Duelling Ontario Election Ads and the Layton Effect

I find attack ads offensive. I’ve gotten so fed up with them that anyone who uses them doesn’t get my vote, but I feel I’m a one-person protest because it seems that parties who use attack ads are rewarded by Canadians and get into power. The Harper Conservatives are a prime example. But perhaps the death of Jack Layton and his final, farewell letter that led to an outpouring of positivity will change that here in Canada and in Ontario.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." (Jack Layton, 20 August 2011)

Jack Layton’s final words became the cri de coeur of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. They were repeated on newscasts, on talk shows, over water coolers, and online chats. They created an atmosphere of good feeling that blanketed us in warmth and smiles, and then the Ontario Progressive Conservative ad came on, punched me in the gut, and blew all that good feeling out of the water. The PCs were angry; they wanted to make us viewers angry. They were fearful of what the Liberals had wrought; they wanted to make us viewers fearful. They hated what the Liberals had done while in power and hated that the Liberals are in power; they wanted to make us despair for our province so that we’d be turned off the Liberals and feel the only way out of our low mood and depression over our province was to vote PC, vote for anger, bitterness, resentment, fury, despair, fear, red faces of hatred.

I don’t know about you, but I have enough of my own anger that I don’t need some political hack imposing his upon me. I don’t need to be made more angry over my situation and over my province than I already am. Anger is an emotion that energizes, but the kind of anger PC Leader Tim Hudak wants us to feel does only that: energize us to the ballot box to vote PC. It cuts out thinking; it cuts out reasoned contemplation of the various platforms; it cuts out calmness. Only in relaxed, focused attention, the kind of attention that comes out of a place of calm and optimism, can one compare the platforms, think about what the parties are really saying, and decide who comes closest to what we want.

After the memorials, the collective grieving, the celebration of Layton’s life, the promises to follow in his footsteps of hope and optimism and love, Hudak’s PC ad is a shocker. And it makes the Liberal ad really stand out.

The Liberal ad is simple. Dalton McGuinty stands in a white place (purity) alone, acknowledging his lack of popularity (humility), and talks about what the Liberals have accomplished (positivity). I haven’t actually paid attention to his content – just as I haven’t to the PC vitriol against McGuinty – because I’ve been focused on the sound (echoing), his stance (calm), his hair (did he get a hair cut?), his lack of gesticulation (calm but not fake like in previous campaigns), but because it’s not so offensive and doesn’t put me in an instant bad mood, I can watch it when it comes on – again and again and again. And that means eventually the content is going to sink in to my brain and make me think that perhaps we’ve been having it good in Ontario and that the Liberals aren’t so bad after all.

If Layton’s life and his last words have changed Ontarians, then the PC attack ads will be nullified. And the Liberal ad will capture their attention. They will reward those who talk about achievements and refuse to denigrate the other guy.  They will embrace the Layton way in their voting. Olivia Chow spoke to Peter Mansbridge Monday night about following Layton and said,

People have it inside them to do good things.”