“Smear Campaigning” Produces Undesirable Effect

Leading up to government elections, it isn’t uncommon to see one candidate trying to sabotage the campaign of another. We even see it in their television ads. The funny thing is, for me, these attempts do nothing but “turn [me] off politics,” as NDP leader Jack Layton put it on Global National last night.  Layton was the victim of one such attempt at a “smear campaign” just recently. With only days left until election day, a report that Layton was once found in a naughty massage parlour in 1996 by police seems a little out of place. 

First of all, he was never arrested or charged. Secondly, the alleged visit took place over 15 years and 8 elections ago. As Layton said, in the Globe and Mail, “I think Canadians prefer that we don’t talk about innuendos from the past, from 15 years ago. They prefer we speak about the issues that are facing them right now.” I couldn’t agree more. Not only is this not an issue that concerns Canadians now, it isn’t, in my opinion, an issue at all. Charges were not laid. Like any human being, Layton made a small mistake.  Should this suggest he is unfit for political office?

Accusations of this nature come across as extremely immature. Jack Layton has represented the NDP for many years since this incident and, only now, with election day imminent and NDP support growing, is it coming to light. Seems a little too convenient, doesn’t it? 

This election campaign has seen its fair share of childlike behaviour. Earlier this month, the Liberal party had to fire one of its campaign workers because he was spotted removing Green party literature from mailboxes and replacing it with Liberal party literature. According to the National Post, this year’s campaign has seen record levels of vandalism as well, including the scratching of cars and slashing of tires. Although this kind of action cannot be directly linked to a type of “smear campaign,” it, once again, makes politics look foolish, which is unfortunate. 

The concept of the “smear campaign” is certainly not a new one. We often see television commercials which focus on negative quotes made by opposing leaders. For instance, the Conservative party took a stab at Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff this election season. In their ad,  a small clip which shows Ignatieff saying “I’m not going to take a GST hike off the table” is used to sway Liberal supporters. One thing I have learned through my experience in the public relations industry is that any publicity can be good publicity. While trying to promote their own campaign, the Conservatives draw attention to the Liberals. Why not just promote your own campaign? For the most part, that is what I’ve seen Jack Layton do. 

In the end, by trying to make the opposition look bad, “smear campaigners” have made themselves look bad. They have reduced something as important as the election to mere playground antics. While it is easy to dismiss the election as a popularity contest, the point is this: the leader we elect has the power to make drastic changes (positive or negative) to our daily lives. So, we have to ask ourselves, is the guy who can’t stop trash talking his opponents really going to make the best decisions for us?

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