A gimmick devised by the Liberal campaign in the 1962 federal election to embarrass PC Prime Minister John Diefenbaker – which instead backfired on the Liberals.
The idea was simple: to shadow the then deeply-embattled Diefenbaker at campaign rallies with a “Truth Squad” composed of star Liberal MP Judy LaMarsh, and staffers Fred Belaire and Jack Macbeth, who would expose Dief’s misstatements and hijack media coverage.
What looked good on paper turned out to be fiasco in execution. Diefenbaker simply used his deep skills honed over decades as dramatic defense lawyer to turn the tables on the Liberals. At each campaign event, he would acknowledge the presence of LaMarsh and her colleagues and eviscerate them with humour, regaling his audience and, more importantly, the media.
In fact, the Truth Squad only had a handful of sorties; within days the Liberals scrapped the effort. Indeed, some observers, including the author of the idea, Keith Davey, attributed Diefenbaker’s election victory (albeit from historic majority in 1958 to a bare minority this time around) to his expert handling of the Truth Squad.
Consequently, the term “Truth Squad” is synonymous with a seeming clever campaign gimmick that backfires and blows up in the face of the responsible campaign.
Interestingly, a similar effort (though not dubbed a “Truth Squad”) met with a similar fate in the 2006 Federal election. MPs Judy Sgro and John McCallum (helpfully clad in red Liberal logo t-shirts) were dispatched to hector Conservative Leader Stephen Harper at his campaign appearances. Media perceived the effort as both desperate and tacky. As four decades earlier, the Liberals abandoned the effort – and went on to lose the election.