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article imageOp-Ed: Guardian takes notice of Canadian negative campaigning

By Ken Hanly     Oct 15, 2015 in Politics
Ottawa - The use of negative advertising and exploitation of wedge issues is nothing new and becoming more frequent in U.S. campaigns as well as in Australia and the UK.
The Guardian in the UK recently had an article describing the use of negative ads in the present federal election campaign particularly by the Conservative Harper campaign. The Conservatives hired renowned Aussie strategist Lynton Crosby some time ago. He uses wedge issues that divide the population, and are often based upon fear, to attract voters to the party he is working for from other parties. He used immigration in his Australia campaign for John Howard. He also worked for David Cameron in the UK election. He does extensive polling in order to tailor messages to his targets, often marginal voters, although in the present election the targets have sometimes been ethnic minorities.
In the Canadian campaign, Harper appears to have used the wearing of the niqab by one Muslim woman, Zuner Ishaq, during her oath of allegiance, as part of her citizenship ceremony as such a wedge issue. The niqab covers the woman's face. The issue was not one of identity, as some claim, since Ishaq was willing to remove the niqab for identity purposes before she took the oath. Polls show that a large majority of Canadians supported the Conservative ban on the niqab at the ceremony, even though the courts so far have rejected it. In Quebec over 90 percent support the ban. Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democratic Party(NDP), defended the right of the woman, a position held by few in the province where NDP support was already slipping. Harper's use of this wedge issue may have helped the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, which also shares the Conservative position, but hurt the NDP. Harper also appeals to xenophobia perhaps in the niqab issue and in setting up a hot line to report "cultural barbaric practices." No doubt it is a good idea to report on certain situations such as a possible attempt at an " honour killing" but it could be easily done through existing channels, just as with any other crime.
The Guardian notes the Conservatives put out an election ad that claims the Liberals want to set up brothels and legalize prostitution. The ads are aimed at ethnic communities that are quite opposed to prostitution. Other ads claim Liberals want to make it easier to sell marijuana to children. Harper defended the ads as justified and rejected the idea the ads were playing on the fears of the ethnic community. He said to reporters:“The other guys will claim it’s fear when all we’re trying to do is draw attention to facts – facts that they’re actually not willing to talk about.”
As is usually the case, such ads have some factual basis but not as claimed in the ads. The basis for the brothel claim is that Trudeau once voted against a law clamping down on prostitution. He never made any suggestion about setting up brothels. As for selling marijuana to children, this is based upon Trudeau's being in favour of legalization of marijuana, a position shared by the leader of the NDP , Thomas Mulcair. Neither envisions selling it to children. The Conservative argument would be that if marijuana were legal then it would be readily available and thus easier to sell to children. However, it would still be criminal. Most Canadians actually favour easing Canada's marijuana laws.
Harper has tried to close down injection sites and has opposed legalization of marijuana. He voiced support for ads aimed at the Chinese and Punjabi communities in Toronto and Vancouver: "Justin [Trudeau] refuses to acknowledge the damage that drugs do to families and communities," Harper, referring to the Liberal leader, said in a written statement from his office. He wants to allow the sale of marijuana in corner stores and increase the number of heroin injection sites, dangerously misguided policies that would only make drugs more accessible to our children."
Harjit Saijan, the Liberal candidate in Vancouver South, says the claims are untrue and he found it disturbing that the Conservatives were using such tactics. However, this is exactly the type of thing Crosby recommends. The ads are targeting Punjabi and Chinese communities that polls show have strong negative opinions about prostitution, marijuana use, and injection sites. The ads are being used in ridings that were formerly Liberal and where the Liberals and Conservatives are now in close contests.
Saijan said it was clear that the Conservatives were targeting Chinese and Punjabi voters with specific messages. He said they should not be doing that. Rattan Mall, editor of the Indo-Canadian Voice newspaper, said that it was insulting to his community that the Conservative Party should think people can be manipulated. It may be insulting to some but if the strategy works as it seems to have done in other campaigns that use such tactics, the practice is unlikely to stop.
Of course not only Conservatives use negative ads that are misleading. Negative Liberal ads have also targeted ethnic communities claiming Conservative policies could strip them of their citizenship. The ads are based upon a new Conservative law that would allow dual citizens to have their Canadian citizenship revoked if they are convicted on certain serious charges such as terrorism. These details are left out of the ads.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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