Imagine this scenario.
You’re sitting at home watching the Toronto Blue Jays when a political ad comes on your television screen. The commercial takes direct aim at a politician — say, the latest Liberal leader — as “not a leader,” “just visiting” or “in over his head.”
But the familiar voice of another party leader — say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper — can be heard in the end.
“I’m Stephen Harper and I approve this message,” the man says.
That scenario is the future of Canadian political advertising if Manitoba Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux has his way.
According to an excellent piece by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Mia Rabson, Lamoureux intends to introduce a private member’s bill to amend the Canada Elections Act to require political ads to carry the voice of the party leader, fully identifying himself as approving the ad, whether used in an election or otherwise.
"At the end of the day, what I'd like to be able to see is a clear indication of leaders that take responsibility for their advertisements," Lamoureux told the paper.
Lamoureux’s plan is clearly inspired by the U.S., where a ‘Stand By Your Ad’ provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 requires candidates for public office, political parties and interest groups make a statement saying they approve the message.
The thinking behind the provision was that politicians would be less likely to make outrageous claims if they had to put their name on it.
The idea that Canadian politicians should have to do something similar was also proposed by CBC comedian Rick Mercer who, in a 2011 rant, called on Canada to take a page from America’s book.
“At least in the United States, if one party attacks another party, the leader responsible has to pop up at the end and say I'm Joe Blow and I approve this ad,” he said. “In Canada our leaders don't do that. And my guess is they never will. Because that takes courage. And bullies generally have none.”
Harper Conservatives released attack ads against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau just a day after he won the leadership race in April.
The ads attack Trudeau as little more than a famous name and feature both a charity striptease he performed in 2010 and a CTV clip from 1999 when a young Trudeau, apparently paraphrasing his father, said: “Quebecers are better than the rest of Canada because we’re Quebecers or whatever.”
Treasury Board President Tony Clement defended the negative ads as just part of the “marketplace of ideas” during an editorial board meeting at The Huffington Post Canada in April.
“It’s fairly typical for political parties to extol the virtues of their own leadership, their own policies, and contrast it with their political opponents,” he said. “That’s kind of what we have in question period every day of the week that the House is sitting.”
But with Liberals now leading in public opinion polls there has been some suggestion the ads backfired.
Conservatives waited about three months before releasing attack ads targeting Thomas Mulcair after he won the NDP leadership in 2012. The commercials slammed Mulcair’s NDP as posing “risky” economic plans.
What do you think of Lamoureux’s idea? Should party leaders have to “approve” their attacks? Vote or tell us in the comments below.