So, how was your Rosh Hashanah? I spent the hours leading up to mine doing my least favourite political activity—trying to find out who’s behind some anonymous flyers slamming a particular candidate. (This is the first time I’ve done it in a journalistic capacity, though!)
Anonymous attack ads are one of the most loathsome aspects of Canadian politics, right up there with pre-written messages to elected officials that random people sign without even reading, and reporters trying to gotcha candidates by asking them whether they support the local sports team or not.
This isn’t a column bemoaning the existence of negative ads. Personally, I don’t think they work half as well as the people who make a living off of making them claim. This is because they are products of the fevered imaginations of partisans who think every Canadian is as outraged as they are at the fact that Erin O’Toole said he wanted to “Take Back Canada,” or that Trudeau uttered some poorly articulated notion about “The Great Reset.”
Good attack ads, however, say something true about the other team that catches the other team off guard, and—most obviously—are signed off on by a particular party or group.
But because most “political activists” in this country are long on talk and short on actual conviction, the majority of negative political comms in this country is funnelled through Twitter bots, astroturfed third party groups, and bands of “Concerned Citizens” who claim to represent entire communities and then hang the phone up in a panic the moment someone calls them.
Sometimes a campaign takes the baffling step of putting out a particularly brutal attack ad that seems anonymous but was done with at least a tacit endorsement from one party. Just off the top of my head, I can think of three times they were used: against the Ontario Liberals in 2011, against Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc in 2010, and against George Smitherman, who lost to Rob Ford in 2010.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, all three of these involved LGBTQ+ issues: attacking the Liberals over their updated sex-ed curriculum, attacking Mihevc for his support of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid during Toronto’s Pride Parade, and attacking Smitherman for… being married to another man.
So whoever circulated these newest flyers comparing Thornhill Conservative candidate Melissa Lantsman to People’s Party candidate Samuel Greenfield might have thought they were doing something original, or they may have wanted to demonstrate that the socially conservative bag of tricks hasn’t been updated in 10 years.
I won’t repeat the statements in the flyer—but you probably don’t need to have seen it to guess which aspect of her identity they focused on.
What I will repeat, however, is what the flyers say at the bottom: “Don’t worry about vote-splitting. Do what’s right & send a strong message. Hashem runs the world. Make sure to vote by September 20 (Erev Sukkos). Kesivah v’chsima tovah!”
The implication being, of course, that these flyers would be taken as evidence that there was a movement afoot to vote against Lantsman among Thornhill’s most religious Jews. (Not the case, according to a Chabad Lubavitch representative I spoke to.)
Or that the CPC didn’t have the endorsement of Thornhill’s religiously conservative rabbis. (Also untrue, according to representatives of the Lantsman campaign.)
Or perhaps that another campaign was trying to stir up bad blood between the CPC and PPC. (Nope. Unsurprisingly, other campaigns disavowed the flyers.)
So, what can we conclude from this sorry episode? That hateful sentiments exist in the Jewish community, but they’re hidden—once again, behind closed doors.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.
HEAR more weekly election thoughts from Josh on Bonjour Chai