Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
1993 Chretien ad
The 1993 Chrétien ad was an attack ad made during the 1993 Canadian election by the Progressive Conservative Party against Liberal leader Jean Chrétien that many felt focused on Chrétien's facial deformity. The resulting outcry is considered to be a classic example of voter backlash from negative campaigning.
The ad premiered on October 14, 1993, and was mainly played in the Ontario market. Few had felt the Tories had any hope of remaining in government at the beginning of the 1993 election campaign. While the party had made up some ground against the Liberals, the growth in support seemed to have stagnated in the final weeks of the campaign. Realizing that without something dramatic the Liberals were certain to win a majority government, the Tory campaign leaders decided to launch a group of four ads attacking Chrétien and his record.
The decision was taken mainly by John Tory, campaign director, and Allan Gregg, a pollster who was one of the top campaign managers. Gregg had launched a series of attack ads in the last days of the 1988 election to great effect. The new ads were produced quickly and were seen by few in the party before they were aired. Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who was on the campaign trail, did not see them before they aired.
The controversial ad was the second in a series of four. The first ad was a strong attack, but not much worse than ads aired by the Liberals or the Reform Party attacking the Conservatives and their record.
On October 14 the second ad premiered. It featured still pictures of Chrétien’s face while interspersed with comments by actors posing as regular Canadians. The first asked "Is this a Prime Minister?" and others questioned his record. The final, and most prominent, line was "I would be very embarrassed if he became Prime Minister of Canada." While the ad's creators insisted that the lines referred to Chrétien's policies and ethics, the intercutting with images of his face focusing on his facial deformity convinced many that the commercials were an attack on Chrétien's appearance.
Many Tories, such as campaign advisor Hugh Segal, contend that the backlash that followed was mostly manufactured. The Liberal Party did unquestionably mobilize its members to call media outlets. This effort was lead by Roméo LeBlanc, who was manning the Liberal war room, and who organized the counter-attack minutes after the ad premiered.
While some of the subsequent reaction was manufactured, it is certain that at least some of the widespread anger at the ad was genuine. While only a few Canadians saw the ad on television, millions saw it on news shows, who often cut it to show only the most offensive segments. Several Tory MPs also condemned the ad and asked Campbell to pull it from the air.
She did so less than twenty-four hours after it premiered, but this decision caused sharp division between the leader and the campaign staff. Tory, Gregg, and Segal felt that pulling the commercial would validate all of the attacks against it and those in the Tory party who made it. It would also admit that the Tories did not know what they were doing. They argued leaving the commercial on the air would be far less harmful, and that in time the full slate of attack ads would have the desired effect of lowering Chrétien's personal popularity.
The Tories also defended the ad, pointing out that Chrétien himself had used his half-paralyzed face in the campaign. In Quebec the Liberals used signs that translated as "Strange looking face, but reflect on what's inside." Campbell, however, disagreed with the top campaign staff and ordered the ads pulled and the other two in the series not to be aired. At the same time, however, Campbell refused to make a full apology for the commercials.
Even more beneficial than the anti-Tory backlash for the Liberals was Chrétien's reaction to the commercials. One Tory described them as allowing Chrétien to "make the speech he had been waiting his entire career to deliver." Speaking in Nova Scotia Chrétien stated that "God gave me a physical defect, I've accepted that since I was a kid." He compared the Tories to the teasing children of his youth: "When I was a kid people were laughing at me. But I accepted that because God gave me other qualities and I'm grateful." The speech moved some in the audience to tears. Even cut into sound bites on the evening news it was hugely effective. Chrétien's personal approval ratings shot up.
The 1993 election proved to be the most devastating defeat ever suffered by a governing party. The Tories were reduced to only two seats and soon after Campbell resigned the leadership. Chrétien became Prime Minister, a position he would hold for the next decade.
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