Canadian political news rarely makes it across the border, which is why the only thing more shocking than an alleged tape of Conservative Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack is the fact that Gawker broke the story. The truth is, Canadian political stories are a lot like American ones, except they’re often much stranger; from members of parliament quoting Arrested Development to the Governor General eating a raw seal heart, the scandals that come out of Canadian government are more puzzling than enraging. My favorite of these scandals occurred during the 2008 election, when the Conservative Party made an attack ad that shat on the opposition. Literally.
The Conservative and Liberal parties in Canada aren’t exactly like their American Republican and Democratic counterparts. Canada has more than two political parties and a designated representative of the Queen who, when not eating an animal’s organs right out of its corpse, can shut down parliament. The Conservative candidate in the 2008 election (and eventual winner/still PM of Canada), Stephen Harper, was so much like then-President Bush that my relatives referred to him as LaBush Blue. The Liberal candidate, Stéphane Dion, had much in common with your average, not-Clinton Democratic presidential contender; he was smart but flat, like Kerry if he had to overcome both a lack of charisma and a thick Quebecois accent.
An American political consultant probably would have seen a million possibilities for attack ads based on Dion’s record and accent alone, but the Canadian consultants chose a unique path; they created a website with an ad that features a puffin taking a crap on Dion’s shoulder, complete with fart-noise sound effect. Sure, the background visual has some text mocking Dion’s experience as a teacher, not a leader, but as a general rule, hearing a loud “pffffff!” tends to take your focus off of reading.
As for the puffin: some hypothesized that it was a reference to a speech given by another Liberal party member (and future-failed candidate for PM), Michael Ignatieff, but it ended up offending the Conservative premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, because the puffin is the province’s official bird. Newfoundland and Labrador has historically been the subject of its country’s version of Polish jokes; you see how quickly this whole thing goes off the rails.
The ad was quickly pulled with apologies accepted all around, but in a country with an election cycle that’s just under 40 days, it made quite a mark on the contest. Harper won, but the liberal faction of parliament seems to be gaining strength through unity. If only they could find a candidate people wanted to vote for, instead of poop on.