BY: ANTHONY FUREY
Back at the beginning of the year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept making comments at public events about running a positive election campaign this coming October. It was clearly something that was planned, because he tossed the line out not just once but at several fundraisers and Liberal-friendly events.
Maybe it was supposed to be seen as some brave stance. Instead, it came across more like a comedian testing out lines in front of a friendly audience.
He’d pledge to run a clean campaign and then right away go on to tell us why Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives were no good.
I’m going to run a campaign free from name-calling.
Unlike those knuckle-dragging neo-Nazi conservatives!
As they say in the comedy world, it’s all in the timing.
Those aren’t of course the words that Trudeau used but it certainly seemed to be the underlying subtext. Canadians appear to be catching on as well and they’re not buying Trudeau’s pledge.
According to a recent Nanos Research poll commissioned by CTV News, a whopping majority of respondents believe the 2019 election will be fought in the gutter even more than the 2015 election had been.
When asked whether this campaign would be more or less negative than the last one, 85% of people said it would be more or somewhat more negative.
“Canadians are bracing themselves for a negative mud-slinging election. Expect the former Liberal ‘sunny-ways’ to be thrown out the window as the Liberals fight to cling to power by tearing down Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer,” said Nik Nanos, Nanos Research founder, as reported by CTV.
So it’s not just that Canadians are placing the blame at the feet of Scheer and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Although the opposition parties will no doubt engage in a touch of negativity as well. It’s Trudeau who they’re not buying anymore. At least not the part about him being an angel when it comes to mud-slinging.
How will this play out in the months ahead? What will it mean to the voters?
There’s always a natural cynicism about politicians and campaign season. But it’s fair to say that’s only increased in recent years. Perhaps even in just the past four years.
Part of it can be attributed to personalities like Trudeau himself. Broader cultural issues are also to blame, without a doubt. Social media certainly bears a lot of responsibility, a forum that encourages and rewards the least charitable view possible of your political opponents.
That said, the conversation about negative campaigning isn’t a new one. There have been negative campaigns for decades. Although there’s been a more recent shift in the intended object of that negativity.
Traditional negative ads have been about how “the other guy” has bad policies that will harm you. Now, the argument is increasingly that “the other guy” is a bad person, a rotten human being.
That’s something that’s definitely increased since 2015. It’s perhaps naive to hope that the Canadian political landscape can successfully walk that back, but these poll numbers at least suggest there may be rewards in it for politicians who do.