The “Bully” Pulpit


As part of my vow to be as impartial as possible with the content of this site, I am going to start this post by coming right out and saying that I am about to express my opinion on something: you have been warned.

I hate attack ads. In fact, I despise them. They are deplorable. If sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, then attack ads are the lowest form of political communications. It doesn’t matter which party makes them, I don’t like them. And I do not personally look favourably on any party which uses such “tactics”.

While in a free and democratic society we hold freedom of speech as a fundamental right (with certain exceptions ie. hate speech), our political messaging should be about hightening the level of debate, raising the bar, stirring public discussion- asking questions, discussing the issues. Instead, we lower political debate with this type of ad.

Not only do they attack officials on a personal level (mostly), they are, as has been stated in numerous newspaper editorials and in many letters to the editor over the last week, it is a form of bullying, a hot-button issue given the numerous instances of cyber and just good ole’ fashioned bullying. Except advertisements, by their very nature, reach out farther, to more people in more places. What example does this set for society?

Further, I also do not believe that any political ad should be run outside of an official election campaign.  The recent attack ads on Justin Trudeau I can almost excuse for the timing (but not their content)  because  a by-election will be occuring in Labrador on May 13th. But, it just barely squeaks by.

We now return to our regular impartial programming…

But let’s rewind shall we? What is an attack ad exactly?

For the most part, these are paid political advertisements used as a tactic to warn or scare voters, in an attempt to persuade them to withhold their support for a particular political party. They are also called negative advertisements.

They are often paid for out of party funds and are usually successful fundraising tools because they galvanize or rally a party’s political base – those who are party memebers or those who will support that party no matter what.

Polls suggest that there are other people who feel the way I do about such ads. Yet, claims have been made that they do work.

“Reading” such advertisements are a great opportunity to test out your media literacy skills. It is easy to be taken in by the message espoused by the ad. These tactics have been used successfully by many political parties including against Stockwell Day [1], Stephen Harper [2], Stephane Dion [3] and Michael Ignatieff [4].

Justin Trudeau today, released his own advertisement, a positive one. There are a couple of things working for him that his last two predecessors did not have: money in the war chest and a charisma which not only draws people to him, but also makes people think that he is more in touch with Canadians.

It will be interesting to see how effective or ineffective these ads are on Canadian voters.

For some interesting news pieces on the current ad situation, check these links:

And more information on Attack Ads, See the CBC’s Indepth piece here.

[1] Persichilli, A. (May 17, 2009). Knee deep in political mud and still sinking  Toronto Star… Retrieved from

[2] CBC. Indepth: Attack ads. (n.d.) Political attack ads: Ten that made a difference. Retrieved from:

[3] CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc. (September 27, 2008). How to tories hijacked Stephane Dion’s image. Ottawa Citizen Retrieved from:

[4] Wells, P. (April 17, 2013). The last time conservatives launched attack ads… Maclean’s Retrieved from:


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