With five days to go before Vancouver's municipal election, both the ruling Vision Vancouver party and its main opponent, the Non-Partisan Association, have cranked up the heat to temperatures not typically felt in the city's municipal campaigns.
The ramped up efforts – which crystallized last week when Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Geoff Meggs filed a defamation suit against Kirk LaPointe and the NPA – come as both camps insist that internal polling shows the gap between the two is closing.
"I think back to the era of Sam Sullivan and Jennifer Clarke and Larry Campbell; there have been some negative times … and sometimes it's gotten quite personal," said Max Cameron, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.
"But I've never seen an election in which one camp was taken to court. That does seem to suggest that perhaps this is setting a new benchmark."
Mr. Cameron added that while the NPA appeared to have employed an effective strategy by going negative and polarizing the race – namely, by accusing Mr. Robertson and Mr. Meggs of being "corrupt" and "unethical" in advertisements then doubling down and refusing to pull them in the face of the lawsuit – it says nothing of the party's platform.
"Is this a distraction? I do think, as a political scientist, what it takes to win an election and what it takes to govern well are often two different things," he said.
Former B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who appeared at a Vision Vancouver news conference Sunday announcing him as the party's latest endorser, called the tactics par for the course.
"We know that negative campaigns are distasteful, but they work," Mr. Dosanjh told reporters in a scrum after the endorsement announcement.
"They hit people in certain spots and make people move one way or the other. In that sense, it's all par for the course as long as you're operating within the rules."
Patrick Smith, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, said there are "wonderful ironies" in going negative.
"We know they work, but they also increase public cynicism," he said.
"So, these people are arguing we need to do all we can to get the vote out, but we're actually smothering the vote with negativity by doing this."
However, he noted that history has shown that, in the face of attacks, a strong defence is necessary.
He cited as examples the federal Conservatives' attacks against Stéphane Dion, whom the Conservatives painted as "not a leader," and Michael Ignatieff, who was "just visiting" Canada.
Political observers have also pointed to former B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix's refusal to go negative in last year's provincial election as the reason for Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals' stunning come-from-behind win.
"The message out of that became quite clear: If somebody's gone negative, you jump in with both feet and respond," Mr. Smith said. "You say, 'That's not the narrative that we're going to allow to define us.' "
Also on Sunday, Vision launched a website called They Win, You Lose, purporting to outline the NPA's positions on key issues and highlight risks. However, several Vancouver journalists noted that quotes attributed to them, or their publications, were taken out of context to appear pro-Vision.
Mr. LaPointe, who in July pledged to resign if his party launched personal attacks, said on Sunday he expects the next week to be intense.
"I'm expecting a barrage of advertising to come from them," Mr. LaPointe said in an interview after a rally of about 150 campaign workers, supporters and family members. "They're down in the polls and we're moving up. It means it's going to be a lot of desperate Hail Mary passes. And over all, I think it's going to be a good, strong contest."
Mr. LaPointe reiterated he will not back down down from the controversial ads his party has been running. He called the lawsuit an effort "to intimidate, to silence, to chill, to scare us." However, he refrained from repeating the substance of the allegations the party has been making.
With a report from Frances Bula