As I write this, the provincial election has only 3 days left to it. In this morning’s Edmonton Journal, there was a letter sounding off on the Liberal’s “negative ad campaign.” For those out of province, this dispute tends to revolve around one TV ad. In the ad, the Liberals point out the astronomical donations that power companies and healthcare companies have made to the Tories, and then follow that up with the record profits that these power and healthcare companies are now making. These statistics play out over images of money changing hands and glasses being clinked, giving the image of shady backroom dealings. My big question is, how is this negative?
The statistics are true. No one is denying that. It’s that image of the backroom deal that’s making people nervous. If the statistics were just presented to us point blank, people may have made that connection on their own. The Liberals certainly did, and they produced an ad showing that. They are helping to paint the balanced picture. So what if the presentation borders on negative? Painting the balanced picture is about presenting the good with the bad. As for the Tories going on the defensive and decrying this “negative” ad, why do they have to counter-attack it like they are? Maybe, because, the truth hurts?
In the interests of painting the balanced picture, let’s look around at this whole campaign that’s been going on. There have been a lot of negative ads, but not from the Liberals. By far, the most negative have been the NDP. In their ads, they proclaim that the Tories are evil and that the Liberals are just Tories of a different color. They don’t present their party’s platform at all. They attack everyone. “King Ralph” and “Princess Nancy.” I haven’t heard in any of their ads how they are going to change things for the better. Just “Liberals bad, Tories worse, NDP good.” All I can say is, how does the NDP think that they can be a better opposition? The Tory government can invoke closure and ram through legislation just as easily on the NPD as they are on the Liberals. And all Raj Pannu can do is stage another media event where he sends Klein an angry letter. That’s all they’ve become: attackers.
Now, this is where things get tricky. Yes, the Tories have not run any negative ads. They’re running on “Ralph’s record.” Their TV spots feature (obviously phony) person-on-the-street interviews proclaiming how everything is wonderful in the province, followed by Ralph Klein coming on and proclaiming “more of the same.” It’s the Tory supporters who are running the negative ads. The Alberta Citizen’s Coalition has been running a series of negative radio spots proclaiming that a Liberal government would be an invitation for the federal government to come in and, in essence, rape and pillage us. “Don’t vote Liberal. Vote for Alberta!” their ads proclaim. The company I work for, Westfair Foods, ran a full-page ad in the province’s largest newspapers proclaiming how rosy everything has been for their company under the Klein administration. All I can say is, these seem to be those “special interests” that Klein says he doesn’t cater to. Of course Westfair Foods (parent corp. of Superstore) likes Klein. He privatized the liquor stores! In every Superstore parking lot, there’s a “Real Canadian Liquorstore.” How do we know that, in exchange for this ad, Klein isn’t rewarding them with some more liquor licenses, or a promise to keep the minimum wage down? And then the “coalition.” They are also the ones who proposed a firewall be set up to keep Ottawa out of our province. Klein said that, while the firewall is a bit extreme, some of their proposals are worth looking in to. Perhaps, in exchange for their support, Klein will be appointing them to certain positions. Who knows? As much as you’d like to say it doesn’t happen, ruling parties have a history of rewarding their supporters, and the supporters have a history of keeping a government they can influence in power.
Now, as I’m sure you are all aware, I have not been neutral in this election. My mother has been running Liberal. This is the first time I have had a personal stake in an election this big. And, some of the more cold-hearted among you may even be saying, “Of course you find nothing wrong with the Liberal’s negative ads. You ran that vote no campaign against Brad Goertz. YOU’RE THE KING OF NEGATIVE ADS, MARK!” This all boils down to what Brad Goertz told me during that vote no campaign all those years ago. “You’re not painting the balanced picture, Mark.” I’d always counter with, “You’re not painting the balanced picture, either Brad. You’re glossing over your mistakes and presenting yourself as a rosy individual. Together, we present the balanced picture.” Of course, Brad didn’t believe that. He showing himself to be an upstanding citizen was “a balance picture,” and me pointing out that he wasn’t so upstanding was “mudslinging.” Again, I have to ask, how was what I did negative? Yes, he was suspended twice from his position as editor of the school paper. He almost enjoyed admitting that. Yes, in his second issue, he essentially told his detractors to “fuck off,” showing us how he deals with opposition. He said those words. I pulled those quotes straight from his article. How was it negative? Maybe, because, the truth hurts?
Brad always fell back on the defense of “This doesn’t happen in the real world, Mark.” (Of course, in the real world, Brad would’ve gotten in by acclimation and there wouldn’t have been a yes/no vote, but that’s a separate issue.) I wonder if Brad’s been following this election, and if he’s been seeing the parallels I’ve seen. As always, Brad’s problem is he’s too much of an idealist. Painting a balanced picture is not about you and your supporters talking about how great you and your policies are. To truly be balanced, you have to point out the flaws in your policies; the flaws in your character. But, you can’t do that. It could cost you votes. So, it’s your opponents, your opposition, who point them out. Together, you form the balanced picture. That is the real world.
People like to believe in a world of extremes. This is hot, that is cold. This is good, that is evil. This is black, that is white. The sad truth is, though, there are a billion shades of grey. People like to paint themselves as black, but they never show us their white. They never show us the shade of grey they are. And when their whiteness is pointed out, what do they say? “Quit being so negative.” The Liberals have pointed out the white sides of the Tories. The NDP have pointed out the white sides of both. And each are saying, “It’s a negative campaign. It’s mudslinging. It’s wrong.”
Balanced pictures are not all black. They’re not all white. They’re grey. Either embrace it, or wait for others to point it out.