Pubdate: Sat, 20 Sep 2014
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The London Free Press
Author: Michael Warren
Note: R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario 
deputy minister, TTC chief general manager and Canada Post CEO.
Page: E1


So far Tory attack ads on Justin Trudeau have not hurt the Liberal 
leader, but their effect may yet come

Ever since Justin Trudeau won its leadership in early 2013, the 
Liberal party has led in the polls. The latest average of all polls 
shows the Liberals at 39% of popular support, the Conservatives at 
32% and the NDP trailing with 19%.

Canadians seem to be enamoured with Trudeau's sunny disposition, his 
good looks and his positive approach to politics. It's made him the 
No. 1 target of the Conservative attack machine.

In the past the Conservatives have excelled at defining Liberal 
leaders before they could define themselves. Stephane Dion was "not 
worth the risk" and Michael Ignatieff was "just visiting." But 
Trudeau is proving to be a much harder target to undermine.

Last year, the Tories thought they'd found his key weakness: 
inexperience. They ran TV ads for more than a year claiming he was 
"not ready to govern" - a political neophyte incapable of running the 
country now, or ever.

But Forum Research showed the ad campaign backfired, and badly.

Half of those who saw the ads said the spots would likely make them 
vote Liberal, not Conservative. Of those who had previously voted 
Tory, a quarter said the ads made them want to vote Liberal.

Undaunted, the Conservative war room looked for other shortcomings. 
They noticed that in unscripted moments Trudeau has a tendency to say 
what they thought were dumb things.

For example, he said, "There's a level of admiration I have actually 
for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn 
their economy around on a dime."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried for weeks to make Trudeau sound 
like a supporter of dictatorships. The public seemed to understand 
Trudeau was simply acknowledging China's economic progress.

On the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, Trudeau said, "But there 
is no question that this has happened because there is someone who 
feels completely excluded." He went on to emphasize the importance of 
looking at "root causes" of terrorism.

Again, the Conservatives pounced. Their ad read, "How can someone who 
makes excuses for terrorists keep Canadians safe?" It wasn't long 
before this line of attack was abandoned. As events unfolded, it 
became clear that identifying root causes was a widespread concern. 
In retrospect, Trudeau's comments didn't sound so ill-informed.

In August, the Tory war room thought they'd finally found something 
that would hurt Trudeau. They accused him of supporting terrorists 
because of a visit he'd made to a mosque in his riding.

Federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney lashed out, "It is 
completely unacceptable that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would 
associate with a group that allegedly radicalizes Canadians to join 
al-Qaida, and engage in acts of unspeakable violent extremism. Now he 
is pandering for votes amongst religious extremists in our own 
communities. It is clear that Justin Trudeau cannot be trusted to 
keep Canadians safe."

Then the facts emerged.

Trudeau had visited the mosque in March 2011 as an ordinary MP 
reaching out to religious organizations in his riding. Some time 
after his visit, a U.S. Intelligence report came to light that said 
some "known al-Qaida members were recruited, facilitated or trained" 
through the mosque a decade earlier.

As an MP Trudeau would not have known whether CSIS or the RCMP had a 
secret file on the Al-Sunnah Al-Nabawiah mosque. And, if such a file 
existed, why hadn't Harper taken action against these alleged 
"religious extremists" years ago?

This year's relentless "Reefer Madness" Tory attack ads starring 
Trudeau have been effective with the Conservatives' core supporters. 
The number of Conservative donors dramatically increased as did the 
party's financial haul during the campaign. The ad attempts to brand 
Trudeau as a threat to young Canadians because of his policy 
advocating legalization of marijuana.

But Ekos pollster Frank Graves makes a telling point. "Money is 
always nice to have, but if you are out there stimulating fundraising 
at the expense of alienating parts of the spectrum that you 
absolutely need to win government, then you've got to wonder how 
smart that is."

Forum Research found that relaxing the marijuana rules is 
overwhelmingly favoured by the broader spectrum that Graves 
mentioned: 70% of Canadians say they want legalization or 
decriminalization of marijuana. The Liberal leader is on the right 
side of this issue.

So far, Trudeau seems to have deflected attempts to label him as not 
ready to govern, soft on China, making excuses for terrorists and a 
threat to young Canadians. But political attack ads don't always work 
right away.

Sometimes they lie dormant until the target begins to show signs of 
alleged weaknesses.

The electorate seems to have overlooked Trudeau's lack of experience. 
But if, for example, he acts or speaks in a way that shows, even 
briefly, that he is "in over his head," the preconditioned public 
could react with a vengeance.

Just because Trudeau has led in the polls for months and seems immune 
to Tory attack ads doesn't mean Canadians are prepared to give him 
the keys to 24 Sussex Drive. As the 2015 election grows closer, 
Trudeau will have to present a more compelling policy platform and 
demonstrate he has the personal substance and depth of judgment 
required to run a G7 country. Not an easy task.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom