OTTAWA - Some Grade 5 students have some advice for Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Stop being mean to Justin Trudeau.
Seven students from an Ottawa-area Catholic school have written to Harper asking that he pull Conservative attack ads, which began running within hours of Trudeau claiming the Liberal leadership last month.
The letter-writing campaign comes as a new poll suggests the attack ads may have backfired.
Indeed, the ads were more likely to leave a negative impression about Harper and the Conservatives than they were about Trudeau and the Liberals, according to The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey.
Teacher Natalie Casault said the idea came from the students themselves during a lesson on government last month. To the kids, she said the ads looked just like cyberbullying, which they'd learned about a couple of weeks earlier.
The ads feature video of Trudeau doing a mock strip tease for a charity event, his head surrounded by fairy dust as a narrator sneeringly recounts his past experience as a camp counsellor and drama teacher.
Casault, who teaches at Ecoles des voyageurs in Orleans, said she didn't raise the issue. One of her students did.
"He said, 'Yeah, they're really not nice, he did a charity and they're laughing at him and he looks like a clown and they're saying he's just a simple teacher and that's not fair. They can't do that, madame, that's cyberbullying.'"
Other students agreed, so Casault suggested they could write letters to the prime minister. One little girl did and read it to the class a few days later, which eventually prompted six others to write letters of their own.
"They said, 'You know, if it was me right there, I'd be crying.' And they're cute because they would say, 'You know, I think Justin is really sad about this,'" Casault said.
"One of the boys wrote down — and I thought that was really, really genius of him — he said, 'You know, there are better strategies, Mr. Prime Minister. You could talk to us about all the great things that you want to do for the country, instead.'"
Casault said the kids know nothing about politics or partisanship but they do know all about cyberbullying, following recent high-profile suicides by teenagers who had been traumatized by devastating pictures or video of them online.
"They're hearing all the time, 'Don't be disrespectful, be courteous to people, be nice to people, don't say things that you wouldn't want said about you' ... These are the speeches that I keep giving them every day."
They've also been taught about the dangers of posting online images and how they can become permanent means of belittling or demeaning a person, she said. So, when they saw the Tory attack ads online and on television, it rang a bell.
"From the point of view of a kid, all they see is somebody being attacked."
The letters were sent late last week and no response has been received from Harper as yet. But Casault said that wasn't the goal.
"Just the fact that they did something, they feel good about it."
The Harris-Decima survey suggests the kids aren't alone in disliking the ads.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents said they've seen the ads, which have been bombarding television and computer screens for about a month now.
But 59 per cent said they thought the campaign's tag line — that Trudeau is "in way over his head" —is somewhat or very inaccurate. Only 29 per cent said somewhat or very accurate.
Moreover, only 14 per cent said the ads left them with a negative impression of Trudeau and the Liberals, compared to 60 per cent who said the impact was neutral and 20 per cent who said the ads actually gave them a positive impression of Trudeau.
At the same time, the ads seem to have boomeranged on the Conservatives.
Sixty-four per cent said the ads left them with a negative impression of Harper and the Conservatives. Another 26 per cent said the impact was neutral and just six per cent said they got a positive impression of Harper from the ads.
The telephone survey of 1,007 Canadians was conducted May 9-12 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
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