After Ernie Eves went down to defeat in the 2003 Ontario election, there were those who said this showed negative campaigning doesn't work in Canada. After all, a major turning point in the election was the "evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet" gaffe.
Then, less than a year later, the federal Liberals used some scare measures to attack the Conservatives. Harper and his team had their share of bungles, but going negative seems to have helped Martin pull out a minority government victory. It capitalized on fears many Canadians had about Reformer Harper and the unknowns of the new party.
Now, many are suggesting the next election will be quite tough and rough.
I'm not going to make any predictions about what kind of campaign we will have, but I do feel confident in saying that going negative could only hurt Paul Martin's chances. In fact, I think that Martin getting "ugly" is Harper's best chance for a majority.
The difference between Ernie Eves in 2003 and Paul Martin in 2004 is that in '03 we knew that Eves and his party were out of gas, lacking vision, and had their backs up against the wall. Going negative just made Ernie and his team look like cornered rats, and that's not very attractive. In 2004, however, there was no such consensus about Paul Martin or the Liberals. That's different now.
Martin's best chance is to try to convince the public that he is the exact opposite of being out of gas, and lacking vision. He needs a very positive, inspired, and ambitious campaign. Somehow he has to make it credible, too. That's going to be the hard part. The very hard part.