Canada’s political climate is not often compared to the exciting politics in the United States. Recent attack ads targeting Justin Trudeau, however, have caused quite a stir. Trudeau was recently elected Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, in a landslide vote of over 80%. The Conservative Party of Canada quickly unleashed a series of attack ads that feature the newly elected politician in footage that is surrounded by controversy. Arthur had the opportunity to speak with Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro about these ads.
The nature of the ads is far from political, where Justin Trudeau is seen taking his shirt off and appearing to perform a striptease, the facts that he was once a substitute drama teacher, a camp councilor, and a rafting instructor flash across the screen.
Former party leader Stephan Dion wrote to Elections Canada concerned about the breach of Conservatives using copyrighted material without permission in the ads, making them non-compliant with the Election Canada’s Act.
The footage is property of Huffington Post and CTV, and both have confirmed the allegations that it was in fact used without permission.
Taken out of context, the footage was found to be manipulative, and in reality Trudeau was performing for charity organized by the Canadian Liver Foundation. In response to the ads, he was celebrated for helping to raise $1,800 for the cause with his performance.
In the ad, he was quoted as saying, “Quebeckers are better than the rest of Canada,” which turned out to be taken from a longer quote where Trudeau explains the philosophy that had been passed down from his father to show why Quebec did not need “special deals” in the Canadian Constitution.
Dean Del Mastro told Arthur that if the ads are seen as embodying truth, it will resonate with the Canadian audience.
“If [the ads] arrive at a conclusion that people happen to agree with, they will be very effective. If they arrive at a conclusion that people disagree with, then they won’t be very effective. Frankly, when they don’t, they can backfire on you. We saw that happen to Kim Campbell when she ran ads against Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 1993, and Paul Martin saw that happen when he ran ads against Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006.”
So what is the reaction of the average Canadian when viewing these ads that slam Trudeau for being a substitute drama teacher?
Steve Russell, Head of the Peterborough Regional Arts Program does not like the ads and describes them as “disgusting.”
“They remind me of the Conservatives attacking Chrétien for his Bell’s palsy. Have we sunk so low that we have nothing to discuss except the flaws we find in people? Justin Trudeau makes a valid point in his response, that is, let’s talk about the serious issues affecting the country, rather than old stereotypes to put down a politician.”
Head of the Arts at Thomas A. Stewart Secondary, Tracey Hughes, also dislikes the ads.
“The Council of Ontario Dance and Drama Teachers, to which Steve and I belong, as well as the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, have come out and very clearly made statements and letters against what’s been done because of the level of detriment it is doing to our profession. This is a continued attack on our profession.”
Furthermore, Hughes commented on the decorum in classrooms and the school environment, and how this would never be abided.
“If students in a school were to run an election that ever used anything like that, they would be suspended. There would be forms to fill out under the Bill 52 Safe Schools Act. There would be calls to the home; there would be a discussion. I don’t think a student would ever do that. The clips are blatantly out of context and are truly creating lies and misconceptions. It makes it very hard to trust a government that would do that kind of thing.”
Furthermore, the new legislation for the CBC has caused even more discontent amongst Canadians, though Del Mastro states, “none of this will effect the journalistic independence of the CBC.”
He explains that, “ultimately the government has a number of crown-corporations that operate at an arms-length. The challenge is that even though the day-to-day decisions are being made at an arms length they come back to the taxpayers and the Government to write the cheques. You can’t have organizations like Canada Post, like the CBC, and others running massive deficits and writing their own contracts. Then they turn around to the government with no responsibility for how to pay them. If the government doesn’t have oversight, then how can we adequately provide protection for the tax payers and work in their best interest? Having government oversight is absolutely essential. I am very pleased the government has moved in that direction and I have been calling for them to do that for years.”
This move was met with surprise and uncertainty for many Canadians, including both teachers.
Russell asks, “Why now? Why are they doing it? It is always easy to invent a crisis that suddenly demands that we make a change, and I always look skeptically at those things because if we have had something for fifty years that works, what is so big about this current wave of an increase in the deficit? We have had them before, they have gone away before, and there are other ways to solve it. Somehow attaching that to changing a public policy that has lasted fifty years or more, served the country very well. We need to have creative thinkers in our Government.
“Ironically,” Hughes adds, “drama produces a lot of critical thinking. It teaches leadership, teamwork, discipline, listening to others, compromise, and those things come from the arts. Is that what we are teaching kids with this negative media?”
With the next election not anticipated until 2015, Arthur asked Mr. Del Mastro what the purpose of the ads are.
“As far as teachers go, it is certainly not intended to say anything negative to teachers, drama teachers or any kind of teacher. Mike Harris, former Premier of Ontario, was a teacher and I do not remember any party suggesting that because of this he was not a qualified individual. What the ads are actually trying to say is that he was a part-time teacher for two years. He briefly attended the University of McGill for an Environmental Geography degree. He has done a number of things briefly, and what the point of the ad is to say: here is what Stephen Harper has done and here is what Justin Trudeau has done. When you compare and contrast that, Justin is not a young man. I congratulate him for having an appearance that is somewhat more youthful than he is, but frankly he is a man in his early forties who has a work resume resembling someone in their late 20s.”
Indeed, the attack on Justin Trudeau’s image of being youthful, attractive and the son of a Prime Minister are the central points of the smear campaign.
Del Mastro says, “If Justin’s last name was anything but Trudeau he wouldn’t be leading a federal political party. When people consider that they will come to the same conclusion we have, that this is a person who is in over their head.”
However, both teachers disagree with the image portrayed of Justin Trudeau by the Conservatives, having seen him seven years ago at a Character Education Symposium. Hughes spoke of that young moment, “where it was so very clear that he is about giving to his community on so many levels … His stuff is far more reaching than just a name or just a snippet that goes with it, so it’s such a false impression of who he is. Yes, his last name is Trudeau, great. If that is what it takes to get people to listen to what he has to say, if that is what makes people go to the polls, let’s go with that.”
By attacking the fact that Trudeau may not be in this position without the name he was born into, it may not appear to be as negative as the ads intended. Russell says he finds it ironic that the Republicans who campaigned for George W. Bush used his name and the fact that his father was a former President is what they built his campaign on.
“Suddenly here, that is not a good thing. Even in the later years when Pierre Trudeau decided to return to politics, the man was extremely charismatic and he brought out voters and created debate on both sides. It always, as I recall it, stayed at the discussion of the issues.”
Hughes also believes that the attack ads are embarrassing, as well as the use of the “10-percenters” which are targeting Trudeau in the same fashion. The 10-percenters are household mailings, paid for by taxpayers, which are supposed to communicate information from MPs to constituents about doings in government. This move has even been met with an abstention from several Conservative MPs politely declining to send out the mailings, saying the negative, taxpayer-funded pamphlet is just “not their style.”
However, Del Mastro believes that the negative attention given to Stephen Harper and the image portrayed of him by critics is undeserved.
“Nobody cares more about the well-being of Canadians than Stephen Harper does. When he goes home at night he is working on files, when he gets up in the morning he is working on files. He knows more of the files in cabinet than most of the cabinet ministers do and it’s that kind of commitment I want to see in a leader.”