Where does Stephen Harper find inspiration?
Conservatives' latest attack ads and bus slogans appear to be inspired by the campaign won by the BC Liberals in 2013 under Premier Christy Clark.
Like Harper now, Clark was a lightning rod for criticism both inside and outside her party. But she beat out NDP frontrunner Adrian Dix by branding herself a "comeback kid" racing a "career politician" taxpayers "can't afford."
Could that BC Liberal campaign have been an unintentional test-market for the Conservatives' 2015 attack ads, slogans and strategic branding? As the campaign unfolds, we may see more similarities yet.
The Conservative knock against Tom Mulcair is that the NDP leader is a "career politician." Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually started his career as an elected politician for the Reform Party in 1993, the year before Mulcair won a seat in Quebec's National Assembly for the Liberals.
Mulcair eventually ran federally in 2007 for the NDP after pondering the Conservatives and Liberals. Instead of running in 1997, Harper went to work for the National Citizens Coalition, but threw his hat into the Canadian Alliance leadership ring in late 2001 and won a by-election in a Calgary riding the following year.
In B.C.'s 2013 campaign, the BC Liberals similarly attacked MLA-since-2005 Dix for his lengthy NDP resume, stretching back to 1996 when he began a three-year stint as Premier Glen Clark's chief of staff. That came to a crashing halt with 1999's backdated memo scandal related to a Clark friend's casino application.
Christy Clark was a rookie BC Liberal MLA in 1996, who had worked in Ottawa for the federal Liberals.
The BC NDP entered the provincial election campaign in 2013 with some opinion polls claiming they were 20 points ahead of the Liberals. The party was so assured of victory, that Dix hired Don Wright, the president of the B.C. Institute of Technology, to be the new head of the public service three months before election day. The BC Liberals eventually scored a surprise victory.
The pre-election attack campaign on Dix included the "Can't Afford Dix" website, the product of the BC Liberal caucus digging into the public purse for political purposes.
The Conservatives are also trying to paint Tom Mulcair as a taxer and spender, by recycling the "can't afford" line.
Whatever became of "nice hair, though" guy? The Conservatives' faux human resources committee, its "just not ready" conclusion on Justin Trudeau and the famous punchline disappeared mid-campaign. They were replaced with ads showing white, mostly elderly folks from suburbia who concede that although Harper's "not perfect," he's better than the alternatives -- especially "just not ready" Justin and his "deficits." In an online ad, Harper is shown nodding at a table, in friendly conversation.
In 2013, the BC Liberals created an infomercial starring rank-and-file members of the party in similar situations: around a table in a diner with the leader, at a picnic table, on the steps of a house, offering stay-the-course opinions about the fear of changing leadership. Several clips were plucked from that infomercial to form the heart of the BC Liberal TV campaign. Unlike the Harper Tory ads, Clark's were ethnically diverse.
Many Canadians remember how Stockwell Day jet-skied onto the federal scene as the Canadian Alliance leader in the 2000 campaign. Harper succeeded him, united the right and brought the Conservatives to power in 2006. He took on several senior cabinet roles under Harper before quitting politics in 2011 to be a corporate director and advisor.
Day also emerged as a high-profile political celebrity endorser of Clark in 2013, appearing in her infomercial and joining her on tour. He has reprised that role in 2015 for Harper, making appearances on the campaign tour bus and even filling in for the PM to announce law and order promises with candidates in Surrey and Vancouver.
When the going gets tough, the leader's name disappears. NDP and Liberal lawn signs mention the names of those party leaders, but the Conservative candidate signs don't mention Harper.
When she was elected leader in 2011, the BC Liberals were sure proud of Christy Clark. They even redesigned the logo so that the words "BC Christy" were in bold red. It was an effort to distance the party from Gordon Campbell and his unpopular imposition of the Harmonized Sales Tax that led to the leadership change. By 2013, the BC Liberals feared an end of their dynasty and they rebranded the party as "Today's BC Liberals."
For the BC Liberals in 2013, the leader's bus read: "Strong Economy and Secure Tomorrow for a Debt-Free B.C." For Harper in 2015? "Proven Leadership for a Safer Canada / Stronger Economy." Harper's economic leadership is in the eye of the beholder. Clark's Debt-Free B.C. slogan has been oft-mocked. Nevertheless, the use of safety, security and strength to brand a leader will again be tested on Oct. 19.
Read more: Election 2015