Skip to main content
john ibbitson

A combination photo shows Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

The Liberals have released a new video responding to the Conservative attack ad claiming that Justin Trudeau is "in way over his head." Instead of attacking back, the new Liberal ad takes a more uplifting route.

"We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws in each other," Mr. Trudeau tells us, perched on a teacher's desk in a classroom, "or we can pull together and get to work."

So which ad does a better job of making its point? We asked two experts.

Angus Tucker is co-creative director at the advertising firm John St.

Jonathan Rose is a political scientist at Queen's University who studies political communication.

What do the ads try to do?

Rose: The Conservative ad tries to take a relatively unknown commodity, a new party leader, and frame him in a negative light.

The Liberal ad is an attempt to respond to that. Like previous negative ads against Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion, the Liberals have chosen to respond not in kind (i.e. negatively) but through a positive portrayal. The ad doesn't stoop to the same depths as the Conservative ad but has the unfortunate consequence of not being as memorable.

Tucker: The Tory ad is trying to scare people away from voting for Trudeau by trying to prey upon their fears of him being too inexperienced to lead the Liberal Party. But their execution is so ham-handed that it strips the ad of all credibility.

The Liberal ad very cleverly and effectively takes the heavy-handed approach of the Tory ad and uses it against them by making Trudeau appear more mature and prime ministerial in comparison.

How do they do it?

Rose: The Conservative ad seems very reminiscent of the "just visiting" ad attacking Ignatieff or the Dion ad that portrayed him as "not worth the risk." The Liberal ad borrows from a Green campaign that sought to "change the channel" on negative ads. It is a clear message which is easily remembered but does not address the central claims of the Conservative ad.

Tucker: The Tories are repeating the negative campaigns that they have used in the past, borrowing from the American style of negative campaigning. Sometimes it works, but this effort was so infantile and cynical that you would have to be asleep to be convinced by it.

There's not much meat on the bone in the Liberal ads, nothing about how he intends to lead the country. But the intent is to make him appear more mature and more of a leader. And in those terms, they did a good job.

Does it succeed?

Tucker: The Tories may be on to something in that a lot of people may be wondering if Trudeau is in over his head. But to take that strategic thought and execute it like that is unbelievably bad. The tonality of the Tory ad is just depressing. I think a lot of people are going to have a lot of difficulty putting their weight behind a party and a leader who would run an ad that is so ridiculous and misleading.

The Trudeau ad makes him and the Liberals sound like adults and the Tories sound like a bunch of tough Grade-5 kids belittling the new kid in the playground.

Rose: In the absence of any other frame, the Tory ad could have serious consequences for the Liberals. That said, the Conservative ad might suffer from diminishing marginal returns: Canadians could say that they are fed up with negative attacks.

I'm not sure the Liberal response is sufficient. It needs to be part of a larger campaign to reframe and define the new leader.

John Ibbitson is the chief political writer in the Ottawa bureau.