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by Lisa Goudy

The Green Party of Canada is attacking attack ads. On March 7, the party released an ad encouraging Canadians to stand up against attack ads. 

“Tired of the name calling? Smear campaigns? Mudslinging? Are you disgusted with the state of Canadian politics? This does not represent our Canada,” the deep, male narrator voice states over military drum beats and sinister music.

The ad doesn’t specifically target any specific person or party, but it does contain gritty images of other parties.

 Kieran Green, the Green Party’s director of communications, said the Greens are worried about the rising use of attack ads in a democracy. They believe this is having a negative effect on voter turnout.

In the 2008 federal election, voter turnout was 58.8 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. As a spring federal election is becoming more likely, attack ads are “spiralling out of control,” said Green.

 “At the rate things are going now, we could be looking at the nastiest, dirtiest election in Canadian history unless we do something about it,” Green said.

Discussion among party members led to the idea of “satire attack ads” said Green. The ad took one week to produce and cost less than $10, 000, including limited national broadcast rights on CTV, CBC, and TVA in Québec. Green estimated that most parties spend millions to produce nasty attack ads.

The party has already had an “overwhelming response” to their ad, he said, receiving multiple letters and emails thanking the Greens. Green thinks it’s obvious most Canadians dislike attack ads, which are becoming increasingly spiteful and irrelevant to Canadian issues.

A current CBC web poll asks “What do you think of political attack ads?” As of March 9, 89.85 per cent of 3,152 respondents said they dislike attack ads.

At the University of Regina, student Ben McVicar said he believes attack ads are useless.

“They don’t really do anything other than change people’s opinions on other matters that aren’t really that relevant,” McVicar said.

However, research has proven that attack ads are effective in winning votes, according to Steve White, a political science professor at the University of Regina.

“The idea is that negative advertising can move votes away from one of, or multiple, opponents…towards your particular party or candidate,” White said.

So regardless of the public’s stated dislike for them, they keep on running, he said. In any case, issues are not traditionally a main focus in Canadian campaigns, he said.

If an election does focus on issues, they are usually what White called “valence issues” - things most people agree on and wouldn’t argue against, such as unemployment.

“So they sort of present it as we are the best party, or best candidate, or best leader to…deal with the problem of unemployment, without actually saying much about what exactly it is they would do to deal with that problem,” said White.

The Green Party ad is shared through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, said Green. So far, there have been over 36,000 views online.

“What we’re trying to do is basically provide the kind of a rallying cry…that brings everybody together to rise up and say, ‘We’re done. There should be no more attack ads,’” said Green.

Above: Steve White said attack ads are effective, but they don’t address issues.
Photo by Lisa Goudy