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A shameless assessment of Ontario election advertisements and some voting tips

October 5th, 2011     by Meg Pirie     Comments

You may have noticed a few things over the last month if you live in Ontario. Yes, there’s a provincial election happening and besides being incredibly important, it’s also been incredibly annoying. Phone calls. Incessant attack ads. Flyers crowding your mailbox. OMG don’t you get it Conservatives? We’re just not that into you!

But seriously, certain ads deserve some attention, if for no other reason than to poke fun at how ridiculous they are. After all, humour can be an incredibly effective tool when it comes to disarming opponents.

Perhaps the most pervasive attack was THE TAX MAN, authorized by the CFO for the Ontario PC Party.

You might notice that this ad uses broad language to define its opponent, Dalton McGuinty, and its champion, Tim Hudak. And really, vagueness is the domain of these ads. With just 30 seconds to either sway you or put a bug in your ear, they operate through emotional appeals and repetition. These adverts are also transparently obvious. The image they selected to represent the current Premier, AKA THE TAX MAN, makes him look unfocused and profoundly constipated.

Hudak, on the other hand, sits at a desk composing a tome on the workers’ plight (or playing Sudoku, you choose), knocking on doors, meeting with Madonna and Child (a great way to make him seem more trustworthy among women, typically not as supportive of Conservative platforms), drinkin’ a double-double with the boys (before they go fishin’ or huntin’), and then finishing with a triumphant shot of Hudak and family in what could be coined Ye Olde Celebration of Heteronormative Family Values.

While these tactics are not unique to Tim Hudak, truly, this is a masterpiece as far as attack ads go. We know what the Premier is (A TAX MAN), but in a de-personalized, negative manner. Hudak & Co. have established what he represents through imagery, while emphasizing through the script—delivered in the 1st person by Hudak himself—what he will do … which is exactly the opposite of Dalton McGuinty. Even the colour scheme and music become brighter with the appearance of Tim Hudak. It’s sort of like The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy arrives in Oz. Except I don’t think Hudak would shine in a musical…I might be wrong, though. PM Harper likes John Lennon, after all.

The big finish? “It’s time for change in Ontario.” What does that actually mean? What kind of change? How will persons living with (dis)abilities, trans, queer, youth, people of colour, Indigenous people, the un- and under-employed, women, and other marginalized groups be represented?

Stop asking questions, you!

Of course, for an attack ad, this works. Which is unfortunate. So, so unfortunate. But as far as establishing an identity that people feel connected to and gravitate toward, this ad wears thin. By spending so much time and energy reiterating that he is not Dalton McGuinty, Tim Hudak, the politician, actually dependent on Dalton McGuinty, since his existence is founded on an invented dichotomy between Liberals and Conservatives.

The other ad that’s been getting quite a bit of attention is provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s “Shoes.”

This ad probably seems familiar because it is. During the Orange Crush in May’s federal election, this NDP ad caused a stir in Quebec.

Light, humorous, and pithy, this is a different take on election ads. And while I can appreciate the point that Liberals and Conservatives have a tendency to behave like it’s a two party race, I take issue with some of the imagery.

First and most obviously, it’s the specific and normalized iteration of femininity that’s being enforced. Absolutely, Horwath offers a fresh perspective as a woman in what is still a male-dominated field. But the high heels, the pencil skirt … there’s something a little Carrie Bradshaw/Shopaholic takes Queen’s Park/feminism-based-on-consumption vibe happening for me.

Nevertheless, the aesthetic is striking precisely because it is so different. Often, political ads hone in on faces, taking deliberate steps to demonize an opponent in a polarizing manner. This ad does not do that, but manages, through a gesture as simple as tapping shoes, to demonstrate that “the other two”—also clever to not name the opponents, thereby rendering them non-entities—are ineffective and ill-equipped to lead the province.

So, when those of you who are eligible and wanting to vote go to vote tomorrow, I suggest you attempt to wipe these ads from your frontal lobe and consider the following issues.

  • Are you voting for the party leader or local constituent? It’s definitely important to consider what leader you like, but MPPs do the leg work. And while there are certainly pluses and minuses to either strategy, I think it’s best to a) ignore polls—they’re based on phone calls made to land lines during the day, so they are just slightly disproportionate, and b) make the choice that ensures your values are represented in a way that allows communities to flourish.

  • So with this in mind: how do your local candidates stack-up? What did they do in your community before they entered the race? Who showed up to debates? Were they respectful? Who did you meet face-to-face? Who will best represent you in Queen’s Park? Who has the chutzpah to not tow the party line?

  • If you look at the platforms, it’s easy to see that there is more cross-over between parties than any leader would like to admit in what I think is a widespread effort to meet in the middle. Ultimately, this is too bad. Difference of opinion is a good thing. That said, the NDP would like to freeze transit rates and raise the minimum wage, the Liberals are promising to cut tuition by 30%, and the Green Party, interestingly, is the only party that has included an emphasis on social justice and consistently brought up the G20—from its lack of transparency, to violations of civil rights, to the Liberals signing the Public Works Protection Act. I bring this up because this is an incredibly significant issue that has flown under the radar, linked in no small part to the mainstream media’s general reluctance to cover the Green Party in a viable way.

  • Sorry, I refuse to talk about the Conservative platform. It makes me want to move to Finland, my ancestral home. If you would like to read about it, I suggest you visit the National Post’s website. They will, however, manage to cut taxes and create jobs.

  • If you need to know where to vote, what to bring, and general info, visit the Elections Ontario website.

  • Federal elections are exciting because they are a forum for Big Ideas, and municipal elections have a very tangible effect on our day-to-day lives. Provincial politics can get left in the cold. And I has a sad because of this. Not only is the province running a massive deficit but issues like education and health care fall under provinces’ mandates. Not only that, but municipal funding is linked to Queen’s Park, too.

So, think about the community you live in and your role as a citizen. But understand that austerity measures leave a lasting legacy that squelches hope, diminishes optimism, and squanders resources. Education, health care, public transit, housing … all of these issues are on the table and all of these issues are rights. Voting is undeniably significant, but so is engagement and resistance, two things that take on many forms.

Until we meet again, happy voting. If you need something to look forward to, October 7th marks a new provincial holiday, Ye Olde Cathartic Bonfires of Political Propaganda.

Tags: advice, in my opinion...

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