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Conservatives won't use Heritage Minute branding on attack ad any more

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer responds to a question during a Surrey Board of Trade event, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday February 1, 2019. The Conservatives say they'll take all the Heritage Minute branding off a web advertisement they released on the weekend.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
February 05, 2019 - 6:00 AM

OTTAWA - The Conservative party has removed all Heritage Minute branding from an online video released over the weekend that took aim at the Trudeau government for a handful of ethics breaches.

In a tweet published by the Conservative party's official account on Monday, the party said the intention was merely to use a "recognizable and often-parodied segment" to attack the Liberal government's ethics record, recounting times cabinet ministers have been found in breach of federal rules as if they were landmark events.

The Conservatives' use of the Heritage Minute format for partisan political purposes drew the ire of the Historica Foundation, which has been making the one-minute films for nearly 30 years.

"We did not intend to draw negative attention to Historica Canada," the Conservative party tweeted. "They do great work profiling Canadian history and we wish to maintain our positive relationship with the organization."

Official Heritage Minute films usually depict memorable Canadian milestones, like the invention of basketball, or showcase contributions of important Canadian figures, such as Lucy Maud Montgomery for writing the Anne of Green Gables series while also battling depression and sexism.

Anthony Wilson-Smith, CEO of the Historica Foundation, said Sunday on Twitter that parodies are OK, but the organization didn't want to be tied to any "political mud slinging." He suggested the organization was considering legal action if the Conservatives didn't remove all material linking the political spoof to real Heritage Minutes.

The Conservatives first put up a new version of the ad on Sunday with a long disclosure saying it wasn't a real Heritage Minute following initial push back. After continued concerns, the party finally removed all Heritage Minute branding from the ad.

According to Conservative party talking points obtained by The Canadian Press, the Tories for a while planned to argue that the ad was a parody and that Historica "appears to be fine with political videos as long as they target Conservatives." The party didn't respond to an email seeking confirmation that the talking-points document was genuine.

Historica Canada does have a YouTube page collecting faux Heritage Minutes, many of them by comedian Rick Mercer, who is a Historica board member, on his former CBC show. One of those directly targets the last Conservative government's climate-change policies.

Besides Mercer, the foundation board also includes Conservative MP Michael Chong; retired broadcaster Peter Mansbridge; former NDP premier and ambassador Gary Doer; and businessman Lynton "Red" Wilson, who advised the Conservatives on several fronts when Stephen Harper was prime minister.

Once the Conservative party said it would take all the Heritage Minute material off its web ad, the Historica Foundation said in a statement that it considered the matter "closed to our satisfaction."

Liberal cabinet ministers were quick to use the opportunity to scold the Conservatives in the hallways of Parliament Hill on Monday.

"Look at that and show me the difference between the Conservatives of today and Stephen Harper's Conservatives," Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told reporters.

Treasury Board President Jane Philpott said she believes the episode highlights the need for political parties to take a responsible approach to advertising.

"Certainly that's something that we seek to do in our party and I would certainly hope that other parties would do the same."

This is the second time the Conservative party has pulled an online ad after facing backlash. In July, the party pulled an attack ad from its Twitter that depicted a black asylum-seeker crossing irregularly into Canada and blamed 2017 tweet from Trudeau for causing a "migrant crisis."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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