Liberals take aim at Harpers decision to shutter Parliament with pointed ads

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are going on the offensive, rolling out ads that accuse Stephen Harper of putting Parliament on ice to cover up Canada's handling of Afghan detainees.
The Grit ad blitz follows a slew of editorials chastising the Conservatives and the emergence of an online group of some 140,000 Canadians who oppose Harper's decision to shut down Parliament until early March.
"They're trying to tap into an anger that does actually exist in the land," said Chris Dornan, a journalism professor and director of the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.
"There is a good deal of discontent about this political calculation on the part of the prime minister."
The move signals the Liberals are ready to borrow a page from the Conservative play book - running advertisements designed to play on doubts in the minds of voters.
The print, radio and Internet advertisements - there are no pricey TV spots - form part of a broader strategy to portray the Liberals as hard-working representatives ready to serve Canadians whether the Conservatives are around or not.
Liberal MPs and senators plan to return to work Jan. 25, the date Parliament had been scheduled to resume before the prime minister pulled the plug.
Ignatieff says they will hold public hearings on various issues and conduct pre-budget consultations until the Winter Olympic Games begin mid-next month in Vancouver.
"We'll be on the Hill earning our keep," he told The Canadian Press on Sunday.
A Liberal print ad features a Tory-blue sign hung outside Parliament Hill: Closed out of self-interest, with Stephen Harper's signature.
It alleges the prime minister tried to "sneak a fast one by you" while you "weren't paying attention."
"What's Stephen Harper trying to hide? What's his real agenda?"
A radio spot accuses the prime minister of shuttering Parliament to squelch discussion of front-page issues including allegations that detainees were routinely tortured after Canada handed them over to Afghan jailers.
"He doesn't want to have to answer questions about torture coverups, climate change, unemployment," a man says over ominous-sounding music. "Stephen Harper did this secretly because he has something to hide."
Harper has defended his decision to end the parliamentary session as a "routine" matter.
He says it will allow the government to recalibrate its economic agenda as the country emerges from recession.
Ignatieff said last week that Canadians are coming to see the closure of Parliament as just the latest act of an arrogant leader who "shuts down every independent regulator or every independent body who stands up to the power of the prime minister."
He reiterated that position on Sunday.
"We get a very strong sense that Canadians don't like this," he said. "And they don't think the prime minister should control when Parliament sits. Harper shouldn't be shutting down Parliament. Prime ministers serve at the pleasure of Parliament rather than Parliament serving at the pleasure of prime ministers. He's got it completely reversed."
In trying to stoke doubts about Harper's motives, the Liberals are turning the tables on the Conservatives.
When Stephane Dion assumed the Liberal leadership, Harper's team bombarded the public with ads that painted him as weak and indecisive, charging the bespectacled former professor was "not a leader."
Once Ignatieff took the Grit reins, Conservative ads attacked the longtime Harvard University academic as an arrogant, globetrotting dilettante who is "just visiting" Canada.
Dornan noted that while the Liberal ads focus on Harper, they do not include his picture. And rather than simply point a finger, the spots ask the audience what the prime minister might be up to.
"I wouldn't say that these are over the top," he said. "They're doing it by a series of questions, so the invitation is to you to supply your own answers."
There is a difference between ads that are mere political mudslinging and those that raise genuine questions about leadership and judgment, said Jonathan Rose, who researches political advertising.
"Ads which get people to talk about the issue, and engage in the issue, can't be seen as negative but rather could be seen as beginning a public conversation," said Rose, an associate professor of political studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Organizations: Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs, Conservatives, Carleton University Canadian Press Harvard University Queen's University in Kingston

Geographic location: Canada, OTTAWA, Vancouver Parliament Hill

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