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"Stephen Harper actually announced he wants to increase military presence in our cities. Canadian cities. Soldiers with guns. In our cities. In Canada. We did not make this up."  

If there was one factor that won the Liberal Party of Canada the 2004 Canadian Federal Election, it was the fact that Canadians were afraid of Stephen Harper. The Tory leader had an ambiguous political background that could easily be used to instill fear in the hearts and minds of Canadians who had come to love and cherish such national treasures as universal health care. During said election, the Liberals had released a series of attack ads zeroing in on controversial statements that Harper had made. For instance, when he was president of the National Citizens Coalition, he gave a speech wherein he referred to Canada as "a second-tier socialist nation." Stuff like that.

These ads worked. People didn't know who Harper was and what he stood for, apart from the fact that he had been the leader of the Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform Party of Canada) before it merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and that he'd won the new, merged party's leadership. He'd made some statements that could be easily used to scare people both within and outside their original contexts.

The Liberals came out on top in 2004, but just barely. Harper and the Tories were on their heels and had reduced their government to minority status. The 2005 Conservative policy convention had staked the party's ground out somewhere near the centre. Harper even made a point of announcing that he had no plans to change the country's abortion laws during his keynote speech. And when the Liberal minority fell in the fall of 2005, the Tories were poised to win the 2006 Canadian federal election

Which, of course, they did. The Liberals, however, had governed for 13 years and were not about to let power go without a fight. The polls were close for the first few weeks of the campaign, but Conservative support started to grow. People wondered why the Liberals hadn't unleashed hardcore attack ads, until they finally did after the second leaders' debate in early 2006. 

These ads were much like the ones they had aired in 2004. They focused on controversial statements that Harper had made and tried to make the Tory platform  which was even closer to the political centre than the 2005 policy declaration, seem scary and backwards. They compared Harper to former Ontario premier Mike Harris and U.S. President George W. Bush, comparisons they knew would resonate with people.  

Each ad involved a large closeup of Harper's face with text appearing at the bottom. A woman's voice read the text as it appeared on the screen, and concluded with the Liberal campaign slogan, "Choose your Canada." The sound of war drums played in the background. Many political commentators said the ads officially proved that the Liberals were desperate, as much of their content was hearsay.  

There were 12 such ads in total, but one is far more famous (or infamous) than the others. Ironically, it was never seen in English-speaking Canada as an ad. Once the controversy had begun, it found its way onto television news reports nationwide.  

The ad, the text of which is posted at the beginning of this writeup, implied that Harper's Conservatives wanted to see increased military presence in Canada's cities. They went for the "Stephen Harper wants soldiers with guns in our cities" angle, which people generally regarded as over the top. Comedian Rick Mercer weighed in on the issue, saying that the only time he ever dealt with soldiers in a city, they were helping to dislodge his car from a snowbank

Many regarded the ad as an attack on the Canadian Armed Forces. Even members of the Liberal Party were critical of it. MP Keith Martin, upon being asked about it, responded that while he wasn't sure about specifics, it looked as though "some idiot" had approved the ads. Meanwhile, CBC correspondent Peter Mansbridge asked prime minister Paul Martin about the ads, prompting the response "I approved the ads, there's no question." 

The Tories used those two clips back-to-back in an attack ad of their own. Zing.

People were either grossly offended by the ad or saw it as an opportunity for comedic gold. Rick Mercer produced parodies of it for his CBC television show, and a group of citizens calling themselves the "Subliminal Party of Canada" posted a number of spoofs on their website (which, sadly, no longer exist).

The most commonly mocked element of this particular ad is the arguably redundant "We did not make this up." Other elements of other ads were roundly mocked as well, such as "We don't know -- he just won't say," in reference to Harper not making his 2004 leadership donations public.

Some of my favourite spoofs are transcribed below:

"The name Stephen is composed of two words: step and hen. Does this mean Stephen Harper treads on birds? A harper is someone who plays the harp. Stephen Harper plays the clarinet. Do we really want a bird-murdering liar as our prime minister? Choose your Canada."

"The Red Deer Shopper reported: 'While people were dying in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Stephen Harper was at the spa with his rich friends. There, they drank cocktails made from stem cells and the hearts of puppies. Stephen Harper doesn't care about black people. Or puppies. Believe it. A dude at the bus stop told me. Choose your Canada."

"Stephen Harper looks a little like my friend Bill. Bill didn't come to my wedding. That really hurt my feelings. Do we really want a prime minister who hurts people's feelings? It would be nice... or WOULD IT? Choose your Canada."

While it is generally believed that the ads didn't do any real damage to the Liberals, they may have prevented the party from regaining much-needed lost ground during the latter stage of the campaign.

I did not make this up.



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