Martin-centred ads could backfire: If PM's star
falls faster than the party's, he could drag down the Liberals
Friday 2 April 2004
Oh, the Liberals are all atwitter over their new
They're "something new," they tell us. Liberal sources have boasted
to some media outlets the ads are "risky," by which they do not mean a
gamble that could backfire, but rather that they are edgy, out there,
Hardly. The ads will seem innovative to you only if your idea of
getting out of your mealtime routine is to serve pot roast instead of
meat loaf some Tuesday. (And maybe add an extra dash of ground pepper
to the gravy! But only a dash, mind.)
Otherwise, I think you'll find the ads conventional and
There are four. You can view them at
The Liberal party is barely mentioned. The focus is almost
exclusively Prime Minister Martin. There is one ad each on
accountability, education, health care and Canada's role in the world,
except in French. In the French line-up, the one on our international
goals is replaced by an ad on social responsibility.
Each ad is 30-seconds long. Each opens with a stark red panel on
which is superimposed the title, "Paul Martin on Accountability,"
"Paul Martin on Education," and so on.
The word "Liberal" appears in the bottom right-hand corner for only
the last four seconds of each spot.
It's clear Liberal campaign organizers would rather voters focused
on their man instead of their party.
Heh, heh, no sense reminding folks they are the same people who
brought them Adscam, the gun registry, HRDC, phoney invoices for
non-existent Canadian flags, a half-billion dollar unity slush fund
(over and above the sponsorship scandal), millions in home-heating
subsidies paid out to convicts, snowbird retirees and the dead, and on
and on and on.
same is true of the Liberals lawn signs for the upcoming contest. As
you can see elsewhere in this column, the PM's visage and "Team
Martin" are blared along the top.
This is sometimes referred to as "first image" placement since this
is the first place most people look. It is the choicest spot on a
poster, the place designers often put that which they want to
Notice the tiny "Liberal" in the bottom left-hand corner.
It is clear the Grits are afraid to run as who they are and equally
obvious they think their last, best hope is to put all their electoral
eggs in Martin's basket, then pray the wicker holds until after
This may assuage some voters who are so eager to have Paul Martin
as PM that they are prepared to overlook that that means taking the
rest of the Liberals in the bargain.
But it is unlikely to have much impact on the bulk of Canadians.
The Liberals must have concocted their ads and lawn signs four to
six weeks ago, right after the Auditor-General's report revealed the
party's likely involvement in the Quebec sponsorship scandal, and the
party immediately took a 13-point dive in the polls.
At that time Martin's approval ratings were well ahead of his
party's, by as much as 16 points.
Yet since that time, Martin's "favourables" have fallen to 39 per
cent from 53 per cent. He is now no more popular than his party, which
is stalled at 38 per cent.
Martin's cross-Canada "I'll Get to the Bottom of This" tour was
obviously a bust with ordinary voters. After appearing on every
call-in show and stopping in at every coffee shop in the country
during the weeks following the scandal, Martin's standing with pundits
may have risen (they were mostly impressed by his public appearances),
but regular Canadians clearly liked him far less after it was over.
Having been designed for a moment in political time when Martin
significantly outpolled his caucus, the Libs' ads and lawns signs will
at best be a wash for them, now that Martin and the Liberals are in a
dead heat in public sentiment.
However, if Martin's ratings keep declining, the decision to
emphasize the PM and hide the "Liberal" make come back to bite the
And if Martin is in any way tagged with involvement in Adscam --
either through testimony at one of the hearings or by Conservative
research -- between now and election day, then the new Martin-dominant
commercials and signs could pull the party down with him.
The ads are unintentionally funny, too. Watch them with the sound
on, then with it off.
The onlookers (ordinary voters around a kitchen island) are bored.
One lady, wearing what appears to be a tan leisure suit, even looks
frightened, as if she is hoping that if she just smiles and nods
politely, maybe the mad stranger will go pounce on one of the others
first. If these are the best reactions Martin could elicit from
Liberal-friendly voters who know they are on camera, imagine the
reaction he'll induce in the rest of us.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post