03/20/2012 02:57 EDT | Updated 05/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Attack Ads are the Best Form of Flattery

As we enter the last week of the NDP leadership race, the Conservatives have released another attack ad aimed not at the NDP, but at Liberal Leader Bob Rae. That is somewhat curious timing.

One would think that they would have held their fire until the new NDP leader was chosen and then started their ritual carpet bombing to frame the new leader before they really got established in the House of Commons and in the minds of voters. Instead they have chosen to focus on Bob Rae as their target and that tells you some interesting things as well.

For one thing Bob Rae should be patting himself on the back for being the Conservatives latest target. Liberal MPs should be applauding their leader for a job well done. It is not as though the Conservatives would waste money on ads attacking the leader of a third party unless they were concerned about his success.

Clearly Rae has dominated Question Period since the passing of Jack Layton. During the recent robocall affair he was passionate and garnered considerable press, ample reason for the Conservatives to see him as a threat, but he is still just the leader of a much reduced third party. Why pick on Rae at this time?

Have the Conservatives decided that they can contain whoever wins the NDP leadership race? Have they decided that Rae is the bigger threat regardless of who wins the NDP leadership? Do they have internal polling numbers or are they seeing trends in their polling results that show Bob Rae is on the rise? Certainly during Rae's leadership run in 2006 we regarded him as the biggest threat should he win, fortunately he didn't. Have the Conservatives now decided that he is once again their biggest threat?

I wasn't overly impressed with the ad. I get the dark somber tone and mood, but I am not sure if harping back to events that took place some 17 plus years ago will work on modern voters. And yes I get that it is about the economy. And the public record is the public record and free to be used by all politicians. Certainly there is a core group of Ontario voters who will remember "Rae Days" and the job losses (possibly their own), but I would suspect they are already the converted.

Bob Rae was premier of Ontario from Oct 1, 1990 to June 26, 1995 and a great many of our younger voters weren't even born then. Many others would only be able to recall those events from their history books. It doesn't have much meaning for them, nor for many who live outside of Ontario or the new Canadians who have arrived since then.

I have nothing against throwing a leader's words and events they were involved in back at them for the simple reason that it works. But it loses something when it becomes so dated. A fresh quote or a mistake from the recent past is always better than reaching back a couple of decades to attack someone.

The Liberals tried that with their decade old Harper quotes and after a while the attacks became pretty stale. Voters preferred to think for themselves and evaluate the man they saw in front of them, not the man portrayed in Liberal attack ads.

The ad would imply that the Conservatives don't believe politicians can change, but we all know they do. Even Prime Minister Harper has evolved over the years: He is not the same politician he was in the 1990s either. Remember Harper's position on bilingualism, Quebec, and building firewalls around Alberta?

Perhaps that gives us the answer for why this ad at this time. Just like voters, the Conservatives realize that Bob Rae, like Stephen Harper, has evolved and that he is no longer the same politician as in the 1990s. Perhaps as in 2006 they realize he is still the real threat and they feel compelled to try once again to frame Rae as incompetent. This is an interesting move on their part.