I realize with less than a year to go before the next Ontario election, it may be pointless to ask the political parties and special interest groups to take some care when advertising “facts” about their opponents.
But an ad just released by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has gone so far over the top in its breathless hyperbole, I felt now was as good a time as any to remind people who want to participate in our democratic process that accuracy still matters. At least, I think it does.
CUPE Ontario’s ad opens with a simple, attention-grabbing declaration: “Patrick Brown will destroy Ontario.”
It goes on to say that Brown would prefer you didn’t remember that he was a member of Stephen Harper’s government and voted against some issues CUPE championed while Brown was an MP. All true.
But the first cheap shot comes when CUPE Ontario tries to hang a promise from the 2014 provincial election — a promise made by the PCs’ previous leader, Tim Hudak — around Brown’s neck. As you well remember, the Tories under Hudak pledged to reduce the size of the broader public sector by 100,000 jobs, a pledge Hudak made in Barrie (Brown’s home riding), with Brown present. But it’s a position Brown did not endorse, and in fact, he told me later that as soon as he heard Hudak make the pledge, he knew the election was over for the PCs. In fact, Brown attacked his chief rival in the 2015 PC leadership race, then-MPP Christine Elliott, for “standing shoulder to shoulder” with Hudak on the 100,000 jobs vow. (Elliott insisted she knew nothing about the promise before it was announced.)
Trying to link Brown to a policy he didn’t endorse — CUPE Ontario has superimposed the leader’s face on the policy on its Twitter feed — while he wasn’t even yet a provincial politician seems rather unfair to me. Are we now going to hang every policy of former NDP leader Howard Hampton’s around Andrea Horwath’s neck? Or why stop there? Let’s go back further and link everything former Liberal leader Lyn McLeod once pitched to Kathleen Wynne.
CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn’s voiceover then says: “You need to know the Ontario Conservative Party will sell off our public services and destroy our province.”
This line leaves me a bit baffled. Isn’t it the Ontario Liberals who sold off a majority stake in the publicly owned utility, Hydro One, to private interests? And don’t they plan to hand over control of gambling operations in the GTA to a private company? And yet the ad targets the Tories, who for the past two years have opposed the Hydro One privatization? Can someone help me out here, please?
Hahn told Queen’s Park Briefing that “The purpose of this ad is to remind people … [the PCs] are the original privatizers.” Still, tying a new leader to promises and actions he had nothing to do with is symptomatic of the bad faith that plagues all politics today, and that voters find so frustrating.
The ad ends with a CUPE Ontario camera crew ambushing Brown in his car, with the Tory leader closing his window and suggesting the CUPE Ontario rep “should be in jail.”
Now, understandably, the PCs aren’t pleased with this ad, given all the cheap shots in it. But here’s where the story gets weirder: Despite Brown’s wish for the CUPE Ontario ambusher to be incarcerated, when his party put out a July 23 press release about the ad, whom did it target?
Why, the Ontario Liberals of course, who had nothing to do with the ad.
“Dishonest attack ad shows Wynne will do anything to stay in power,” the release’s headline says.
“Ontario families are finding it harder to get by and the reason for that is the Liberals and their insider friends are benefiting at their expense,” the release quotes deputy leader Steve Clark saying.
Are the Tories accusing CUPE Ontario of being the Liberals’ “insider friends”? The same CUPE that sued Wynne and two of her cabinet ministers in an attempt to stop the Hydro One partial privatization? Those “insider friends”?
The same CUPE that blasted the Ontario Liberals for a new and dysfunctional social assistance computer system? Those “insider friends”?
The same CUPE that said the premier “betrayed” Ontarians when the government left small business employees out of its proposed made-in-Ontario pension plan? Those “insider friends”?
Let me suggest the following: the public’s esteem for public-sector unions and political parties has declined inexorably over the past few decades. I’d suggest part of the reason is the absolute disingenuous trash that too often comes out of their mouths that supposedly passes for intelligent, useful commentary.
CUPE Ontario’s ad and the Tories’ response to it do nothing to improve the public’s estimation of those two institutions. We can only hope the public sees through this claptrap and encourages all those interested in contributing to the 2018 election debate to up their game significantly.
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