Shortly after taking office in 2004, the Conservatives made their first effort to shore up their under-competitive credentials as environmentalists.
It didn't reallly work, partly because they were working with a 1980s playbook, with the implicit assumption that the only environmental issues that people truly cared about were local, mostly airborne, health risks. It's never a bad idea to be against air pollution, but this agenda landed awkwardly for a few reasons.
First, as research revealed, lots of people had already begun to feel a deep moral dilemma about the kind of planet they were passing on to their children, convinced that we all had to start living with a lighter environmental footprint. We now worried about how much garbage we made, water we wasted, energy we squandered. This anxiety was about far more than our backyards.
Second, the Conservatives first undertaking on greenhouse gases would have seen no actual GHG reductions for another few decades - a proposition that was doomed to disappoint those baby boomers trying to square their lifestyles with the environmental legacy they owed their children.
Since then, the Conservatives have moved closer to meeting mainstream expectations, but still from time to time look as though they want voters to know that the environment is the natural predator of jobs, and that those who care more about jobs must vote Tory.
It's not entirely unreasonable as political strategy, and more than good enough to succeed against Stéphane Dion's overly technical monolog about carbon.
But it has an exposed flank; one that Michael Ignatieff's latest television spot takes productive aim at.
Given a smidgen of evidence to support the proposition, most voters now dearly want to believe that Canada can blend sustainable forestry, responsible mineral, oil and gas development, renewable energies, green technologies, business, scientific and engineering know-how, and Canadian values into a next-generation world-beating economy. It is this reflexive hope that Ignatieff may well connect with: we need more jobs, want to be more green, and the Liberals say its doable.
By characterizing environmental care as, in effect, a job creation project, Ignatieff forces Harper to either deny this possibility exists, try to cover the bet, or avoid the issue entirely. Two of those three outcomes would be good for the Liberals, and the third seems the least likely to happen.
The Liberal spot looks to be aimed at the roughly 75 per cent of the population who tend to think the Conservatives care too little about the environment. The ad focuses its critique not on the specific policies Harper has brought about, but on the notion that Conservatives believe green begets jobless. This straw man is a good set up for a message of hope, optimism, environmental morality and prosperity, all rolled into one, devoid of difficult tensions or trade-offs.
Once again, as with the last couple of new Liberal spots, the takeaway is simple and appealing enough. Ignatieff equals values like yours, light on the partisanship, heavy on the optimism, thinking hard about the economy and focused on the future.
While the creative punch of these spots might not be all that it could be, with enough reach and frequency these messages will likely yield votes.