Stephen Harper is a master at using negative ads against his foes. They were his weapon of choice against Stéphane Dion, successfully painting the former Liberal leader as a fumbling, nerdy professor.
That tactic was particularly insidious because it didn't attack Dion's ideas as much as using his professorial appearance and clumsy body language to send the message that he was not prime-minister material.
Now it's expected that Harper's Conservatives will continue to use negative ads against the more popular Michael Ignatieff.
Those ads would appear across Canada. But when the next federal election is called, the new Liberal leader might also face another strong negative campaign in Quebec. This one would be of a very different sort, targeting Ignatieff's ideas, past and present.
This week in Le Droit Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe fired his first shot. He accused Ignatieff of wanting to sidestep provincial jurisdictions when he committed to creating a "Canada du savoir" and favoured more Quebec electricity exports to the rest of the country.
Duceppe contended that Ignatieff is trying to sell Quebecers a "new illusion." When it comes to Canada-Quebec relations, Duceppe said, Ignatieff is no different from Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Stéphane Dion
Then there's the "nation" thing. Duceppe pointed out that although the Liberal leader has recognized Quebec as a nation, "he stated that he'll refuse to make any new concessions." This, according to Duceppe, is the thrust of the illusion sold by the new Liberal leader - just as Harper's "open federalism" turned out to be an illusion, too.
The Bloc leader then delved into Ignatieff's rich intellectual past from which there's plenty to pick. He quoted from Ignatieff's 1993 book Blood and Belonging in which Ignatieff referred to Trudeau's contention that Quebec might be "an example of an ethnic state in the making."
"As long as it remains within Canada," Ignatieff wrote, "its language policies can be constrained and in some cases overruled by reference to the Supreme Court and the Canadian Charter of Rights. Should Quebec become sovereign, individuals would lose this right of appeal, and the way would be open to majoritarian ethnic tyranny."
Duceppe's first salvo is a sure sign that the next federal campaign will be harshly fought in Quebec and that it will come down to a battle mainly between the Bloc and the Liberals.
It's also a sign that the Bloc is paying serious attention to polls showing that the Liberal Party has gained ground under Iggy. Most polls show that Bloc support at 38 to 40 per cent while the Liberals have climbed to 35 or 36 per cent with the Conservatives well back with around 11 per cent.
These numbers mean the Bloc is still first among francophone voters and could hold on to a majority of seats in Quebec. It now has 49 seats out 75. But the Bloc can't ignore the Liberals' surge.
So expect the Bloc to go into the next campaign with a number of statements from Ignatieff on such topics as Quebec nationalism and his past support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 - a highly unpopular position here.
Ignatieff needs more than the Liberals' 14 seats in Quebec to defeat the Tories, so it will be interesting to see how he'll fire back. The Liberal leader might do well to study how the Tories lost Quebec during the last campaign, whispering nice love words to Quebecers, while taking actions that showed their complete misunderstanding of this province on such issues as culture and crime while attacking the political legitimacy of the Bloc.
It was in good part this nastiness and lack of commitments to Quebec that did the Tories in. And so far, lack of clear commitments to strengthen Quebec within Canada has also been a trait of Ignatieff - something that was noted by many political analysts here both in Ignatieff's latest book True Patriot Love and his speech to the Liberal convention last weekend.
In other words, the next federal election campaign will be a fierce one in Quebec.
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