'I was raised on middle-class values and I'll work to strengthen the middle class," Tom Mulcair says, looking straight at the camera. He is sitting in a café wearing a grey jacket and a white shirt with no tie.
The NDP leader's message to us, in a new TV ad, comes just after he's shown us a baker and a dry cleaner working hard, with Mulcair, in a voice-over, jawing on about how he'd put Canada "back on track."
Right, well, if you're so middle-class and antsy about getting "back on track," what in the name of heaven are you doing sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the day, surrounded by books and young people in nice sweaters staring at their laptops? Honestly, it's mad. Sitting round coffee shops in broad daylight is what urban bohemian slackers do.
Besides – a bookshelf? Hello, Tom, where did you find a middle-class coffee shop with a glass bookcase full of books? Where? Fill me in.
But I'll tell you where you don't find bookcases. In a Tim Hortons, that's where. Tom, do yourself a favour and start identifying yourself with Tim Hortons and the Tims crowd. This is Canada, buddy. And get yourself a doughnut, too.
The new NDP TV ad arrives just as everyone is adjusting to the shocking news that the Conservative Party has declined to take part in the traditional double-debate organized by the consortium of big broadcasters CBC, CTV and Global.
The amount of twaddle this decision has provoked is outstanding. On CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Evan Solomon spoke darkly of "viewer suppression" while spokes-chappy for the Conservatives, Kory Teneycke – lately employed as zoo-keeper to the inadequately caged, untamed critter Ezra Levant on Sun News – looked disappointed by the negativity.
It's all play-acting and twaddle. The PM, Our Glorious Leader, shrinks from being subjected to the indignity of scrutiny, question and judgment from other leaders, with all those people watching. Millions of them. You would dodge it, too, if you were in his position.
All politicians are afraid of television. That is, they're wary of TV they cannot shape and control. In truth, Tom Mulcair, kicking back with a book in a coffee shop, and young Mr. Trudeau, wherever he is, are probably relieved that the Conservatives have balked at bowing to the institution that is the consortium TV debates. What did they think would happen – this government views every institution with disdain.
In an election campaign – and one is clearly under way – TV ads will matter far more than the debates. So get ready for the ad wars, not the debates. Looking for complexity is a waste of time. The currency is simplicity, and television ads and photo ops deliver simplicity with aplomb. All campaigns rely heavily on TV ads and carefully controlled photo ops to fashion an image of a leader and a platform. Debates don't deliver that. An endless stream of itsy-bitsy TV images and soundbites do it.
Television can be incredibly cruel to politicians. It exaggerates mistakes and hesitations. It doesn't only favour the comely and the slick – it can help someone who's neither young nor handsome – but is self-deprecating, witty and confident. Politicians can look ridiculous on TV, but only if they are obviously very nervous about looking ridiculous. TV helps those who are on a quixotic quest. It doesn't help those who are tired and defensive.
The traditional TV debate, done Canadian-style, has always been fraught for our politicians. The events lack the gravitas and substance of U.S. presidential debates. Organized by a non-profit, non-partisan commission, the U.S. presidential debates since 1988 have made our Canadian debates look like rinky-dink wrangling shindigs.
Are we looking at "viewer suppression"? Yes. But lacking any formal debate procedure, we have no one to blame but ourselves. In a country noted for its regulation of broadcasting, it's bizarre that no regulation exists to ensure that election debates are aired under formal rules.
Several small-scale election debates will unfold. Much less scary for all the leaders. So we are left with the TV ads to ponder and absorb. It's going to be fun, actually. Please join me in shouting back at the TV, "Get thee to a Tims, Tom Mulcair!"