The Conservatives have declared a multi-front war on Justin Trudeau, including a bulk mail campaign at taxpayers' expense — and a new poll helps explain why they're going to such lengths to undermine the newly minted Liberal leader.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests Trudeau's favourability rating far outstrips that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Respondents to the poll gave the edge to Trudeau as the leader who would make the best prime minister, would best represent Canada on the world stage, who most shares their values and who cares about them the most.
The poll also suggests, however, that Canadians aren't convinced Trudeau has the experience and judgment required to run the country or manage the economy — the same perceived weaknesses the Conservatives have been hammering away at in television attack ads launched within hours of Trudeau's leadership victory last week.
They're poised to take the same line of attack in a bulk-mail campaign, which urges Conservative MPs to use their mailing privileges to blanket their ridings with flyers bashing the new Liberal leader.
Templates for the flyers — obtained by the Liberals — have been prepared by the Conservative Resource Group, which is the research bureau for the Tory caucus.
Like the TV ads, various scripts for the flyers argue that Trudeau has neither the judgment nor the experience to govern the country and use partial or out-of-context quotes to make the case that he's "in way over his head."
But whereas the Conservative party paid for the television ads, printing and postal costs for the flyers come out of each MP's office budget — which is supplied by taxpayers.
It costs about $175 to send a flyer, known as a "10 percenter," to a riding with an average of 40,000 households, according to a memo to Conservative MPs that accompanied the flyer templates.
Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, defended the use of taxpayer-funded mailings for purely partisan purposes.
"It's entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership they have available," he said, adding that the flyers are within the rules established for MP communications with their constituents.
But Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc blasted the Tories for "wasting taxpayers' dollars" on "an unflattering, silly attack ad."
"If there's no rule that says you shouldn't use taxpayers' resources to distribute partisan attack ads, then we need to change the rules."
However, the NDP accused the Liberals of hypocrisy, noting that Bob Rae, interim Liberal leader until last week, sent bulk partisan mailings earlier this month into two NDP-held ridings.
Three years ago, all parties agreed to ban the practice of MPs sending flyers outside their own ridings. However, the Liberals got around that by sending Rae's missives in "franked" envelopes, using an MP's unlimited privilege to send and receive postage-free mail anywhere in Canada.
NDP whip Nycole Turmel has complained to the Speaker of the House of Commons about the Rae letters, asking for clarification of the rules regarding mass mailings.
LeBlanc argued that Rae's letters, criticizing the NDP's policy on Quebec secession, were focused on substance, unlike the personal attacks in the Conservative flyers, which mock Trudeau's previous experience as a camp counsellor, bungee-jumping instructor and "drama teacher for two years."
The Liberals launched their own television ad campaign Wednesday, attempting to contrast the attack ads with a more positive, sunny approach to politics from Trudeau.
The ad features the Liberal leader, perched teacher-like on the edge of a desk in a classroom, using a remote to turn off a TV that's showing one of the Conservative missives.
"Canadians deserve better," Trudeau says.
"We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws in each other or we can pull together and get to work."
On his way into a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Trudeau said the ad reflects what he heard across the country during the leadership campaign: "Canadians are tired of negativity, of cynicism, of attacks."
He reiterated his promise not to fight fire with fire, arguing that Harper's negative style "has so divided Canadians and made them cynical (that) it becomes very, very difficult to govern in a long term, responsible way."
The Harris Decima survey was conducted April 18-21, just as the Conservative attack ads were filling TV screens. While the Tories used ads to help demolish the past two Liberal leaders, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, the poll results suggest they may have a harder time defining Trudeau in a negative light because Canadians feel they already know him.
Almost 90 per cent of respondents were able to express an opinion about Trudeau. By comparison, only 55 per cent were able to express an opinion about Mulcair right after he became NDP leader last year.
Fifty-seven per cent said they had a favourable impression of Trudeau, while 30 per cent reported having an unfavourable impression.
By contrast, Harper was viewed unfavourably by 57 per cent of respondents, and favourably by 40 per cent. Mulcair was viewed favourably by 42 per cent, unfavourably by 28 per cent.
Trudeau came out ahead of both Harper and Mulcair on four of seven leadership attributes:
— Best prime minister: 33 per cent versus 31 for Harper and 18 for Mulcair.
— Best represent Canada on the world stage: 37 per cent versus 34 for Harper, 14 for Mulcair.
— Shares my values: 33 per cent versus 25 for Harper, 19 for Mulcair.
— Cares about people like me: 33 per cent versus 23 for Harper, 21 for Mulcair.
However, Harper came out strongly on top on the other three leadership attributes:
— Experience required to be prime minister: 45 per cent versus 19 per cent each for Trudeau and Mulcair.
— Best judgment: 31 per cent versus 24 for Trudeau, 21 for Mulcair.
— Most capable of tackling economic issues: 37 per cent versus 23 for Trudeau, 18 for Mulcair.
Nationally, the poll doesn't bode well for Mulcair, who's had more than a year to make his mark with Canadians. However, he remains the most popular federal leader in his home province of Quebec, which accounts for the lion's share of the seats the party gained in the 2011 election.
The telephone poll of 1,006 Canadians is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.