OTTAWA - The Conservatives have declared a multi-front war on Justin Trudeau, including a bulk mail campaign at taxpayers' expense — and a new poll helps explain why they're going to such lengths to undermine the newly minted Liberal leader.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests Trudeau's favourability rating far outstrips that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Respondents to the poll gave the edge to Trudeau as the leader who would make the best prime minister, would best represent Canada on the world stage, who most shares their values and who cares about them the most.
The poll also suggests, however, that Canadians aren't convinced Trudeau has the experience and judgment required to run the country or manage the economy — the same perceived weaknesses the Conservatives have been hammering away at in television attack ads launched within hours of Trudeau's leadership victory last week.
They're poised to take the same line of attack in a bulk-mail campaign, which urges Conservative MPs to use their mailing privileges to blanket their ridings with flyers bashing the new Liberal leader.
Templates for the flyers — obtained by the Liberals — have been prepared by the Conservative Resource Group, which is the research bureau for the Tory caucus.
Like the TV ads, various scripts for the flyers argue that Trudeau has neither the judgment nor the experience to govern the country and use partial or out-of-context quotes to make the case that he's "in way over his head."
But whereas the Conservative party paid for the television ads, printing and postal costs for the flyers come out of each MP's office budget — which is supplied by taxpayers.
It costs about $175 to send a flyer, known as a "10 percenter," to a riding with an average of 40,000 households, according to a memo to Conservative MPs that accompanied the flyer templates.
Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, defended the use of taxpayer-funded mailings for purely partisan purposes.
"It's entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership they have available," he said, adding that the flyers are within the rules established for MP communications with their constituents.
But Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc blasted the Tories for "wasting taxpayers' dollars" on "an unflattering, silly attack ad."
"If there's no rule that says you shouldn't use taxpayers' resources to distribute partisan attack ads, then we need to change the rules."
However, the NDP accused the Liberals of hypocrisy, noting that Bob Rae, interim Liberal leader until last week, sent bulk partisan mailings earlier this month into two NDP-held ridings.
Three years ago, all parties agreed to ban the practice of MPs sending flyers outside their own ridings. However, the Liberals got around that by sending Rae's missives in "franked" envelopes, using an MP's unlimited privilege to send and receive postage-free mail anywhere in Canada.
NDP whip Nycole Turmel has complained to the Speaker of the House of Commons about the Rae letters, asking for clarification of the rules regarding mass mailings.
LeBlanc argued that Rae's letters, criticizing the NDP's policy on Quebec secession, were focused on substance, unlike the personal attacks in the Conservative flyers, which mock Trudeau's previous experience as a camp counsellor, bungee-jumping instructor and "drama teacher for two years."
The Liberals launched their own television ad campaign Wednesday, attempting to contrast the attack ads with a more positive, sunny approach to politics from Trudeau.
The ad features the Liberal leader, perched teacher-like on the edge of a desk in a classroom, using a remote to turn off a TV that's showing one of the Conservative missives.
"Canadians deserve better," Trudeau says.
"We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws in each other or we can pull together and get to work."
On his way into a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Trudeau said the ad reflects what he heard across the country during the leadership campaign: "Canadians are tired of negativity, of cynicism, of attacks."
He reiterated his promise not to fight fire with fire, arguing that Harper's negative style "has so divided Canadians and made them cynical (that) it becomes very, very difficult to govern in a long term, responsible way."
The Harris Decima survey was conducted April 18-21, just as the Conservative attack ads were filling TV screens. While the Tories used ads to help demolish the past two Liberal leaders, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, the poll results suggest they may have a harder time defining Trudeau in a negative light because Canadians feel they already know him.
Almost 90 per cent of respondents were able to express an opinion about Trudeau. By comparison, only 55 per cent were able to express an opinion about Mulcair right after he became NDP leader last year.
Fifty-seven per cent said they had a favourable impression of Trudeau, while 30 per cent reported having an unfavourable impression.
By contrast, Harper was viewed unfavourably by 57 per cent of respondents, and favourably by 40 per cent. Mulcair was viewed favourably by 42 per cent, unfavourably by 28 per cent.
Trudeau came out ahead of both Harper and Mulcair on four of seven leadership attributes:
— Best prime minister: 33 per cent versus 31 for Harper and 18 for Mulcair.
— Best represent Canada on the world stage: 37 per cent versus 34 for Harper, 14 for Mulcair.
— Shares my values: 33 per cent versus 25 for Harper, 19 for Mulcair.
— Cares about people like me: 33 per cent versus 23 for Harper, 21 for Mulcair.
However, Harper came out strongly on top on the other three leadership attributes:
— Experience required to be prime minister: 45 per cent versus 19 per cent each for Trudeau and Mulcair.
— Best judgment: 31 per cent versus 24 for Trudeau, 21 for Mulcair.
— Most capable of tackling economic issues: 37 per cent versus 23 for Trudeau, 18 for Mulcair.
Nationally, the poll doesn't bode well for Mulcair, who's had more than a year to make his mark with Canadians. However, he remains the most popular federal leader in his home province of Quebec, which accounts for the lion's share of the seats the party gained in the 2011 election.
The telephone poll of 1,006 Canadians is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
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Coming For MacKay
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay (left) is chased by Liberal MP Justin Trudeau in a motorized wheelchair during a wheelchair race relay on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. Twenty-five MPs and senators used a wheelchair for the day in support of the Canadian Paraplegic Association's Spinal Cord Injury and CPA awareness month.
Come At Me, Bro
Justin Trudeau trains at Pan Am Boxing Club in Winnipeg on Friday Feb. 1, 2013.
Justin Trudeau & co. making faces.
Justin Trudeau splits his pants while pushing the "scrum machine" in support of Prostate Cancer Canada in Toronto Thursday, July 21, 2011.
Justin Trudeau gets his geek on at Montreal Comiccon in September 2012.
So Long 'Stache
Justin Trudeau has his moustache shaved off to raise money for the Judy LaMarsh Fund, that supports female candidates, at the Liberal Party convention in Ottawa on Saturday, January 14, 2012.
All For One, One For All
Justin Trudeau all dressed up for the Montreal Movember Gala in 2010.
Pierre Trudeau's sons, Sacha, left, and Justin, tackle their mother's paperboy in Ottawa in this undated photo.
'Family... And A Cow.'
He Can Certainly Take A Punch
Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau delivers a right hook to his older brother Justin during a play fight in 1980 at Ottawa airport as the boys await a flight with the return of their father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.
Be Honest With Me, Who's Cuter?
Justin Trudeau strikes a pose with an adorable baby.
A Very Furry Christmas
Justin Trudeau poses with his family on his 2010 Christmas card.
Former Liberal MP Ken Dryden, left, and Justin Trudeau play table hockey as they visit Sun Youth, a community organization, Monday, Jan. 14, 2008 in Montreal.
Yanking Their Chain
Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, left, watches as his 11-year-old son Justin swings on a chain during a tour of an old fort in the Omani town of Nizwa Dec. 2, 1983. Trudeau and Justin spent the day visiting the towns of Jebel and Nizwa 165 kilometres south of Muscat.
Justin Trudeau in Muskoka, Ont.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, centre, has his cowbay taken by his son Xavier, 4 years-old, while his wife Sophie Gregoire, second from left, holds daughet Ella-Grace, 3 years-old, while they attend the party's annual Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Saturday, July 7, 2012. This is the 100th anniversary of the Stampede.
Like Mother, Like Son
Eleven-month-old Justin Trudeau, urged on by his mother Margaret Trudeau, crawls up the steps of an aircraft in Ottawa on Dec. 5, 1972 to meet his father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau on his return from Britain.
Cutting A Rug
Justin Trudeau dances with wife Sophie Grégoire before his speech at the Liberal showcase on April 6, 2013.
Next: What Is Pierre Trudeau Doing?
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing what someone called his "Mandrake the Magician outfit," walks down the grandstand steps to present the Grey Cup trophy to the victorious Montreal Alouettes in this Nov. 28, 1970 photo.
Hey, It Was The '70s
Pierre Trudeau leans over to kiss an unidentified young lady to the seeming surprise of his recent bride Margaret. Trudeau and Margaret spent Saturday March 27, 1971 at maple tree farm here near Montreal at a sugaring out party.
Fur Wasn't Always Controversial
Pierre Trudeau accompanies Margaret Sinclair, at the annual Governor General's skating party for members of Parliament in Ottawa Jan. 14, 1970.
Ditto For Seal Hunting
Pierre Trudeau looks through the scope of his rifle while on a seal hunting trip in Baffin Island's Clear Water Fjord, July 29, 1968.
A Leg Up
Pierre Trudeau shoes off his frisbee catching style while waiting to board his plane in Vancouver May 16, 1979.
Calisthenics Were Still Cool
Pierre Trudeau had no trouble keeping himself occupied during a break from a boat trip down the Northwest Territories, Nahanni River, Monday Aug. 4, 1970.
Pierre Trudeau takes a wary look at an ice crevice, decides to chance it and makes the leap successfully during a midnight seal- hunting expedition at Clearwater Fjord in Canada's Arctic, July 29, 1968.
When in France...
Pierre Trudeau receives a kiss from his wife Margaret during a tour of St. Pierre, France, Aug. 1971.
Pierre Trudeau in Guayana 1974.
Friendlier With Reporters Than You Know Who
Pierre Trudeau sticks his tongue out to Canadian Press Photographer Peter Bregg during the 1972 election campaign. This photo was taken aboard the campaign plane where such antics were considered off the record. The photo was not made available until after the death of the prime minister
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dances in Montreal Oct. 21, 1979.
Acting like a Beatle
Pierre Trudeau sprints away from a crowd of female admirers in Ottawa April 22, 1968. They surrounded him outside the Parliament Buildings on his third day in office.
Posing with a Beatle
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, meet with Pierre Trudeau Dec. 24, 1969 in Ottawa.
'I See Cigars And Rum In Our Future'
Pierre Trudeau looks on as Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures during a visit to a Havana housing project in this Jan. 27, 1976 photo.
Acting Out A Tory Fantasy?
Pierre Trudeau pretending to strangle himself with a tie given to him as he was presented with honorary membership in the National Press Club in Ottawa Sept. 17, 1968.
Pierre Trudeau amuses a group of people in Fortune while on tour through Newfoundland, Aug. 3, 1971.
Oh Captain! My Captain!
Pierre Trudeau takes a ride on the Bluenose, Aug. 1972.
Nice Form Pierre
Pierre Trudeau works out at an Oshawa health club during a break in his 1968 election campaign.
Are The Flowers Too Much?
Pierre Trudeau, with a garland around his neck and a Hindu greeting symbol in paste on his forhead, rides a camel Jan 12, 1971 in the village of Benares, India, where he dedicated a water well.
I Do Love Flowers
Pierre Trudeau kids around with a carnation while waiting for voting results at the Liberal convention in this April 7, 1968 photo.
Indiana Jones Of The Great White North
Pierre Trudeau tries cracking a dog sled whip while visiting Baker Lake in the Arctic, March 10, 1970.
Never Afraid To Dance
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Sheik Yamani, left, and Pierre Trudeau, right, dance a traditional Arabian dance while camping out in the desert in Madein Saleh, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 18, 1980.
Or Rock A Skirt
Pierre Trudeau, seen here taking part in Maori ceremonial dance in Wellington, New Zealand May 13, 1970.
Got The Moves
Pierre Trudeau does a dance after his campaign bus broke down in Montreal June 6, 1968.
Feather In The Cap
Wearing a "feather in his cap," Pierre Trudeau attended the official opening May 20, 1983, of an archaeological excavation in Hull, Que.
Ballet: Act 1
Pierre Trudeau, shown performing his famous pirouette during a May 7, 1977, picture session at Buckingham Palace in London, England.
Ballet: Act 2
Pierre Trudeau, in a moment of joy over patriation of Canada's constitution, preformed his now famous pirouette at Uplands Airport on April 18, 1982 following the Queens's departure for London after the 4-day state visit which climaxed with the proclamation of the Constitution Act.
He Got It From His Father
Pierre Trudeau is saluted by RCMP Officer as he carries son Justin to Rideau Hall in 1973.
Next: Justin Trudeau Through The Years
Prime Minister Trudeau and his then-wife Margaret leave the city's Notre Dame Basilica Sunday afternoon after the christening of their 22-day old infant Justin Pierre James, Jan. 16, 1972. Tasseled shawls kept the baby hidden from photographers and the 10-degree-below-zero weather.
March 1979 photo of the Trudeau children: Michel (front), Alexandre (Sacha) and Justin (rear).
It was a big day for Dad, but a long day for the three Trudeau children. Left to right, Justin, Michel and Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau attended the swearing in ceremonies of their father Pierre Elliott Trudeau as Prime Minister March 3, 1980 at Government House.