The Ontario PCs are hitting the television airwaves with new ads that showcase a smiling party leader, Patrick Brown, in tandem with an ominous attack ad that casts Premier Kathleen Wynne as untrustworthy.
The one-two punch of contrasting ads gives a taste of the air war to come, as June 7, Ontario election day, draws nearer and the parties start spending millions to try to sway voters.
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The fresh ads show Brown with his shirt sleeves rolled up and blue tie loosened. With titles that include "Patrick Brown on the Economy" and "Patrick Brown on Diversity," each ad ends with Brown saying, "It's time for change that puts your family first, the people, not the insiders."
The ads contrast starkly with another PC ad that is appearing frequently in prime time TV slots. "Kathleen Wynne is untrustworthy. Her Liberal party is politically corrupt," intones a deep-voiced narrator.
"Now the premier is testifying at a bribery trial," continues the ad. "Just imagine what's next."
The ad depicts an unsmiling still image of Wynne, as headlines from CBC News and the Toronto Star appear on a blood-red screen.
"Our choice of tone and language is based on research and reflecting back what Ontarians are saying about Kathleen Wynne," said a senior Progressive Conservative official. "'Untrustworthy' is something that we are hearing more and more of."
The ad is "strikingly Trumpesque in its style," said Mark Longabaugh, an advertising specialist who has worked on U.S. Democratic Party campaigns, including as a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders.
With background audio that sounds like jail cell doors slamming, the ad "makes an implication that Wynne is going to be locked up," said Lonabaugh in a phone interview with CBC News. "It's the kind of style Trump used throughout the (2016 presidential) campaign, willful disregard for the truth."
But another political marketing expert describes the ad as a "four or five" out of 10 on a scale of how vicious attack ads can be.
"It's actually not as dramatic and bad as I would have thought," said Markus Giesler, associate professor of marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business. "It's trying to stitch negative policy news and headlines to the person of Kathleen Wynne without undermining Kathleen Wynne as an individual."
The PC leader defends the ad that targets Wynne and the Liberals.
"Their record is fair game," Brown said in an interview with CBC News. "The fact that we have two political corruption trials happening right now, that's their record.
"Families are telling me, 'We don't trust this government,'" said Brown. "Any promise they're making now, any last minute conversion on issues the government's never taken before, they've had 14 years to do it."
Asked about the ad by CBC News, Wynne said she has not seen it.
"I've intentionally not watched it because I really have a lot of other things to do," said Wynne. "We're going into a political campaign. There will be contrast that will be drawn between who I am and who the opposition leaders are."
You can expect to see a lot of the PC ads in the next few weeks, as the parties face new, tight advertising spending limits for a six-month period from early November until the official start of the election writ period next May.
The ads are airing on a range of television networks. The spots showing Brown are also appearing on Facebook and as YouTube pre-roll ads, but the attack ad against Wynne is not in the digital space.
This PC ad blitz follows a springtime campaign that also featured Brown. It was in large part designed to rectify Brown's status as a virtual unknown to Ontario voters. "His recognition has increased significantly since that first campaign," said the senior party official.
The Liberals are not currently running ads on television. However, the government is, and some of those taxpayer-funded ads are promoting key policies that will form the centrepiece of Wynne`s re-election effort, such as cuts to hydro prices.
The government is not subject to advertising spending limits in the coming months, but non-emergency government advertising will be banned for a 90-day period before election day.
In the past three elections, the Ontario Liberal Party hasn't needed to pay for attack ads against their PC rivals because the union-funded Working Families Coalition has done it for them.
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