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A copy of the free newspaper 24 Hrs Vancouver featuring a front-page B.C. Liberal Party advertisement with leader Christy Clark on May 1, 2013.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

An ad that acted as the front page of the Vancouver edition of the 24 hrs newspaper that describes B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark as the "Comeback Kid" for her performance in this week's leaders debate became the election campaign focus Wednesday, with the Liberals defensive and the NDP amused.

Beneath a photo of Ms. Clark is a caption that says her campaign is "gaining traction with B.C. families," followed by a reference to an Ipsos Reid poll taken after Monday's debate that found 44 per cent thought Ms. Clark "looked and sounded most like a premier" compared to 32 per cent for B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix.

A journalism professor said 24 hrs, a free daily distributed across the Lower Mainland, particularly at SkyTrain and Canada Line stations, did a disservice to its readers with the promotion, which resembled a news report aside from the words "paid advertisement" in relatively small text.

"The ad just doesn't have enough clear delineation that it is political advertising. It looks too much like a news story," said Ross Howard of the Langara College department of journalism in Vancouver.

Mr. Howard said the ad would be damaging to the credibility of 24 hrs, in particular, and the media, in general, as readers came to realize they were deceived.

The editor-in-chief of 24 hrs initially said Wednesday there would be a company comment on the situation. The paper is owned by Quebecor Media Inc. However, she said in an e-mail late in the afternoon there would be no comment from the paper's editorial operations. Calls and e-mails to Quebecor spokespersons yielded no response.

The poll also showed 35 per cent of respondents thought Mr. Dix won the debate (compared to 30 per cent for Ms. Clark); 37 per cent thought Mr. Dix has the best policies and ideas (compared to 24 per cent for Ms. Clark); and 33 per cent thought Green Party Leader Jane Sterk was most likeable (compared to 31 per cent for Ms. Clark).

Ipsos Reid vice-president Kyle Braid said the company had no problem with the use of the material because the numbers were accurately used in the ad. He said it's his company's view that the material has been released into the public domain where anyone can use it. "In this case, they got the number right. They got the question right and we have no concerns," he said in an interview.

In a campaign appearance Wednesday, Mr. Dix laughed off the ad. "The Liberals needed to buy the front page of a newspaper to claim victory; I depend on the work that's done by, you know, actual journalists on that question," Mr. Dix said during a stop in Quesnel. "I think it's unwise for political parties, who should be addressing the issues of our time, to try and create the illusion and spin around the story that way."

During a campaign stop in Penticton, Ms. Clark defended the advertisement.

"It says paid advertising on it, and I think people take it for what it is. I think people are used to looking at ads in a newspaper," she told reporters.

When asked directly by a reporter whether buying the ad space was an attempt to try to influence the campaign, Ms. Clark said: "Well, that is generally the purpose of advertising."

Liberals countered criticism about the ad by noting that the federal NDP bought a front-page ad in the Toronto edition of Metro newspaper during the 2011 election. However, that ad, featuring the late Jack Layton, was a more straightforward appeal for votes and did not resemble a news report.

A spokesman for Elections B.C. said there was nothing in the ad that violated elections rules.

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