It wasn't exactly a "whodunnit?" on par with Agatha Christie, but when the Guelph Tribune appeared on doorsteps across the Royal City Thursday, one ad in particular caught their eye, and it was unknown who might have placed such a provocative bit of negative advertising. The ad, pictured above, features a photo accredited to a Guelph Mercury photographer of Cam Guthrie in conversation with Michael Sona at a Federal Election debate at Lourdes in 2011. The photo is accompanied by the tagline, "A person is known by the company they keep." Although placement of the ad was next to one for the Farbridge campaign, there was nothing to say the two came from one and the same source. Until now. Last night, in a press release, the Farbridge campaign did confirm that they placed the controversial ad.
"On October 16, the Farbridge Campaign placed a fullwidth advertisement in the Guelph Tribune regarding Councillor Guthrie’s ties to the Conservative Machine in Guelph," said the release. "In addition, our ad also provides important facts about Guelph taxes, refuting Guthrie’s suggestion that Guelph faces a 14% tax increase over the next 4 years. The ad was paid for by the Farbridge Campaign and our name is on the ad."
In the press release, the thesis of the ad was expanded upon. “Democracy in Canada has to be defended from the politics of division, from the extreme conservative playbook of voter suppression, and the culture of fear and abuse of democracy that comes with it," said Farbridge in a quote. "The Michael Sona conviction proves that the Conservative attacks happened right here in Guelph.”
For the record, Cam Guthrie has not be accused, or suspected, of any wrong-doing in the robocall case of May 2011 in which Sona was convicted for "willfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent an elector from voting" this past August. A sentencing hearing took place in a Guelph court yesterday to hear arguments from the attorneys. Sona will be sentenced on November 19.
The press release goes on to list Guthrie's various connections to political campaigns for both the provincial and federal wings of the Conservative Party before attacking Guthrie for supposed collusion between his campaign and GrassRoots Guelph, which has endorsed several candidates running for council including two former PC nominees. "Conservative front group GrassRoots Guelph appears to be running a parallel, unregistered election campaign with a slate including former PC Candidates Greg Shirk and Bob Senechal," says the release.
"Obviously, a lot of people were upset at the ad, not the least of which were my children whom I had to explain the ad to," Guthrie told me via e-mail. "Many were upset that it really didn't have any place in a municipal election. Many more were upset that the ad was not attributed.
"I understand the concern. But what's done is done," he continued. "I've actually received a surprising number of calls from non-supporters voicing their displeasure with such an ad. Those responsible should right their wrong. I'd really like to see a strong positive finish on all sides. I love this city and we should be highlighting the ideals of our campaigns and not focusing on personal attacks."
As for the reason for the day-and-a-half mystery, the Farbridge name was on the one quarter page ad to the left of the Guthrie/Sona one, but there was nothing, except supposition, to the connect the two. And speculation was rampant on Thursday as Guelph voters tried to figure out who was behind it. For instance, the same Mercury photograph was posted on the Facebook page of Maggie Laidlaw, Guthrie's fellow city councillor and ardent Farbridge supporter. This screen grab was sent to me by a reader:
"We purchased the full width ad. The placement was intentional as it was a single ad that we paid for," Farbridge Campaign manager Sean Yo said to me in an e-mail about the situation. "Any confusion wasn't intentional. We've always acknowledged the ad is ours and we stand by it."
Before the press release was sent out to media yesterday evening, I asked Tribune editor Chris Clark if he was able to say who paid for the ad, and what the paper's policy was regarding unattributed negative advertising. "It is my understanding that at the municipal level, attribution is not required," he said adding that the Tribune's editorial and advertorial wings do not cross streams, as it were. A follow-up phone message from Clark said that the advertising department of the Tribune had no further comment on the matter, and by then the news was already getting around.
Election Day is October 27.
Here's the full half-page spread: