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Trudeau Turns Cargo Shorts Into Political Leverage

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Admiral Ackbar says: "It's a trap."

And a beautifully put-together one at that. Of course, I am speaking of the ad everyone is talking about in Canada: Justin Trudeau's quickly thrown-together web clip in which he thanks donors who have gathered a million dollars for the Liberal Party.

In the video, the Liberal leader looks like a college sophomore playing hacky-sack in the quad. He's wearing an evergreen v-neck t-shirt and a despicable pair of tan cargo shorts. If the camera had panned to his feet, we would no doubt have been privy to a pair of those sartorial disasters known as flip-flops. And that's exactly the point.

What Trudeau says in the video is of little import -- as so often is with the aspiring prime minister -- but it's how he presents everything that makes this ad -- initially (and easily) thought to be a joke -- so downright clever.

In late April, following Trudeau's coronation, the Conservatives immediately launched an attack ad mocking the candidate for his "strip-tease" for a charity benefit. They placed too little focus on what he said (or what he fails to say; that is, anything in the House of Commons; a locale as foreign to him as the top of the Kilimanjaro) and instead, on how he presented himself: taking his shirt off.

Needless to say, the ad was a poor one -- a sputtering stink-bomb which reeked of desperation and worry -- that had all the production values of a The Year That Was video montage shown at a high school prom. In fact, following the metaphor of high school, Trudeau's mother even went as so far as calling out the Conservatives for "bullying" her son, and then proceeded to make a fat joke about Harper. But Ms. Trudeau's ridiculous comments raised awareness of the Conservatives' B-level gaffe nonetheless.

So why then would Trudeau do the Conservatives one better? Why would he eschew shirt and jacket in favor of Muskokan outerwear? He's dangling fish bait on the line, hoping Harper and company will bite. Trudeau wants another superficial attack ad. He wants to be told he doesn't look like a prime minister. Already, the governing party drew heavy criticism for attacking the MP from Papineau on such ridiculous grounds; and Trudeau wants them to do it again, and with the only material that he gives them: his appearance.

Furthermore, put the ad in the context of recent politics. In it, Trudeau speaks of receiving over a million dollars in donations. That number is in stark contrast to the $4.5 million that the Conservatives raked in over the first three months of 2013. This amount smells of oil and corporate donors. Polar opposites: Everyday Canadians giving what little they can; big bad business bosses unloading trash trucks of cash.

But there's also another number in the minds of Canadians: the $3.1 billion unaccounted for by the government according to the Auditor General. The Conservatives have "lost" a boatload of money; Trudeau has gained a comparatively insignificant amount. But it comes from everyday Canadians, thus adorning his otherwise-unnecessary announcement with that "grassroots" appeal.

And here's another testament to the brilliance of the ad. It is shot in front of a home. Kelly McParland makes the joke that you can almost hear a child's voice cry out "Daddy, I have to GO!" as the video exudes domesticity.

This is Justin Trudeau, a man at home, kicking about in his cargo shorts who thought, on the spot, "You know, let's thank those good Canadians for giving me money." Again, this presents a strong contrast to the clearly planned timing of the Conservatives when they launched their ad (positive spontaneity; orchestrated negativity.) And to top it off, Trudeau on the Front Lawn is a direct jab at Harper's clearly staged "Day in the Life" photos.

But here's the real kicker. Since this ad looks so downright cheap, Trudeau is quite consciously bringing up another point vis-à-vis the Conservatives. They used taxpayers' dollars to send out attack ad flyers. "I'm not going to use your money for my ads," Trudeau is saying, "But I couldn't possibly comment on what the Conservatives are doing."

All this is bait. It's strategic carelessness like bed hair kept in place with gel. People on social media are already aflutter with attacking the ad. And I bet you a pair of Old Navy shorts that Trudeau knows Conservative supporters will mock the video on Facebook and Twitter, thereby showing unconvinced voters that the followers of Harper do little more than insult the appearance of other candidates, as opposed to their message. This is one of Trudeau's smarter ploys; not having policy to be attacked on forces his opponents to focus on petty matters.

It's a brilliant piece of marketing. But on its own, it serves no purpose other than to let Liberals know that the man who skips Parliament to line his pockets from public speaking engagements, really appreciates the money they've given him. The Conservatives already made a huge faux-pas by launching the first ad. If something is not a threat, you do not strike first. But Harper did, thus telling Canadians that he recognized that Justin Trudeau was a problem. The best thing that Conservatives -- on the Hill or Facebook -- can do now is not respond to the ad. It's bait. It's a trap. It's there for them to make themselves look bad in their reaction.

What Is Justin Trudeau Doing?
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