Queen's Park Watch: The War for Your Eyeballs

Torontoist

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Queen’s Park Watch: The War for Your Eyeballs

With the provincial election less than a month away, we ask the big question: which party gives the best video?

How did people get elected before TV? With the provincial election writ dropped this week, Ontario politicos will now begin wooing you in earnest, with television as a key tool. In theory, fragmentation of the mediaverse into a bazillion online echo chambers should render television advertising less relevant to electoral outcomes, but it hasn’t. Network TV still gets the big numbers, and people are lazy and would just as soon suffer through political blather as hit the remote.

But if you do press mute during electo-advertising or you’re that kind of of hipster (“I don’t really watch TV, I’m mostly interested in pre-industrial Japanese anime”), we’ve saved you the trouble of watching by reviewing the key television messaging of the three main parties and scoring them on a scale of A to F, with F being unwatchable and A being garden-variety obnoxious.

Progressive Conservative

The PC “Taxman” ad came out during the Stanley Cup playoffs back in June, and is based on the premise that the McGuinty Liberals have taxed the population into penury and don’t much care. The ad opens with a still of a nervous-looking Dalton McGuinty under a sneering, sarcastic narration listing what the PCs see as unfair taxes. Just when you’re ready to head-butt McGuinty, or the narrator, or the person sitting next to you, nursery music comes up and a beaming, family-style Tim Hudak emerges to tell us that he’s just the man to cut waste and get the government’s hand out of your pocket (a Liberal news release says that a version of the spot released in August cuts Hudak out altogether; we didn’t locate that one but the change may be a response to his relatively low personal popularity).

The tone lifts heavily from Republican attack ads in the US, where outrage has become the standard fuel to get voters to the polls. The meme of overtaxation has also been popular down south, and closer to home helped propel Rob Ford to the mayor’s chair right here in Toronto.

Since the ad was released, Hudak and the Tories have become even more engaged in a symbiotic relationship with their ideological brethren on the Ford team, although it’s not clear which is the host and which the parasite. However, with Ford thus far unable to locate the gravy train he’s supposed to be derailing, in Toronto at least, this message may be less compelling than it was a few months ago.

Score: C-
The Tories didn’t need to get scary here; everyone was already sick of McGuinty, and the Bela Lugosi–meets–Denis Leary voiceover doesn’t lend any cred to the campaign. A more positive message would have looked better on them and maybe given them some needed lift with female voters.

New Democratic Party

The first NDP campaign ad was released a couple of weeks back and is a benign, inoffensive reinforcement of the ongoing NDP drift to the centre.

Leader Andrea Horwath is serious but likeable as she tosses out unsurprising motherhood statements about more jobs and better healthcare, or maybe the other way around. She also takes the high road: there’s only the subtlest slap at the Tory’s “changebook” (“You can vote for change, but you have to be careful about what kind of change you’re looking for”) and the temptation to target famous McGuinty messes like e-Health is avoided.

Towards the end of the 30 seconds, almost as an afterthought, Horvath says “we can take the HST off of essentials,” a teaser if there ever was one. Why did she say “can” instead of “will”? Who gets to decide what’s an essential? Should I put off buying toilet paper until October?

Score: B-
Blandness aside, this isn’t a bad ad. The NDP are smart to get the relatively little-known Horwath out in front of the public and put a face to the party. New Democrat strategists also understand that their shot lies not in enraging the undecideds against the status quo (let the Tories do that), but in convincing independent voters and disaffected Liberals that the NDP are not only looking out for their interests, but could form a rationally behaving government that won’t ban capitalism or turn Queen’s Park into a unionized hemp farm.

Liberal

The Liberal ads are arguably the edgiest of the three, if that has any meaning in political advertising.

With Premier McGuinty’s personal popularity in the dumps, Grit spinpeople avoided the temptation to work around him and instead place him front and centre against a blank white background. McGuinty confidently acknowledges that he’s not the most popular guy around, and suggests that doing what’s right is not always doing what’s popular (of course, neither is doing what’s wrong, but that’s a debate for another day.)

He follows up by gushing about the progress Ontario has made during his tenure as premier, even offering up actual facts (or statistics, at any rate) about improvements in health care and the building of wind turbines. A calm and cheerful observation of a few government accomplishments makes a good counterpoint to the Tories howling about Liberal incompetence.

Score: B
As incumbents in tough times with some well-publicized fiascos under their belt, the Liberals have to take more chances. A few months ago, they seemed content to have McGuinty keep a low profile (“Sorry, what’s that? Who’s behind the curtain? Well, this is awkward…”) while referring all questions to the resurrected corpse of Mike Harris. However, it looks like a better strategy to hit the popularity issue head-on and have McGuinty address the public, warts and all. Whether voters feeling overtaxed and underemployed will be won over by a calm demeanour and a few sunshine statistics remains to be seen, but it makes sense for the Grits to roll the dice on this one.


CORRECTION: September 8, 5:10 PM This post originially embedded the wrong Liberal ad. It has now been corrected.

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