That Old Devil “Negative Advertizing”

I’ve been working on Charlie Clark’s campaign in Ward 6 for the last two months. I’ve done this mostly because I believe that his platform is strong and he’s been a good representative of my ward, but also because I feel like he’s a genuinely nice person. Caveat lector.

Last night, someone brought by a piece of extremely negative advertizing by his opponent. Now, negative political messages work. People read them, identify an issue that speaks to them, and say something like, “wow, I didn’t know Charlie felt that way,” and boom, they vote for someone else. At its heart, though, negative advertizing almost always relies on taking things out of context, mis-representing, or flat out bending the truth. Sometimes, in rare cases, it’s possible to identify a wedge issue where the incumbent poorly represented his or her constituency, but usually it’s simply a smear job. Which is why it’s so sad to see this emerge in Saskatoon’s municipal campaign.

Take this flyer, for example. Two months ago, Charlie and I had a conversation about police. I’m a huge police booster in this town, by the way, just ask @saskatoonpolice or the officers who come out to our monthly bicycle ride for families. So when I heard that Charlie had not supported this year’s police budget, which asked for an increase in funds for manpower, I was curious. Charlie told me that he had supported the police budget firmly for the last 7 of 8 years, going to bat for, among other things, greater community policing, additional First Nations officers, and the new building. This year, he just couldn’t justify cutting other things, like road maintenance and snow removal, for an increase in the police budget. It was a tough call, but he felt that for this year, unlike the previous years, the police would just have to wait a little before seeing a major budget increase. This seemed to me to be a fair call and last week I asked (during the Twitter #askSPS event) the police chief how they felt with respect to their budget and he responded positively. There was no attempt to indicate that they were in desperate need of more money, although I’m sure they can use it.

This does mean, however, that Charlie voted against a police budget increase this year. Which allows his opponent to, in bold letters, red ink, and the rest, declare that Charlie “voted against hiring new police officers” in a leaflet blitz this weekend.

It makes me sad that a nuanced and thoughtful platform would be reduced to this in negative advertizing. Not surprised, but sad.

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