The air war is about to begin. The Conservatives have long been bombarding the airwaves with political ads. Now, Justin Trudeau's Liberals are about to join them.
The package of tax breaks and child benefits Mr. Trudeau unveiled last week was the trigger.
His party is preparing to sell it in TV and online ads, in what one senior Liberal described as the biggest pre-writ election campaign the Liberal Party has ever done. It will start on French TV first, and in English before the end of the month, timed to reach voters before they turn their attention to summer.
Now, the Conservatives and Liberals have duelling packages of tax breaks and parental benefits. Soon, they'll have duelling ads.
But it's worth noting that if the policies seem similar in many ways, the Liberals and Conservatives are trying to sell different things. It's also worth noting why the Liberals are starting a new phase of campaigning now: They can finally afford it.
Their smaller bank account was a big reason that they held off on unveiling major policy planks. It wasn't just that they wanted Conservatives to show their cards first, and to give opponents less time to attack theirs. They also wanted to back up their major platform policies with ads, so they'd have a better chance of defining their own policies in voters minds – rather than allowing the Conservatives do it with attacks. But they didn't have enough money for years of heavy advertising.
Now, they figure they can afford to buy ads – so they can also afford to unveil a big chunk of their platform.
The pre-writ campaigning is about to go into a new ad-war phase. The NDP, now running ads on its national daycare plan on Facebook, is planning broadcast ads in coming weeks, a party source said. The Conservatives have advertised heavily over the past year, and public funds are being used to advertise programs such as the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit. Until now, the Liberals had mostly dabbled. The big buy is for their so-called middle-class plan.
That plan, as many have noted, is in several ways like the Conservatives' offering: tax cuts and benefits for parents. And several commentators argue they're foolishly fighting the Conservatives on their own turf.
But the Liberals aren't really selling tax breaks and child benefits – not exactly. They're trying to sell the idea that they'd rectify unfairness. A crucial part of the pitch is raising taxes on high-income earners and taking benefits away from them, too. They're trying to persuade voters they'd focus on ordinary folks, while Mr. Harper shovels more to the affluent.
That Liberal plan revolves around two things: First, replacing several benefits for parents with a new one that pays them more, except those with household incomes of more than $150,000. Second, it will cut the tax rate on personal income between $44,701 and $89,401 by 1.5 percentage points, to 20.5 per cent – while raising taxes on income in excess of $200,000 by four percentage points, to 33 per cent.
Of course, the Conservatives are already selling their expansion of the Universal Child Care Benefits, and income-splitting tax breaks. They are telling voters, straight up, they offer lower taxes and cash benefits. And they have a reputation for those things.
The Liberals counter that their program delivers more to most families that earn less than $150,000 – including the "typical" family of four earning $120,000 used as an example in the Conservatives' April budget. But the Liberal twist only works if voters really feel things aren't fair, and that more affluent people should get fewer breaks.
They're not alone in thinking voters do feel that way: Several NDP strategists say raising taxes on high-income earners is popular with voters. They shied away from it because they're already typecast as tax-raisers.
But the Liberals have lost something, too: They've chosen this plan over a national subsidized daycare program. They've ceded subsidized daycare to the NDP.
Instead, the Liberals decided a twist on tax breaks and child benefits will help pitch the idea they're more fair-minded than Mr. Harper.
The question, now that they're entering the air war, is whether they can sell it.