The new 2021 O’Toole. Not much to look at (Photo: Unifor).

With election fever running high throughout the land, Unifor’s new third-party political advertisement started showing up on social media yesterday and it was too good not to share in the final hours of this August long weekend.

It’s an attack ad that mimics the cliches of automotive advertising, and Erin O’Toole, the latest hapless leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is the target.

Guilt by association plays a powerful role in the 30-second ad’s plotline. It plays on Mr. O’Toole’s association with former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who remains unpopular among large numbers of Canadians, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who is working hard these days to achieve new levels of mass unpopularity.

Whether “the 2021 O’Toole,” the metaphorical battered pickup truck that Canada’s largest private-sector union warns is ready to steer Canada in the wrong direction as it literally falls apart before our eyes is intended as a sort of negative tribute to Mr. Kenney’s big blue Dodge Ram is a question that will have to remain unanswered for the moment. 

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O’Toole, as politicians are expected to appear in Alberta (Photo: Erin O’Toole/Flickr).

The image of a well-shod foot on the gas pedal suggests it might have been, Premier Kenney being a fake pickup kind of guy if ever there was one. 

My guess is that the poseur premier’s big Dodge helped inspire the concept, but getting that message across wasn’t a big concern to the script-writers Unifor used. After all, the ad is clearly directed at voters in Central Canada and elsewhere who live far from the reflexively Conservative Prairies, and who likely wouldn’t get the reference. 

What they do get, though, that Mr. Kenney and the United Conservative Party are doing bad things to Alberta, which is why the ad’s scratchy voiced narrator reminds viewers that the new O’Toole is “driven to gut health care and education, just like Jason Kenney.”

Doug Ford must be thanking his lucky stars, and not for the first time, that his former bromantic partner from Alberta is even more unpopular than the Ontario premier is, which is quite the achievement. Or, since it’s just a sound-track, maybe there’s a Doug Ford version to play in Ontario. 

Unifor National President Jerry Dias (Photo: Unifor).

The ad is one of the funnier political spots you’ll ever see. Back in the day, there used to be a school of thought in the advertising business that negative ads that also tried to be funny didn’t work very well – that viewers remembered the joke, but not the attack.

Alert readers will recall the Conservatives’ 2015 “he’s just not ready” job interview sketch attacking Justin Trudeau. It was funny, but it didn’t get results. There were plenty of other reasons for Mr. Harper’s lack of success that year as well, however, the former prime minister himself being the principal one. 

In this case, it would be impossible to get the joke without understanding the point of it, so I’m inclined to think Unifor’s message will stick to Mr. O’Toole quite nicely, thank you very much.

There’s also a view in the advertising business that humourous attack ads inoculate the advertiser – or the advertiser’s favoured candidates – against the otherwise nearly inevitable effect of having some of the negativity rub off on the people the ad is intended to help.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Certainly there was nothing humourous about what Unifor National President Jerry Dias had to say about Mr. O’Toole in the union’s news release yesterday. “O’Toole can’t even control members of his own party while they move to attack abortion access and LGBTQ rights,” he stated. “We cannot trust him to lead, and we’re ready to take on this fight.

As for the suggestion by some social media bloviators that pick-up drivers might not like the ads because they own battered trucks themselves, give Unifor some credit. They used to be the Canadian Auto Workers. They know that Canada’s working class pickup drivers don’t want a beat-up old Mazda like the one in the ad – they want big Detroit diesels like the ones North American automakers used to make in Canada and now assemble almost exclusively in Mexico.  

“Unifor, like all unions, has a constitutional right to participate in elections and a responsibility to defend members’ interests whenever Canadians go to the polls,” Mr. Dias said – a warning to governments like Mr. Kenney’s that would try to silence unions’ voices in election campaigns. 

Perhaps, come the day, Unifor’s national office will just ignore the UCP’s unconstitutional efforts to muzzle Alberta’s unions and use its national platform to speak for this province’s union members. 

Mr. Dias, like former Canadian Labour Congress president and current Canadian Senator Hassan Yussuff, has been criticized in some parts of the labour movement for being too close to Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals, and not close enough to the federal NDP. This ad, however, steers away from endorsing a potential prime minister – as long as it’s not Erin O’Toole.  

Join the Conversation


  1. The head honcho of the UCP will basically cause the CPC to get defeated in the next federal election. He will do this by his attack on public health care, and also with his very backwards and risky Covid-19 response measures. Canadians won’t want what we have in Alberta at the federal level. Albertans will likely turn on the UCP.

    1. Agreed….there are actual rumors that there has been grumbling by federal Conservatives that Kenney and the UCP, et al, have already caused them to lose the supposed upcoming federal election because of the Kenney/UCP covidgate.

  2. Great ad and it certainly made me laugh, promptly shared with my decidedly lefty kids
    Quite liked the hair harper association, the sooner his malign influence on Canadian politics is gone the better and Kenny sure is helping Conservatives look bad to rest of Canada, Well done stumpy !
    Kenney photo you use in the piece looks like he just got goosed . . . and seems he pleasantly surprised in a naughty kind of way.

    Every day i count myself blessed to be Canadian (although the being Albertan part has some room for improvement) I just have a look south to affirm that Canada, even with all its problems and its share of right wing kooks we still live in a fairly sane and reasonable country.

    thank you Mr Climenhaga for helping me start the day with a smile on my face.

      1. ya think ? that’s a pretty nuanced world view lol

        can’t wait til we have proportional representation then every flavour of right wing kook can have their own party
        that should be an interesting clown show

  3. Well I suppose a pick up that is a bit beat up is probably more realistic than a shiny new one that has never seen anything but pavement.

    I always thought the big blue pick up was a bit too contrived and unrealistic. I don’t think it helped Kenney that much, other than he did use it to make the effort to visit a number of smaller places some politicians overlook. Of course, at that point he had a lot of time on his hands, for the first time in decades he was not holding any political office. I gather the leased truck has long since been retired and I doubt Kenney ventures far from the Sky Palace too much these days.

    I am not sure how much effect this ad will have on how voters feel about O’Toole or his image. He is still a fairly new leader, so perhaps the beat up old used truck is not quite the right image yet, although I would agree his image is already a bit beat up. However, I am not sure it matters. O’Toole has not caught on and seems to be a compromise leader. Conservatives would really prefer Harper or even Scheer (if he could win in Ontario). O’Toole also seems to be suffering from his association with Kenney, even though he has tried to distance himself from Kenney. Of course, last election, the Conservatives almost locked up Ford in a basement for months and it still didn’t help them.

    I suspect anti Kenney sentiment will help do in O’Toole more than a beat up old truck. I have a feeling it will work as well, or perhaps even better, in Ontario than here. As for Doug Ford, I think he learned last time that campaigning against Trudeau too much did him no good. Ontario voters like to see their leaders try to work together and get along despite ideological differences. What a sensible thought.

  4. Guilt by assocation is a play on the weak minded.

    This ad goes even further into the realm of disinformation. No federal politician can “gut” health or education as both are provincially managed (outside the territories, First Nations and the military).

  5. I feel for Erin O’Toole going into this election:

    He has a group of senior political advisors in his PMO office that have given him incredibly poor political advice since day one .

    He is the leader of a very divided Party that does not know whether it is ‘fish or foul’

    He is the leader of a Party that is very much perceived as a western rump Reform Party and a party more attuned to internal party politics rather than public opinion (sound familiar?). Really…who would want Ron Leipert as his spokesperson in Alberta???

    Conservative Premier in Ontario is at the bottom of the popularity poll

    UPC/Conservative Premier in Alberta is at an all time low in terms of popularity and fundraising.

  6. I’m going to put a manly man video up for all the whitest snowflakes. They actually think this is attractive. But who am I so say? Let your eyes see the meringue on top of the lemon pie! PS When you see a Fez? There might just be someone else under. Maybe even a.. Master Mason?

  7. Smart commercial.

    A well-heeled, Oxford-wearing pick-up driver trying to become one with the blue-collar guys. Targets Alberta, specifically, so we’ll have to see if the pick-up truck crowd is paying attention.

    Personally, I have been waiting for the ad that does the damage that ends Erin O’Toole’s career, the one that morphs O’Toole’s face into Jason Kenney’s. It surely can be easily done. Both men have the same full-moon head shape, puffy-up cheeks when indignant, and the same tendency to declare they are men of the people, while offering little in the way proof or inclination to act.

    I’m not sure how O’Toole, a former Bay Street lawyer, with cred in high-finance and corporate machinations, can declare himself to be an ordinary guy. Ordinary guys don’t try to become PM because they have other things on their minds, like the endless war on working conditions and unions, thanks to guys like O’Toole.

    Trump managed to convince many Americans that he was also a man of the people. Hell, many of those same Americans were convinced he was the replacement for Jesus.

  8. I must admit, reading this commentary on a parody of a pick-up truck commercial/attack ad and running into a pop-up Google Ad featuring a comely woman asking the question “What Happens When You Take A Testosterone Supplement?” made my day.

    And then the commentary is closed by another ad for t-shirts, featuring “I’m Pretty Confident My Last Words Will Be ‘Well Sh*t, That Didn’t Work'”

    When advertising reflects reality, it’s truly magic.

  9. Once upon a time, I used to vote for the PROGRESSIVE Conservatives. I love this ad because it really does portray the current REGRESSIVE Conservatives the way they deserve to be exposed. The socially conservative Reform Party’s infiltration of the PCs has turned them into political dinosaurs, lost in the last century with no idea how to move forward into the present, let alone the future.

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