By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Less than a week after Canada's Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the likely end of his marriage, his Conservative rival Pierre Poilievre launched an ad narrated by his wife touting him as the leader the country needs.
The video ad, broadcast on TV and posted online, is titled "Meet Pierre Poilievre." In it, his wife Anaida briefly sums up his childhood in the suburbs, mentions that his two young children call him "Papa," and says she knows him as the man who loves her for who she is, "a Canadian who came to call Canada home - and his wife."
Anaida, 36, was born in Venezuela and moved to Canada with her family when she was a child. She married Poilievre in 2017.
"This was not a fluke that the Conservatives rolled this out basically a week after Justin Trudeau announced the separation from his wife," said Nik Nanos, founder of polling company Nanos Research.
It presents Poilievre, 44, as a family man at a time when Trudeau has family difficulties, he said.
Sarah Fischer, a spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, said the ad was arranged weeks before its release and has "no connection to the separation announcement" on Aug. 2.
Even if the timing is a coincidence, there is no doubt that Trudeau looks vulnerable after three elections and almost eight years in power. The Conservatives led the Liberals by seven percentage points in an Angus Reid poll from earlier this month. An election is not due until 2025, though a vote could come sooner.
Trudeau came to power in 2015 with a campaign that presented him as a fresh face and a family man, though in recent years he has appeared less often in public with his family.
"We really haven't seen Trudeau the loving-husband family-man narrative since election 2015," said Shachi Kurl, president of Angus Reid Institute polling company.
With voter support flagging, Trudeau carried out a major refresh of his cabinet in July.
Trudeau, 51, is suffering from voter fatigue, which "is probably more pronounced than it has ever been," and from the success of Poilievre's campaign to blame the Liberal government for a chronic housing crunch and high inflation, Kurl said.
FROM 'PITBULL' TO 'CONTENDER'
During his nearly two decades in the House of Commons, Poilievre has earned the reputation of being the Conservative attack dog, lighting into Trudeau during parliamentary Question Period and vowing to fire the central bank governor for acting too slow to tame inflation.
Female voters are more likely to be put off by his combative style and "recoil" at Poilievre, Kurl said. Poilievre is seen favorably by 28% of women, compared to 44% for Trudeau, the Angus Reid survey showed.
Another reason for his new video, then, is to alter his reputation as a "pitbull," Nanos said, adding that Poilievre was trying "to humanize and soften his image" and to portray himself as a father and a husband in "a traditional family situation."
Conservatives are spending well over C$3 million ($2.2 million) to run an ad campaign over the next several months that includes the "Meet Pierre Poilievre" video.
In another ad, titled "Putting the Pieces Back Together," Poilievre says Trudeau has left Canada "broken," as he puts together a puzzle cut from a map of Canada while holding his infant son, Cruz.
Trudeau said last week Poilievre was trying to rile people up instead of offering solutions to the country's problems.
The Conservatives need to only marginally increase support from the previous two elections in the right geographic areas to win the next election, and voters appear thirsty for change, Nanos said.
"Poilievre will be a contender."
($1 = 1.3566 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Denny Thomas and Rosalba O'Brien)