UPDATE: The Liberals are asking Canadian to help them fight back after the Tories released an attack ad targeting their interim leader Bob Rae.
"We’ll fight fire with fire," Rae's spokesman Dan Lauzon told HuffPost. "They want to talk economic record? Stephen Harper took a $13 billion surplus and turned it into the biggest deficit in Canadian history ($56 billion), added $125 billion to the national debt and since he became Prime Minister, 270,000 more Canadians are out of work."
The scale of the response will depend on the generosity of Canadians, Lauzon said.
"Of course, the people of Toronto-Danforth (who are voting in a byelection Monday) will get the first chance to respond today – and tonight’s Conservative results will speak volumes of how these kinds of attacks are perceived by voters," he added.
The black and white spot, titled "Bob Rae Wants To Be Prime Minister" targets the interim Liberal leader for his record as NDP premier of Ontario. Rae is seen in 1996, wearing glasses and chuckling, as the narrator chronicles Ontario economic woes under the NDP in the early 1990s.
The commercial will air in key markets starting on Tuesday, according to the Ottawa Sun.
The Conservatives refused to say how big their ad buy is, but it's thought to be very small.
The ad is similar in message to an online spot launched by the National Citizen's Coalition in January. That ad also targeted Rae for his economic record as premier of Ontario and used the same chucking image. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was president of the NCC before becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002.
Twitter users have speculated that the campaign was partly motivated by a Liberal billboard ad campaign in Toronto which features Rae. Further proof, some users say, that Rae's ascendance to the permanent Liberal leadership is all but inevitable. Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey pointed to the fact that the billboards do not identify Rae as "interim" leader.
The Tories aren't just going negative in their new campaign. They are also releasing a slick new ad touting the government's economic record. The spot, called "Strong Leadership," credits the Conservatives under Harper for taking action to avert disaster in the wake of the financial crisis.
This isn't the first time the Tories have targeted a Liberal leader long before an election. The party also ran ad campaigns attacking Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff before the last two federal votes.
It looks like the Conservatives are sticking to the same playbook with Rae that helped lead them to victory over Dion and Ignatieff, except this time they aren't even waiting for their target to become official leader.
It's possible the Tories are trying to persuade Rae not to run at all or to bait the Liberals to spend money they don't have to defend their interim leader on the country's airwaves. The Liberals have pledged not to let the Tories define their leaders anymore and to fight back against negative ads.