak took aim at a familiar foe.

“Special interests like the Working Families Coalition want to artificially limit the number of people that get into skilled trades because it increases their bargaining power,” the Progressive Conservative Leader said. “I get that. I think it’s wrong.”

If you’ve followed Mr. Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives at all closely in the past few years, you’ll know about their obsession with Working Families. And frankly, it’s hard to blame them for it.

An umbrella group of various unions, Working Families has given the Liberals a big advantage in the past few elections by spending millions of dollars on ads attacking the PC Leader and his predecessors. The Tories believe the organization’s campaign in the summer before the 2011 election was particularly effective at eroding their lead in the polls – or at least, that it worked well in combination with the spots the Liberals were running during that period featuring Dalton McGuinty reassuringly addressing Ontarians. The Liberals could afford to devote their own resources only toward the positive spots, the Tories argue, because the unions were doing their bidding with the negative ones.

At times, this can start to sound like they’re making excuses; few people who watched Mr. Hudak in action during his first campaign at the helm would believe union ads were the biggest reason he lost. But it was understandable that, in the run-up to the current campaign, they were braced for another onslaught.

In retrospect, though, perhaps they needn’t have fretted quite so much. Because as it turns out, Working Families never did launch a pre-writ campaign in 2014.

That’s a bit surprising, considering that Mr. Hudak is running on a more overtly anti-union agenda in this campaign than he did in the previous one. But there are a few possible explanations floating around.

One is that, not knowing if and when an election would be called, the unions just couldn’t afford to take the risk of wasting their money. A second is that, whereas in the past their messaging was more or less tailored to help re-elect the Liberals, their allegiances recently have been more divided between that party and the NDP. A third, somewhat related, is that the coalition has started to fracture a bit because of competing interests.

Whatever caused Working Families to stay quiet before the official election period, it won’t during it. Once the advertising blackout for the campaign’s first two weeks ends on May 21, the coalition can be expected to hit the airwaves hard with a wave of ads going after Mr. Hudak.

Still, that probably makes for less impact than Working Families had previously. Unlike pre-writ, commercial slots will be so overflowing with political ads in the campaign’s final weeks that it won’t be possible to score a clean hit.

That doesn’t seem to have dissuaded Mr. Hudak from invoking Working Families at every available opportunity. Perhaps he’s trying to condition reporters and the public for what’s to come, or else it owes to lingering anger about the way Working Families introduced him to voters nearly three years ago. Either way, the reality is that so far this time the group hasn’t been as much of a factor as he expected it to be.

Not quite a well-oiled machine

On Monday, Tim Hudak started his first proper day of campaigning with a rather awkward press conference at a music studio, where his host put him on the defensive by criticizing his opposition to the Ontario Music Fund.

On Tuesday, it was reported that his new campaign ad appears to use stock footage from Russia.

Neither of these stories will exactly make or break Mr. Hudak’s campaign; it would be surprising if many people even remember them by June 12. But still, it’s a little surprising how clumsy his Progressive Conservatives have been out of the gate.

Given that their party has been clamouring for an election for a couple of years now, and had a dry run last year when it ramped up in hope the NDP would help bring the Liberals down then, it seemed likely the Tories would actually be the most prepared for the campaign’s launch. And they didn’t do much to disabuse reporters of that notion in a somewhat boastful weekend conference call.

But so far, it’s the Liberals – a party that went through a leadership change little more than a year ago, and an overhaul of its campaign team since then – that looks like it was readiest to start. They were out first with their buses, they quickly got their leader onto a busy schedule, and they’ve avoided any embarrassing glitches.

No doubt, the Liberals’ deeper pockets helped with that. And again, it’s early going and it’s doubtful how many Ontarians are taking notice of these things, let alone committing them to memory. But it’s safe to say Mr. Hudak could use a couple of relatively smooth days to get his campaign on track.

Why Tim Hudak likes the Internet

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on May 6. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

During a conference call this past weekend with reporters, Tim Hudak’s campaign director explained that the Progressive Conservatives plan to spend lots of money on online advertising, apparently by spending less than usual on television ads.

The reason, Ian Robertson said, is that people just don’t consume media the way the used to, so it’s necessary to be more flexible and creative in trying to reach them.

Their opponents have been happy to offer up other theories. Some of them are saying the focus on online advertising, which is a lot cheaper than TV spots, is a reflection of the Tories just not having enough money; others are saying it speaks to a reluctance to splash Mr. Hudak’s face all over TV.

Of these explanations, Mr. Robertson’s is probably closest to the truth. But there’s another one that also helps explain what the Tories are up to. Of the three major parties, the Tories are the most focused on motivation, and the least concerned with persuasion. That’s to say, while they certainly want to woo a few business-minded Liberals over to their side, they don’t think there are that many swing voters available to them.

Their biggest key to victory, they believe, is to make sure that Ontarians inclined to vote for them – if they vote for anyone at all – actually cast ballots.

If you’re trying to make broad arguments to large numbers of voters, TV remains the best advertising bet. But if your aim is more mobilization of your support base, there’s a case for web ads – which can be more narrowly targeted to voters depending on their interests, and whether they’re in ridings where you need every possible vote – being more effective.

These are early days, and there could yet be a big swing of support in one direction or the other that forces everyone to adjust. But for now, anticipating that the number of people willing to vote for them will remain relatively static, the Tories seem intent on playing a precision game.

The last day of unofficial campaigning

For all intents and purposes, Ontario’s election campaign has been under way since last Friday. But officially, it will only begin Wednesday when the writ drops.

At that point, a few things will change. The most immediately obvious one will be that lawn signs will start going up. More significant will be what parties stop being allowed to do.

Per Ontario’s election law, there’s a moratorium on advertising from the start of the official campaign period until 22 days before election day. That normally means a one-week blackout, but because this will be a longer campaign it will last for two weeks instead.

The other major difference as of Wednesday will be that anything the parties spend will be counted toward their campaign expenditure limit, which is in the neighbourhood of $8-million each. And because of that longer-than-usual campaign, they’ll have to stretch those dollars a little further than they normally would.

All this is to say that the Liberals, who are the only party that can afford to spend big sums before the official campaign and still hit the maximum during it, are about to lose their advantage. For the rest of us, it means we’ll get a reprieve from Kathleen Wynne walking around empty streets telling us about the evils of Tim Hudak or Andrea Horwath, before the airwaves are flooded in a couple of weeks.