Canada's 39th legislature was dissolved by Governor General Michaëlle Jean (who is, under Canada's parliamentary monarchy, the representative of the Crown of England and therefor the head of state) just three days ago, but vicious, personal attacks have already come to pass. As Michel Auger, a senior political correspondent for Radio-Canada (the French CBC) stated Tuesday, it seems that this campaign will not be won on issues, but by a confrontation of very different personalities. Henceforth, personal attacks are bound to become a central part of the campaign.
Every party plays, to a certain extent, dirty politics. However, if a gold medal for personal attacks were to be awarded, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party would definitely deserve it. With a treasure chest far exceeding that of his Liberal nemesis Stéphane Dion, Mr. Harper outspent his opponent for a full year now by running ads that portray Mr. Dion as a weak, undecided leader who will raise taxes.
However, on Tuesday, Mr. Harper's attacks came home to roost. The Conservative Party produced a website in which we could see an animated bird dropping excrement on Mr. Dion's shoulder. This trashy attack gave Mr. Dion some momentum, and his indignation played well for the media; portraying Mr. Harper as a take-no-prisoners, blood-thirsty general.
This is exactly the kind of gaffe that the Conservative Party fears. In a campaign where the Liberals (federalist centrist), the NDP (federalist left-wing) and the Bloc (nationalist center-left) are all working hard to portray Mr. Harper as a clone of American president George W. Bush, this latest attack could certainly hurt the Conservatives in some crucial constituencies. Among them are Canada's urban women, who typically abhor such dirty politics.
Of course, it is much too early in the campaign to start making predictions on the effect of this hardball Conservative initiative. Mr. Harper's hubris has given his opponent, Mr. Dion, more ammunition to portray the prime minister as a cold-blooded, power-hungry man. Even the conservative-leaning National Post, a natural media ally for Mr. Harper, acknowledged that these kinds of attacks have gone too far.
Mr. Harper did act swiftly to remove the ad from the web site and offered his excuses (which Mr. Dion accepted), but for a party that has been running negative ads for about a year now, it may be too little, too late.