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Attack ads are cash cows for all

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Most Canadians who have even a passing interest in federal politics will have heard by now that Justin Trudeau is the new Liberal leader and that the Conservatives released their first anti-Trudeau attack ad less than 24 hours after Trudeau won.

The ad has been criticized heavily for taking Trudeau's comments wildly out of context - using something he was saying his father used to think to make it appear as if he was saying Quebec is better than the rest of Canada - and for making light of his appearance at a 2011 charity event where he removed his shirt in a mock-strip tease to raise money. He raised $1,900 for the Canadian Liver Foundation at the event.

When asked about the ad Monday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said it is all about his judgement and the charity event performance was just not the kind of behaviour one would expect from someone in Trudeau's position. She also wondered what would have been said if a woman had done a mock strip tease for charity.

Critics called using the charity performance for an attack ad cheap. In a statement, Trudeau called it gutter politics, and used it as an opportunity to ask people to donate to both the Liberals and the Liver Foundation.

People listened.

The Canadian Liver Foundation reported at least 200 people called to donate money saying they were doing so because of the attack ad. The charity raised $10,000 in two days, more than it normally brings in from unsolicited donations in a month.

In a tweet earlier today, Gerald Butts, the principal advisor on Trudeau's leadership election campaign, said the Liberals have raised $408,000 since the Conservative attack ad was released. (To put that amount in context, that's a fifth of what the party raised in the entire second quarter last year).

But the ad is also likely lining Conservative pockets as well. 2011 Conservative campaign manager Jenni Byrne issued a letter to Conservatives today saying it was the media that was spinning that the ads were bad but that it didn't matter what the media said. The ads, said Byrne, "have spread farther and faster than any ads we've ever done."

According to Byrne the ad had 270,000 views on YouTube in the first two days, which beats even the interest in ads during an election. It was so popular it even crashed the party's website, which has never happened before.

Then she pleads for more money to keep the "momentum going."

"We need to make sure every Canadian sees these ads and you can help by making a $25 donation today," said Byrne.

Attack ads are not generally viewed positively by most Canadians. But so far it seems as if when Justin Trudeau is the attackee - everyone wins.

Well, except maybe the truth and democracy.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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