The NDP is preparing a “significant” ad campaign to promote its new leader before the Conservatives get a chance to taint Canadians' first impressions with attack ads of their own.
The new leader, to be chosen Saturday, will have to approve the plan but the idea is to beat the Tories to the punch.
“The NDP is not going to be caught flat-footed. We are going to be defining our own leader to the public,” NDP spokeswoman Sally Housser said in an interview.
The Conservatives have successfully launched attack ads that helped demolish the reputations of the last two Liberal leaders, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. The ads portrayed Mr. Dion as ineffectual, weak and “not a leader,” Mr. Ignatieff as an opportunistic interloper who was “just visiting” Canada and “didn't come back for you.”
They've launched another this week against Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, accusing him of turning Ontario “into the welfare capital of Canada” during his single, recession-ravaged term as NDP premier in the early 1990s.
In the past, cash-strapped Liberals couldn't afford to fight back with ads of their own, letting the Tory attack ads go unanswered.
They've since learned what a big mistake that was. Liberals agreed at their convention in January to set aside cash to promote and defend their next permanent leader, who is to be chosen next spring.
The NDP has also learned from the Liberals' experience that Tory attack ads can't be allowed to go unchallenged.
“We've set aside funds for a significant ad buy,” Ms. Housser said.
The party already has video footage and photos taken at the last two leadership debates of each of the seven candidates which could be used in ads. It's ready to shoot ads immediately with the new leader and get them on the air as quickly as possible.
“The idea is to hit the ground running,” Ms. Housser said.
NDP officials have no doubt the Tories plan to smear their party's new leader. They've already had a taste of things to come in the House of Commons, where Conservative MPs have for months been repeating the mantra that the NDP is “not fit to govern.”
Typical was this ad hominem blast last November from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver: “NDP members have never met a job-creating private sector policy or project that they do not want to kill, a tax they do not want to raise, a regulation they do not want to impose, a freedom they do not want to curtail, an issue they do not try to use to divide Canadians and a fictitious problem they do not want the government to solve at great cost.
“That is why the NDP is not fit to govern.”
A missive posted on the Conservative Party website last week maintained it makes little difference which of the seven contenders is chosen to succeed the late Jack Layton; they'd all lead the country to economic ruin.
“While the identity of the next NDP leader is not yet known, it is apparent that whoever the leader is, they will offer Canadians the choice of high taxes, high spending and less economic growth. For everyday hard-working Canadian families looking for a government that will put them first, it is clear that the only choice is Stephen Harper's Conservative government.”
Those generic attacks are likely to be personalized once the new leader is ensconced and, if past attacks on Liberal leaders is any guide, the Tories may well make use of ammunition provided by rival contenders during leadership debates.
For instance, if front-runner Thomas Mulcair wins, the Tories could dredge up footage of rival contender Paul Dewar accusing him of being uninspired by his own party, or footage of former leader Ed Broadbent questioning Mr. Mulcair's temperamental suitability to lead.
Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey left little doubt attack ads against the new NDP leader are in the offing, although he declined to comment on how much the party intends to spend or how swiftly it intends to launch them.
“Have no doubt that we will [be]speaking to Canadians about their dangerous policies that will weaken our economy and our country,” he said in an email.
While the NDP is prepared to fight back, the Liberals still aren't ready.
A spokesman for Mr. Rae said the party will appeal to donors to contribute cash to counter the latest volley against the Interim Liberal Leader. Daniel Lauzon said the scale of the Liberal response “will depend on how generous Canadians will be in our appeal to fight back.”
The Tories' latest ad recounts Mr. Rae's “proven record of failure” as premier, including “the most job losses since the Great Depression,” “highest income taxes in North America” and “biggest deficit Ontario ever had.”
It concludes: “If he couldn't run a province, why does he think he can run Canada?”
Mr. Lauzon said Liberals intend to “fight fire with fire.”
“They want to talk economic record? Stephen Harper took a $13-billion surplus and turned it into the biggest deficit in Canadian history – $56 billion – added $125 billion to the national debt and, since he became prime minister, 270,000 more Canadians out of work.”
Mr. Rae, in the midst of last-minute campaigning Monday for the Toronto-Danforth by-election, gave his own rebuttal: “I started subways, they destroyed them. I build social housing, they destroy it. I build people up, they tear them down.
“Plus, the Blue Jays won the World Series twice when I was premier.”