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The good, the bad, and the ugly

Some media commentators -- including StarPhoenix editorial writers -- have criticized the Conservative Party for its production of advertisements highlighting elements of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's record.

No one has claimed that the advertisements are untrue. After all, they are based entirely on Ignatieff's own public speeches, writings and interviews.

Yet the SP and some others are nevertheless of the view that truthfully quoting Michael Ignatieff is somehow "nasty," as stated in the editorial Nasty politicking sidelines issues critical to Canada, (SP, May 19).

This raises some important questions: Is it reasonable to consider a politician's own public pronouncements off limits to his political rivals?

On what basis should voters judge their political candidates, if not by their own verifiable words and deeds? Who should be expected to shed light on unflattering truths about candidates for political office, if not their rivals?

Canadians are understandably intolerant of political advertisements that spread unsubstantiated innuendo, hurl childish epithets and employ deceptive marketing gimmicks.

That is why, for example, Liberal advertisements have backfired when they have misrepresented Conservative policies, exaggerated associations between Stephen Harper and less popular personalities, or used disturbing images such as a handgun being fired point blank at the viewer.

Beyond being dishonest, such advertising insults the viewer's intelligence.

In contrast, the recently unveiled Conservative advertisements are based entirely on Ignatieff's verifiable words and deeds.

For example, it's a fact that before seeking public office in Canada the Liberal leader lived outside the country for three and a half decades -- his entire adult life. This is a significant and legitimate consideration for Canadians who are considering which party leader is best suited for the job of prime minister.

Even Ignatieff once admitted that his long absence left him out of touch with Canada. In 1991 he wrote "I am Rip Van Winkle. I haven't lived in this country since 1969." By the time he returned to Canada to run for Parliament in 2005, he must have grown even further out of touch with Canada. He hardly has grounds to complain if his political rivals point this out.

The Conservative ads also cite a Maclean's magazine article indicating that Ignatieff once said the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park. In another interview, Ignatieff dismissed our national flag as "a passing imitation of a beer label."

He even said he would leave Canada and return to the U.S. if he did not get elected.

The Conservative Party didn't put these words into Ignatieff's mouth. Incredible as it seems, Ignatieff himself deliberately put these insulting statements on the public record.

The images used in the Conservative ads were also created for public consumption by Ignatieff. He looked straight into a camera and declared that America is his country. He willingly struck a pose for the cover of GQ. He can hardly expect to suppress those images now.

It's important for Canadians to know where Ignatieff stands on key public policy issues. Ignatieff has advocated a carbon tax since the early 1990s, and included that dreadful policy in his platform as a Liberal leadership candidate. He took credit as recently as last year for convincing his party to adopt it.

Ignatieff is a self-described "tax-and-spend" Liberal, and it is important Canadians know that he signed a letter asking the Governor General to install a Liberal-Bloc Quebecois-NDP coalition as Canada's government.

It is never unfair to accurately display the already very public record of a candidate for the highest public office in the country. In fact, in a democracy, candidates for high public office should expect, and indeed invite, free and informed public discourse on their actual words and deeds.

The competitive nature of democratic politics serves to ensure that the public is apprised of the good, the bad and the ugly behind every candidate.

Why should Ignatieff be exempt from such scrutiny?