The Worst Ever Canadian Political TV Ads

Sep 25, 2017


We’ve already written a guide to Canada’s most iconic political TV spots. Here are the biggest flops. Apologies in advance, some of these are truly terrible. I mean, uncomfortable-to-sit-through terrible.

Our methodology is subjective. Basically: did the ad fail? Does it make you cringe and look away? Most of these accomplish both—except for our winner, which is so bad that in the immortal words of Larry David, it’s prettay, prettay, prettay good.

5. “He’s in Way Over his Head” – 2014

The “Marijuana” ad is hilarious. You have Justin Trudeau shuffling around, scratching at his arm like he’s jonesing for his next fix. A scandalous shirt removal and pseudo striptease beneath the glare of red lights. The ominous music. So dramatic.

It’s a bit of a hack job, even if it is grounded in a policy issue. The Conservatives attempted to reframe JT and his Liberals as drug peddling messes. They failed. Harper’s Conservatives were masters of the attack ad. But they just overdid it. Canadians were tired of the negativity.

Interestingly, with the new marijuana legislation being rolled out in Ontario, we’re seeing that it’s not legalization that Canadians have a problem with. It’s the government’s monopoly on marijuana.

4. “In Our Cities…” – 2006

For lack of a better name, let’s just call this spot: “In Our Cities…” This one fell flat when it first ran, and it still falls flat now.

During his political career, the media painted an unflattering picture of Stephen Harper. That he was authoritarian. Uncompromising. Dangerous. Martin’s Liberals were trying to tap into this sentiment by representing him as militant, even tyrannical. It was a poor effort.

Instead, the ad comes off as extremely explain-y. Imagine being forced to endure a tattletale speaking down to you. Obviously, the ad didn’t work. Martin was out and Harper formed his first Conservative minority government.

The ad also comes off a wee bit hypocritical. Only one government has ever increased military presence in our cities. Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals. This was not lost on the voter.

3. “Border” – 1988

Another Liberal misstep, the “Border” spot was endlessly mocked. Even the Conservatives got their digs in.

The ad begins with a gloomily lit, officious room—ostensibly the site of a backroom deal—where two politicians are negotiating a trade deal. Interestingly, John Turner’s Liberals were against free trade, which proved to be the big policy issue of the day.

The ad tries to tap into Canada’s cultural anxiety, the idea that our unique culture is constantly under threat by the U.S. It’s hard to take it seriously, though, what with the frantic sound of an eraser scratching away the border from what looks like a grade four drawn map of our respective countries.

Mulroney won in 1984 in no small part to publicly reprimanding John Turner during a public debate, thus his famous words: “You had an option, Sir!

Interesting that now, as we renegotiate NAFTA, we see just how central free trade has been to our economic development and the continuation of the special relationship we share with the U.S.

2. The Kelly Leitch Video – 2017

Straight off, let me concede that I couldn’t watch this… “video” in full. It’s too bad. Uncomfortably bad. I maintain that anyone who can watch this entire thing, either has very little empathy for others or is extremely sadistic.

The context for the video is unclear. Kelly Leitch was running for Conservative party leadership but why she decided to shoot an eight-plus minute video complete with a minute and a half of silence, only she will ever know. Some contend she was attempting to clarify her immigration reform policy. That it took her so long and that nothing was clarified should have indicated to her that her immigration reform was bad.

While this isn’t a TV spot, it’s worth noting. And it went viral. Kelly Leitch, for some reason, was under the impression that her message resonated with Canadians. Not so.

If anything, this video proves just how important it is for politicians to have media training. And a good campaign manager.

1. “I’m Running for Parliament!” – 2015

Rarely do Canadian politics make the front page south of the border. In 2015, Wyatt Scott became something of a household name for his crowdfunded running ad. To be clear, it never ran on TV. It did, however, gain nearly two million views on YouTube.

This is an example of something that’s so bad it’s good. The ad features Scott, an independent candidate running for Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, riding a Canadian Goose with sword in hand, slaying a dragon, fist-bumping an alien, and shooting lasers from his eyes… dead serious.

In terms of policy, he wasn’t offering anything different from the local Liberal candidate, who took the riding during the 2015 federal election. According to Elections Canada, Scott got 915 votes, putting him just ahead of the Marxist-Leninist Party.

There are tons of awful political TV spots out there. Any others come to mind? Let us know, and we might include them in a future post!

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