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Ontario's political parties launched new campaign ads on Wednesday as an Elections Ontario blackout on paid print and broadcast advertising lifted. With three weeks left before the election, Ontario voters can expect a torrent of political messages on the radio, TV and in print papers.
Toronto Sun readers who turn to the paper for a dose of Tory-friendly coverage may have been shocked to see today's front page, which featured a defeated-looking Conservative leader Tim Hudak and Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne slapped with the headline "Nonsense."
But the front page, which included three Xs below each party leader and bullet-point critiques of their policies, was in fact an unusual "wrap" ad placed in the Sun by the New Democratic Party at an estimated cost of $50,000. The paper's back page showed a smiling NDP leader Andrea Horwath, with three check marks next to pocketbook-friendly initiatives in her platform.
The NDP say the move is part of a data-driven approach "taking the campaign straight to Tim Hudak's doorstep" that targets voters it believes are disenchanted with the Liberals but wary of voting for the Tories.
"These are the same voters who helped us win the [Aug. 2013] London West byelection, the [Feb. 2014] Niagara Falls byelection, the [Sept. 2012] Kitchener-Waterloo byelection, even the [Aug. 2013] Windsor-Tecumseh election, where the Conservatives came in second and the Liberals came in third," said NDP Communications Director Jennifer Hassum. "So, buying this wrap in one of the largest daily newspapers with readership that isn't typically associated with NDP voters is absolutely reaching out to the undecided voter who is more blue."
The Sun's weekday circulation is approximately 165,000.
Wraps can have a powerful impact, but they also carry risks for the newspapers selling off their prime editorial real estate, especially when the ads mimic a real front page. When the Vancouver edition of the free tabloid 24 Hours published a full-page ad on its front last spring touting Liberal leader Christy Clark as a "Comeback Kid," some readers said they felt duped.
Toronto Sun executives did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Here's a taste of the parties' new election ads:
Ontario Progressive Conservatives: "I want to work"
What the ad says: The PCs introduce us to three Ontarians – a machinist, a chemical engineer and a welder – who say they "want to work." Leader Tim Hudak appears and says the province is facing a "jobs crisis."
What the party hopes you'll take away: There's a crisis and the Ontario PCs have a plan to fix it. They point to their website to learn what that plan is.
Fact check: Mr. Hudak says in the ad that there are "one million people out of work." According to Statistics Canada, there were 555,000 unemployed people in Ontario in April – though that doesn't count those who are underemployed (such as part-time work) or those who have given up looking for jobs.
Ontario Liberals: "Build Ontario up"
What the ad says: Leader Kathleen Wynne says government "can be a force for good" by creating jobs, investing in transit and "providing fair pensions."
What the party hopes you'll take away: That Ms. Wynne just wants to "build the province up" not "tear it down" like Mr. Hudak.
Fact check: There are few specific claims to check, though her comments about Mr. Hudak – such as his pledge to get rid of 100,000 public-sector workers and increase class sizes – are part of his "One Million Jobs Plan." It's also worth noting that some business groups have not been thrilled by the Liberals' pension proposal.
Ontario NDP: "The Liberal record: 10 years of mismanagement"
What the ad says: Scandals, such as the gas plants and Ornge, have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.
What the party hopes you'll take away: It's time for Ontario voters to "put the Liberals in the penalty box."
Fact check: The party is careful to frame the scandals as part of "the Liberal record" – because they occurred before Ms. Wynne became premier in early 2013, not while she was in office.