My colleague Andrew Coyne recently renewed his call for political advertising reform â€” specifically an end to anything even remotely resembling a public subsidy for it, which I could not possibly support more; and a requirement that party leaders voice their own ads, which somewhat offends my free-speech Spidey senses. But as the Conservatives prepare to roll out some Justin Trudeau attack-mailers, at taxpayer expense, featuring an outrageously misleading quotation, I keep coming back to a perplexing question: We wouldnâ€™t stand for the level of dishonesty and deception we routinely see in political advertising if it came from someone selling pickup trucks, hamburgers, underwear or shampoo. So why the hell do we put up with it from people trying to sell us the people who will run the country?
I have heard the justifications for the exemption of political advertising from Advertising Standards Canada standards any number of times, and at no time have they ever made much sense to me.
Itâ€™s impossible to evaluate the truthiness of an ad during an election campaign. So? Do it afterwards and report back. Political advertising isnâ€™t just a campaign phenomenon anymore anyway. Not hardly.
Voters understand and discount hyperbole. That doesnâ€™t seem to be what the parties think, or else they wouldnâ€™t constantly rub hyperbole in our faces.
We need unfettered dialogue and debate in politics. Amen, assuming equal right of rebuttal. But then why not afford people selling vastly less important products the same leeway? Iâ€™m reminded of an amusing scenario that Allan Gregg recently imagined: Burger King accusing McDonaldâ€™s of using beef rife with botulism, and McDonaldâ€™s firing back by claiming that Burger Kingâ€™s product is swimming in E. coli. And just wait until Wendyâ€™s gets in on the act! Why should politicians be afforded this absurd slanderous luxury if burger joints arenâ€™t?
Canadian politicians are no strangers to politicizing tragedies. Stockwell Day used to needle Paul Martin for not issuing commiserative or condemnatory press releases quickly enough. This week, Stephen Harper, unsurprisingly, wasted no time accusing Mr. Trudeau of trying to â€œrationalizeâ€ and â€œmake excuses forâ€ violence.
But then came a novel twist. On CBCâ€™s Power and Politics, NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison piled on. â€œAnybody who heard those statements from Mr. Trudeau has to be mystified about how he seems to be worrying about the mental state of the people who produced the bombing,â€ he said, arguing we should instead be â€œfocused on the victims.â€
So, there you have it. The party of Ms. McDonough, who played the flute of caution amidst the post-9/11 war drums, the party of Jack Layton, who voiced well-founded concerns over the Afghanistan mission and was branded â€œTaliban Jackâ€ for his troubles, is now the party that competes with the government to condemn foreign terrorism in the bluntest possible terms. Should terrorists ever strike here in Canada, we can only hope our Official Opposition still has sufficient gumption to ask some tough questions in the fevered aftermath.
Your results may vary, of course. Earlier in January, Ekos tagged Mr. Harper with a whopping 59% disapproval rating, against 34% approval â€” so, a -25% approval deficit. (Bob Rae, by comparison, had 44% approval against 24% disapproval.) That sounds bad. But in September 2010, the last time Ekos asked after the leadersâ€™ reputations, it found Mr. Harper had a -20% approval deficit. And only 32% support. And then he went on and won a majority.
After nearly a decade of fearmongering, the Conservatives just keep gaining votes. The Opposition has been in disarray, certainly, but thatâ€™s precisely the point: People can see that Mr. Harperâ€™s actions simply do not conform to the malevolent top-line items on his purported agenda. Itâ€™s far from clear to me, therefore, that itâ€™s wise to keep insisting that agenda exists. As Chantal HÃ©bert recently argued, the opposition partiesâ€™ screeching about Old Age Security may well make the modest reforms the government eventually proposes more palatable.
If Mr. Harper does indeed transform Canada into â€œDickensâ€™ London,â€ as Mr. Caplan puts it, then his party will presumably go down in flames in 2015. Certainly, there will be voter fatigue. Never mind the Conservativesâ€™ serial murder of their own openness-and-accountability promises. This is an ostensibly pro-free-speech government that, on Monday, denied Green Party leader Elizabeth May leave to speak on the legacy of Vaclav Havel. These people are just as hardwired for eventual self-destruction as the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives before them.
But you know what? I have this weird feeling that Canada in 2015 is going to be pretty much the same place as it is now. And that Mr. Harperâ€™s would-be successors â€” not least the relentlessly Harper-bashing NDP leadership candidates â€” are going to have to go out and win this on their own merits, not just on Mr. Harperâ€™s demerits. If youâ€™re wondering why Canadians arenâ€™t rising up in furious protest, itâ€™s at least worth considering that, despite your very best efforts, they are simply not as angry as you assumed they were.