Before he brought in the gaggle of geniuses who helped him to pilot the once-great Liberal Party of Canada into history’s ditch, I was an adviser to Michael Ignatieff. I didn’t know the guy, particularly, but I was friends with his chief of staff, Paul Zed, and his principal secretary, Ian Davey.
They brought me in to run their “war room.”
A political war room is mainly designed to toss figurative hand grenades at one’s opponents and, when necessary, catch and defuse the ones tossed your way. In the spring of 2009, I and others had heard a big hand grenade was about to land: Stephen Harper was going to unleash the Mother of All Attack Ads on Michael Ignatieff.
Harper had decided to define Ignatieff before he could define himself. Simple. Politics 101.
Except when the $4 million “Just Visiting” campaign commenced, Ignatieff wasn’t nearly as concerned as me or Davey or Zed. If anything, he was initially bemused by it all. Ignatieff, who had a tendency to regard politics as a teaching experience, simply couldn’t believe Canadians could be taught he was a foreigner.
Said he: “I’m a Canadian. Nobody will believe these stupid ads.”
“They’re not trying to say you’re an American, or that it’s bad to be American,” I said to him. “The point of their ads, Michael, is that you’re not ‘just visiting’ Canada — you’re ‘just visiting’ Earth. They’re trying to suggest that you’ve never been on public transit, or worried about a mortgage payment, or lost a job. They’re trying to say you don’t understand the reality of the average Canadian’s life.” He disagreed with our suggestion that we fight fire with fire, as was his prerogative, and that was that. I went back to the real world in Toronto and, a few months later, he did likewise.
What does it mean to be Canadian? Well, it means all sorts of things.
As of May 2, it means if you leave home, you bloody well better not take 30 years to find your way back.
It can also mean that if you are going to live abroad, you need to do a better job defending it then this.
When the video came out, I really enjoyed it and posted an earlier version here. It was posted on YouTube, promoted on the Liberal Party website and they bought adspace on National Newswatch. After a month it had less then 10,000 views. Even now it has less then 70,000 views. It’s three minutes long, nothing really compels me to forward it or tweet it which means that it never went viral. Nothing against National Newswatch, I stop by probably 10 times a day but it’s a political website for news junkies and politicos. Harper’s Just Visiting attack ads were seen by more people each time they were shown. Harper launched a four million dollar ad campaign against them and they probably spent $25,000 in responding.
While I agree with Kinsella, he missed the bigger lesson. Don’t go into a swordfight carrying a butter knife.