Election 2019: Ad firm says controversial Bernier billboards will stay

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Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, raises his thumb at the launch of his campaign Sunday, August 25, 2019 in Sainte-Marie Que.


Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The owner of billboards currently showcasing ads that promote the People’s Party of Canada’s controversial stance on immigration says the material is staying up.

The ads, featuring a photo of party leader Maxime Bernier, the slogan “Say NO to mass immigration” and a call to vote for his party, started popping up across the country late last week. They were criticized nearly immediately as promoting what some called hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Petitions have since sprung up calling on billboard owners, Pattison Outdoor Advertising, to take the ads down, arguing that they violate the company’s own code of conduct.

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But the company issued a statement Sunday saying that if people have a problem, they should contact the advertiser, True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp.

Disgusting & disturbing dog-whistle politics. This billboard is in the Toronto neighbourhood of Leslieville. I’m a second-generation Canadian who’s family came to Canada – both sides – during a wave of immigration in the 1920s. #ShareYourImmigrationStory #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/qrrgfEBUOI — Lisa Kinsella (@lisakinsella) August 24, 2019

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Pattison’s statement suggested they had reviewed the ad content and did not find it violation of the Ad Standards of Canada (ASC) code or their own policies.

“We take a neutral position on ads that comply with the ASC code as we believe Canadians do not want us to be the judge or arbiter of what the public can or cannot see,” the company said in a statement circulated on their social media accounts.

“Should advertising elicit a public debate, we encourage Canadians to voice their opinions directly to the advertiser who placed the message as it is our policy that their contact information must be a legible part of the ad.”

The company said they will monitor the signs to ensure the contact information remains up, and if it doesn’t, they will remove the campaign.

In their statement, Pattison Outdoor included a link to the People’s Party of Canada platform, prefacing it by saying it “outlines that they would prioritize economic immigration over mass immigration.”

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A third-party group with no link to the PPC has bought billboards across the country to call for an end to mass immigration. What do you think? — Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) August 24, 2019

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The People’s Party platform pledges to dramatically slash the number of immigrants Canada accepts, arguing the Liberals and Conservatives use “mass immigration” as a political tool to buy votes. On top of cutting the number of people admitted, the party would cancel a program that allows people to sponsor their parents and grandparents, and strictly limit other family immigration programs, as well as accept far fewer refugees.

The billboards have been reported in Halifax, parts of Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Regina and Vancouver. The People’s Party of Canada has said it is not associated with the group that put up the signs.

According to a filing with Elections Canada, the third-party group behind the ads is run by Frank Smeenk, the chief executive of a Toronto-based mining exploration company.

The group filed interim financial returns with Elections Canada that show it spent $59,890 on billboards in “select cities in Canada” and received $60,000 from Bassett & Walker International Inc., a company that specializes in the international trade of protein products.

Maxime Bernier,

Last week, Smeenk declined to comment on the billboard beyond what appeared in the Elections Canada filing. The Canadian Press attempted to reach Smeenk again on Friday, but he did not respond.

Similarly, messages left at Bassett & Walker were not returned.

Bernier officially launched the party’s national campaign Sunday at an event about two hours outside Montreal.

Polls suggest the party has around 4 per cent of voter support heading into the October election, and thus far, Bernier has been excluded from the official leadership debates.



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