Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Political Ads for the Elites

When it comes to politics, we Canadians have to put up with a lot of outrageous nonsense: broken campaign promises, sleazy scandals, Elizabeth May.

But it seems the people most annoyed by certain workings of the democratic process are Canada’s media and intellectual elites, i.e. university-educated professionals who are specially trained to relentlessly lecture us on issues which nobody cares about.

For example, elites are constantly bemoaning the state of Canada’s political advertising, which they argue “dumbs down” our civic discourse and undermines the country’s democratic purity, which is just their elite way of saying, “these ads are bad because they help Prime Minister Stephen Harper get elected.”

Me, I can see both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, I can certainly understand why some people might find political ads annoying, especially since their typically low-budget production values, along with their general lack of creativity, make them look as though they were spewed out by an online random ad generator.

On the other hand, however, as someone who has written political ads in both Canada and the United States, I find the ability to boil down a highly complex and nuanced political statement into a 30 second message that’s so simplistic even a brain-damaged chimpanzee can understand it, a true art form.

For instance, one my ads artistically juxtaposed a photo of Bob Rae and a jackass, a spot which was only slightly less cerebral than another ad I produced which compared MPs to cartoon pigs.

At any rate, since I firmly believe elections should be enjoyable for all Canadians,  including elites, I say it’s time our political parties started producing ads that are crammed with intellectual content, ads that take on important issues, and ads that make only minimal use of barnyard animals.

And to help this process along, I’d like to offer my ideas as to what kind of “high quality” political ads I’d like to see in the upcoming 2015 election.

But before I get to that, however, let me first explain that when I talk about “quality”, I don’t mean we need to make political ads all gooey “positive.”

Positive ads are actually like Care Bear movies; they seem harmless, but if you watch too many of them, your brain will gradually turn into a lump of sugar.

To prove my point, here are two examples of positive political ads gone horribly wrong:

Example 1. The Conservatives once aired a positive TV ad showcasing Prime Minister Harper wearing a cuddly sweater vest as he gently chatted about his cutesy-wutesy family in the hopes this would soften his tough-guy image; instead it just softened everyone’s ability to keep their eyes open.

Example 2. The Liberals produced a positive TV ad in 2009 which featured their then leader Michael Ignatieff cheerfully discussing the finer points of trade policy while standing alone in the middle of a forest.  

Unfortunately for the Liberals this ad made Ignatieff something of a laughing stock (more so than usual I mean), although on the plus side, it did significantly increase his name recognition among squirrels and chipmunks.

Mind you, intellectual elites probably believe positive ads are superior because they seem so much nicer when compared to so-called “negative” or “attack” ads.

What they fail to realize is political “attacks” are actually an important part of our democratic heritage, going all the way back to the dawn of classical civilization. In fact, the term “political negative ad” is derived from the ancient Greek phrase “politicos negatotos gyro” which roughly translated means, “Feel free to take your opponent’s quotes wildly out of context.”

But enough about the history of political ads, it’s time now to check out my suggestions as to how each party can totally degrade and debase its rivals in a high quality manner:

Ads to Take Down Trudeau

Going negative against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau presents a real challenge because he’s so adorably cute; attacking him is kind of like kicking a puppy.

Yet, like a puppy, Trudeau also has less intellectual heft than an average episode of The Bachelor.

And that can be used as a basis for anti-Trudeau attack ads, such as:

Trudeau TV Attack Ad #1

Visual -- A flattering photo of Trudeau appears on the screen. (Ordinarily, I’d suggest an unflattering photo be used, but unfortunately no such photo of Trudeau exists.)

Narrator: Here are some facts about Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

Fact: Trudeau’s only experience in dealing with fiscal issues occurred when he negotiated with his mother for a raise in his allowance.

Fact: At the time, Trudeau was 35 years old.

Fact: Trudeau argued his allowance “should raise itself.”

Fact: After hearing this argument, Trudeau’s mother ended up cutting his allowance.

And now Trudeau wants to take control of the federal budget?! Don’t let him use your tax dollars to raise his allowance.

Trudeau TV Attack Ad # 2

Visual: Side by side photos of Trudeau’s head and a turnip.

Narrator: Have you ever wondered if Justin Trudeau was smarter than a turnip?

Let’s compare the two.

A turnip never expressed admiration for the Communist Chinese government.

Trudeau did.

A turnip never joked on a radio show about the explosive situation in the Ukraine.

Trudeau did.

In response to the war against ISIS, a turnip never made a crude comment about “Whipping out CF-18s”

Trudeau did.

You wouldn’t trust a turnip to run Canada; why trust Trudeau?

Trudeau TV Attack Ad # 3

Visual: Photo of Justin Trudeau eating a turnip.

Narrator:  Remember when Justin Trudeau said the federal budget will “balance itself”?

Well if you think that’s bad consider all these other crazy things Trudeau may or may not have said:

“I’m not worried about the XL pipeline, because one day it will just build itself.”

“I am calling upon the UN to demand that Vladimir Putin invade himself”.

“The best thing about my beautiful hair is it combs itself.”

So if you don’t want a prime minister who says oddball things vote for Stephen Harper.

By the way, here’s some irony, this ad actually wrote itself.

Ads to take Down Harper

The Liberal party has said again and again, that it’s going to stay positive. This, to use the proper technical political science term, is a “lie.”

The Liberals will definitely go negative and they’ll score big points if they use ads like these:

Harper TV attack ad #1

Visual: A cartoon of Mike Duffy, made to resemble the giant “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” from the Ghostbusters movie, is seen causing havoc in downtown Ottawa.

Narrator: Stephen Harper actually appointed Mike Duffy to the Senate.

The Canadian Senate.

Duffy with an expense account.

In our Senate.

In Canada.

We did not make this up.

Harper TV attack ad # 2

Visual: NDP leader Thomas Muclair appears on the screen.

Audio: Hi, I’m Thomas Mulcair and one important issue in this election is how the Harper government has eroded our precious democratic rights and freedoms.

In fact, under Bill C-51 the government now has sweeping powers to invade our privacy and to infringe on our …(sound of static abruptly drowns out Muclair’s voice, then the video starts break up …until suddenly Mulcair’s image is replaced by a screen filling photo of Prime Minister Harper’s face, staring accusingly with ice cold blue eyes directly at the viewer)

A cold clinical voice then speaks the following words which also appear in big bold letters on the screen thusly:


Harper TV Attack ad # 3

Visual: Image of Prime Minister Harper appears on the screen digitally altered to look like a combination of history’s greatest monsters: Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Justin Bieber.

Narrator:  What you learn about Prime Minister Harper in this ad will terrify the socks off you.

A group of scientists, while combing through the wreckage of the Franklin expedition ship, discovered something thought to be long lost and forgotten: Harper’s scary right-wing hidden agenda.

This is frightening because it means the Harper government will soon implement a whole range of scary, right-wing, hidden things, such as forcing every Canadian to carry a bible, such as forcing every Canadian to carry a gun, such as forcing every Canadian to carry a gun with a bible attached to it.

Yes, when it comes to scary right-wing hidden agendas nothing is too impossible to totally make up.

So be afraid! Be afraid! Be afraid!

This ad is paid for by the Stop Conservative Fear Mongering Committee.

Ads to take Down Mulcair

Going after the NDP will mean producing ads with a little more subtlety and a little more sophistication, meaning they will need some sort catchy tagline, and by “catchy” I mean a phrase, which after you’ve heard it about a million times on TV and radio, will bore into your subconscious mind like a voracious parasite and nest there, gnawing away at your cogitative and reasoning powers.  

See if you can detect the catch phrase in these ads:

Mulcair TV Attack Ad # 1

Visual: Black and white photo of Thomas Mulcair, with a sharp focus on his beard.

Narrator: Here’s what NDP leader Thomas Mulcair doesn’t want you to know.

He has a beard.

Do you know who else had a beard?

Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. (Visuals of Marx and Castro appear on screen)

Are you scared yet?

Mulcair TV Attack ad #2

Visual: Photo of Thomas Mulcair standing between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau.

Narrator: NDP leader Thomas Mulcair –he combines Stephen Harper’s personality with Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy ideas.

Are you scared yet?

Mulcair TV Attack ad #3

Visual: Vintage photo of NDP convention from the 1960s.

Narrator: Did you know the New Democratic Party was founded in 1960?

That’s means the NDP is more than 50 years old.

Yet, Thomas Mulcair calls his party the “New” Democratic Party.

How can something more than 50 years old be new?

So if Mulcair is lying about the “New” part, is he also lying about the “Democratic” part?

Are you scared yet?

By the way, in case you missed it, the “catch phrase” in each of those ads was, of course, “Thomas Mulcair.”

Now, I could go on and on with more examples of brilliantly creative political ad ideas, but I think I’ve already achieved my goal here, which was primarily to pad this blog posting’s word count.

Besides, now that I look back at my ad ideas, I realize they probably won’t please the elites.

After all let’s face it, eggheads want political ads that are erudite and classy, like a Margaret Atwood novel; unfortunately this would result in political ads that are boring and pretentious, like a Margaret Atwood novel.

So like it or not all you elites out there, my ideas are about as good as you can expect to see in terms of political ads. In fact, I’m fairly certain that compared to the low brow stuff that will actually air during the next election, my ad concepts will look positively Shakespearean.

Are you scared yet?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Debate Prepping with Justin

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is not only amazingly cute, he’s also incredibly busy.

In addition to his rigorous schedule of posing for charming photo ops, he’s also prepping like crazy for the upcoming federal leadership debates.

True, those debates are still about five months away; but Liberal party strategists, realizing that pitting their gaffe-prone leader in a debate against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, is like throwing a goldfish into a pond of barracudas, want their leader to be as prepared as possible.

Hence, media reports say that for the past two months Trudeau’s been doing full debate rehearsals, five to six hours a week.

Of course, knowing Trudeau as we all do, we can easily assume that those debate rehearsals are probably going a lot like this:

CONSULTANT: Justin let’s begin our debate rehearsal, I’ll play the part of the moderator, and ask you some practice questions OK?

TRUDEAU: OK, but who am I playing? When I was teaching drama class, I always made it a point to emphasize the importance of knowing your character.

CONSULTANT: You’re playing you Justin. Remember this is a rehearsal for the leadership debates. It’s very important.

TRUDEAU: Got it. So what’s my motivation in this scene? Actually, never mind, I’ll just wing it improv-style. Go ahead and ask away.

CONSULTANT: Mr. Trudeau, if you were elected prime minister what would be your top priority?

TRUDEAU: Easy. My advisors keep telling me that something called the “middle class” is extremely important to Canada, so I’d try my hardest to help it or help them or help whatever it is.

CONSULTANT: Um… we need to work a bit on that answer, Justin. But don’t worry, it’s my fault for starting you off with such a tough question. Just to warm you up, let’s try something a little easier. Tell me Mr. Trudeau what do you love the most about Canada?

TRUDEAU: I love so much about Canada, only I wish we had a government that was just as efficient as the government they have in North Korea which is ….

CONSULTANT: Hold it, Justin. I’m going to stop you right there. Didn’t we already spend hours talking about this? Didn’t we explain to you why that was such a bad thing to say?

TRUDEAU: Well, as I recall you told me praising communist China was a bad thing to say. But clearly I just praised North Korea, so honestly I don’t see the problem

CONSULTANT: Fine. We’ll come back to that later. Here’s my last question. Why, Mr. Trudeau, do you want to be prime minster of Canada?

TRUDEAU: Well, mainly it’s because my mother keeps telling me it’s time I got a real job. And that’s a bit harsh in my ….hey, what’s wrong? Are you crying?

CONSULTANT: No, I just have something in my eye.

TRUDEAU: Listen, why do I need to answer all these hard questions in this stupid debate? By now everybody already knows exactly how smart I am. Can’t I just stand at the podium balancing a baby on my hand? The media seems to love it when I do stuff like that.

CONSULTANT: But you need to show … oh to heck with it. Somebody get me a baby.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Speaking of Elizabeth May ...

Given all the chatter over Green Party leader Elizabeth May's "sleep deprived" antics at the recent Ottawa Press Gallery event, I thought I'd pile on a bit and reproduce a column I wrote which appeared a few years ago in the Ottawa Citizen

Green Party Needs a New NameIt’s time Green Party leader Elizabeth May changed the name of her party so that it more accurately reflect its true purpose.

I’m thinking of something like: “We will do Everything we can to Help the Liberal Party Even if it Means Undermining our own Environmental Cause Party.”

OK that moniker might be a bit difficult to fit on a ballot, but it sure fits the Green Party’s current raison d’etre.

After all, ever since May became Green Party leader, her chief political goal has been less about promoting Green ideology and more about helping Liberals get elected.

Recall, for example, that in the 2008 federal election she decided not to run a Green candidate against then Liberal leader Stephan Dion.

And in doing so, she effectively endorsed Dion for prime minister.

This was an odd decision since if May really thought Dion would make a great prime minister, why was she even running?

And don’t tell me May endorsed Dion because she believed he was some kind of green activist.

That theory doesn’t hold water because the Liberals at the time didn’t exactly have a sparkling “green” record.

In fact, the Liberal government, of which Dion was part, had done precious little to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions or to implement the Kyoto Accord.

That’s why Jamey Heath, an environmental activist and onetime NDP advisor, called May’s Dion endorsement “incredibly self-defeating”.
He was right.

Also seemingly self-defeating was May’s bizarre call during the 2008 federal election for strategic voting, in which she actually urged Canadians not to vote for a Green candidate if another candidate (i.e. a Liberal) had a better chance at defeating a Conservative.

With a friend like May, Green Party candidates didn’t need enemies.

And even though the Liberals have fallen into third place, May has still not given up promoting their electoral cause.

Most recently, she announced the Greens would not be running a candidate in the upcoming Labrador by-election against ex-Conservative cabinet minister, Peter Penashue, and she strongly urged the NDP to follow suit, as this would increase the probability of a Liberal victory.

May’s point is that such electoral co-operation is needed to defeat their common enemy, the Conservatives.

This might be true, but please note May is not asking the Liberals to step aside in the name of electoral co-operation, even though as the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hebert recently pointed out, the provincial NDP is growing in popularity in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Clearly, May’s goal isn’t just for the Conservatives to lose; it’s also for the Liberals to win.

If Green Party supporters aren’t angry about all this, then they aren’t paying attention because it’s obvious that May is hurting their cause.

By pulling out of election contests, for instance, May is undermining the party’s ability to get its message out to voters.

Certainly running a Green candidate in the Labrador by-election, which is guaranteed to receive tons of media coverage, would give the Green Party an amazing chance to promote its cause.

But the problem for the Greens goes much deeper than just losing free publicity.

Much deeper.

The more important question is this: if it doesn’t field candidates in elections and if its leader keeps promoting another party, why does the Green Party even exist?

To be blunt, if the Green Party doesn’t want to engage in the political arena as an independent voice, with its own vision and with its own ideals, than it serves no real or useful function.

You know, now that I think about it, maybe changing the name of the Green Party isn’t the best answer.

Maybe it would be more logical and easier if May simply changed parties.

The Liberals are probably looking for a few more MPs.