Attack ad reality check: Do these Conservative and NDP claims stand up?

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

The Iraq mission: NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair on why Canada should leave

On Tuesday morning, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stood in the House of Commons to deliver his reasons for why Canada’s military mission in Iraq should not be extended by a year and expand into Syria. The mission is meant to fight the Islamic State, which Mr. Mulcair refers to in his speech by the acronym ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

The following is a transcript of his speech (in both English and French) provided by Parliament. At one point, Mr. Mulcair is heckled by Members of Parliament of a different party, and House Speaker Andrew Scheer asks them to let Mr. Mulcair finish speaking.

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair speaks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair speaks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Mr. Speaker, asking our brave Canadian women and men in uniform to risk their lives overseas is the most sacred duty that a Prime Minister has. Seeking approval from this House makes us all responsible for their lives. Seeking a mandate like this must be undertaken, therefore, with the utmost responsibility.

I listened very carefully as the Prime Minister spoke just now, and nothing I heard today has convinced me that the Conservatives are taking this duty with the seriousness that it deserves.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that we have had this debate before. On September 30, just six months ago, I stood in this House and asked the Prime Minister specifically whether Canadian troops would be involved in directing air strikes in Iraq and painting targets. I asked him twice, as a matter of fact, and twice the Prime Minister specifically denied it. We now know that simply was not true. I also asked the Prime Minister if Canadian troops would be accompanying Iraqi forces to the front line. Again, the Prime Minister categorically denied that, and again we now know that simply was not true. They say that truth is the first casualty of war. It has become clear that the current government has taken that saying to heart.

Petit à petit, sans faire preuve de transparence et à coups de déclarations contradictoires de la part du premier ministre, du ministre de la Défense nationale et du ministre des Affaires étrangères, les conservateurs ont enfoncé le Canada dans une guerre en Irak; une guerre qui n’est pas la nôtre. C’est un bourbier qui dure depuis plus d’une décennie, un conflit qui a déjà coûté la vie, comme le premier ministre vient de le dire, au sergent Andrew Joseph Doiron.

Toutefois, nous voici six mois plus tard: ce premier ministre et ce gouvernement demandent maintenant la permission de prolonger le déploiement en Irak et d’ajouter, le premier ministre vient de le dire, la Syrie comme nouveau théâtre d’opérations.

Le premier ministre nous demande de lui faire confiance pour pouvoir mettre nos troupes en danger. Pour le dire tout simplement, il n’a pas mérité cette confiance.

The Prime Minister has not earned that trust because he misled Canadians from the start. It is simply unconscionable that the current Conservative government would ask for the authority to extend the mission in Iraq when so many things it has told Canadians about the mission up until now have been false.

It begs the question: Do they not know the answers; or do they not want Canadians to know the answers? The women and men who put their lives on the line deserve better, Canadians deserve better.

If we all agree that it is the Prime Minister’s sacred duty to send our troops into war, then it is the official opposition’s sacred duty to scrutinize that decision to ensure that it is the right one.

Military planners will tell us that for a mission to succeed it must have two things. It must have a well-defined objective and a well-defined exit strategy. This mission has neither. The Conservatives simply have no plan. They have no strategy, other than the obvious political one, and that is putting our troops in danger.

Our brave men and women are involved in fire fights with ISIS on the ground, contrary to their clear undertaking. For the Prime Minister to still deny that Canadian troops are involved in combat is simply ludicrous. The death of Sergeant Doiron reminded us all that the risk of deployment on the front line is real. This House cannot turn a blind eye to this fact, despite the Prime Minister’s assertions.

The truth is our allies, the Americans for instance, do not even get close to the front line. In their role of targeting air strikes, the Canadian soldiers are performing a task that so far even the U.S. military has been unwilling to perform.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has repeatedly said the U.S. would consider directing attacks from the ground but that it has not done so yet. Why not and why are Canadian troops doing it?

Évidemment, le manque d’objectifs clairs n’a pas empêché ce premier ministre d’appuyer la guerre de George W. Bush, en 2003. Pourtant, l’histoire nous démontre que le Canada avait raison de ne pas y participer, à l’époque.

Or aujourd’hui, de toute évidence, le manque d’objectifs clairs ne trouble aucunement notre premier ministre. Il semble vouloir sa guerre en Irak, comme il l’a voulue en 2003, peu importe les conséquences. Ainsi le Canada est d’abord entré en guerre en Irak pour une mission de 30 jours. Trente jours se sont transformés en six mois. Et voilà que six mois plus tard s’ajouterait une année supplémentaire. Que se passera-t-il après? C’est cela la question. Les Canadiens ne le savent pas. Les conservateurs ne le savent pas et pire, ils refusent de le dire.

Souvenons-nous de l’engagement du Canada dans la guerre en Afghanistan, une guerre qui, pour le Canada, a également débuté avec quelques opérations de forces spéciales très limitées. À l’époque, malgré les insultes et les quolibets, Alexa McDonough et le caucus du NPD ont posé les questions qui s’imposaient au gouvernement, des questions difficiles. À l’époque, comme aujourd’hui, la mission initiale s’est transformée au fil du temps, enfonçant le Canada dans un bourbier, comme nous l’avions prédit.

Le déploiement en Afghanistan est devenu la plus longue mission militaire de l’histoire du Canada: 160 soldats tués, plus de 1 000 blessés et des milliers d’autres qui ont souffert et qui souffrent encore aujourd’hui du syndrome post-traumatique.

It is the height of irresponsibility for a government to decide to enter a war without a clear plan, without a clear beginning and a well-defined end. That is exactly what the Conservatives are doing in Iraq. The government is taking Canada from mission creep to mission leap.

New Democrats are proud to have stood up to the Prime Minister’s misguided war from the very beginning. The fact is Canada has no place in this war. This is not —

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Mulcair:  This is not a UN mission. It is not even a NATO mission. Despite attempts to give appearances to the contrary, it is not a NATO mission. UN missions and NATO missions are the kinds of internationally sanctioned campaigns that New Democrats can and have been able to get behind.

In 2011—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Speaker: Order. I did not hear any noise when the right hon. Prime Minister was speaking. I will ask members to extend the same courtesy to the hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Mulcair:  In 2011, when Moammar Gadhafi started dropping bombs on his own civilian population, New Democrats supported the international efforts to protect Libyans. That effort was sanctioned by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Of course, when the mission of protection of the civilian population became one of a so-called regime change, it was New Democrats who asked the right question — to replace it with what? Ask the Americans how that worked out in Benghazi?

Now, years later, with everything we have seen unfold in Lybia, it is clear that the NDP was right to ask those questions then. Unlike that original mission in Lybia, the war in Iraq does not have the support of the United Nations. Let us be clear about that.

Here it is important to note that the Security Council has indeed passed three resolutions dealing with Iraq, none authorizing a military mission. However, the Security Council is requiring action on preventing the flow of foreign fighters and financing of terrorist organizations, including ISIS and ISIL. Pressuring regional governments to prevent financial transfers to them is a real diplomatic effort that Canada can and should prioritize. That would be effective. The truth is that air strikes are being used as an effective recruitment tool for ISIS.

Ça fait plus d’une décennie que les États-Unis sont embourbés en Irak et les Américains ne voient absolument pas la lumière au bout du tunnel. Est-ce que le premier ministre essaie de nous croire qu’il va réussir et utiliser la force militaire pour imposer une solution en Irak, alors que tous ont échoué depuis les 10 dernières années? Ça ne tient pas la route.

Voilà que le premier ministre veut maintenant faire ça en aidant le régime syrien de Bashar al-Assad, un dictateur de la pire espèce, un criminel de guerre qui cible sa propre population avec des armes chimiques et qui bombarde impunément écoles et hôpitaux sans aucune arrière pensée.

It is especially disturbing to see the Prime Minister now openly considering an alliance of sorts with the brutal dictator and war criminal, Bashar al-Assad. The Prime Minister has already said that any Canadian military involvement in Syria, something the government is now proposing as members just heard, would require the permission of the Assad regime.

This is a regime that continues to commit the most atrocious war crimes. It is a regime that not only uses chemical weapons on civilians, it uses snipers against women and children. It is a regime that actually collaborated with ISIS.

It is hard to believe the Prime Minister when he says that the mission is about preventing atrocities when he is willing to work with one of the worst perpetrators of atrocities in the world today.

Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s last ambassador to the UN Security Council, said it best. He said:

If out of fear of ISIS and of desire to stop the islamist extremist group the coalition were to ally itself de facto or de jure with Assad for fleeting tactical advantage, it would be the ultimate betrayal of the Syrian innocents and of our own values. Simply put, our women and men in uniform have no place being in Iraq and they certainly have no place being in Syria.

Mark my words, when New Democrats form government on October 19, we are going to pull our troops out. We are going to bring them home.

Monsieur le Président, je suis convaincu que tous et chacun en cette Chambre ne souhaitent que du bien au peuple irakien, mais ce n’est pas avec une escalade militaire que l’on aidera le peuple d’Irak. Les insurgés, les factions, les clans se nourrissent de ces interventions pour radicaliser la population, pour recruter des militants, pour miner les gouvernements locaux. Ces groupes, comme le groupe État islamique, bénéficient justement de la faiblesse de l’État irakien et du faible appui de sa propre population. L’Irak n’est pas en mesure de maintenir la paix et la sécurité à l’intérieur de ses propres frontières. Cela ne changera pas avec plus de bombes, plus de destructions et plus de morts.

Canada can play a more positive role in resolving this crisis. We can do that by helping our NATO ally. Turkey coped with 1.5 million refugees who have poured over its border. We can do that by using every diplomatic, humanitarian and financial resource at our disposal to strengthen the political institutions in Iraq, and yes, in Syria.

It is simply not enough to say that we have to do something. We need to ask ourselves what the right thing to do is. The question should not be a combat role or nothing. It is a false choice offered by the Prime Minister. The question should be: What is the most effective thing Canada can do?

There is a desperate need for humanitarian support. There were reports from the parliamentary commission of this Parliament this week of children freezing to death in refugee camps. Canada could have helped with winterizing those camps.

There is also a desperate need for greater diplomacy. Local frustrations and ineffective outreach brought about the rise of ISIS. Only effective, inclusive and representative governance can end the threat from extremism in the region.

There is a need for a strong campaign to counter extremist messaging, exposing the brutality of ISIS and the lack of religious basis for its atrocities. It starts right here at home with proactive engagement with the communities to prevent radicalization. However, that is something that cannot be achieved when the Prime Minister singles out Canada’s Muslim population instead of reaching out to them.

La motion que propose le gouvernement ne fait rien de tout cela. Voilà pourquoi l’opposition officielle formée par le Nouveau parti démocratique du Canada n’appuiera pas cette motion, n’appuiera la prolongation de la guerre en Irak et n’appuiera pas l’expansion de cette guerre vers la Syrie. Il est clair que ce n’est pas la voie à suivre.