Bill­board com­pany ‘ap­palled’

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - Joanna SMITH

OTTAWA — The owner of the bill­boards that fea­tured ads pro­mot­ing Maxime Bernier and his stance on im­mi­gra­tion said they would have stayed up had the third­party group that paid for them not left his com­pany twist­ing in the wind.

Randy Otto, the pres­i­dent of Pat­ti­son Outdoor Ad­ver­tis­ing, said his com­pany agreed to run the ads on the con­di­tion that True North Strong & Free Ad­ver­tis­ing Corp. iden­tify it­self and let peo­ple view­ing the bill­boards know how to get in touch.

Otto said his com­pany felt the group, which is reg­is­tered with Elections Canada as a third-party ad­ver­tiser in the 2019 cam­paign, was en­ti­tled to pro­mote the views on im­mi­gra­tion held by Bernier and the Peo­ple’s Party of Canada – as long as it was pre­pared to deal with any fall­out.

The bill­boards, which fea­ture pre-elec­tion ad­ver­tis­ing with Bernier’s face, the logo of his Peo­ple’s Party of Canada and a slogan ad­vo­cat­ing against “mass im­mi­gra­tion,” started ap­pear­ing in dif­fer­ent spots across the coun­try late last week.

They quickly sparked crit­i­cism, in­clud­ing from Nova Sco­tia Pre­mier Stephen McNeil, for pro­mot­ing anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric.

Otto said he did not like hav­ing been left alone to de­fend the ads or ap­pre­ci­ate Bernier’s ac­cus­ing him of cav­ing to a “to­tal­i­tar­ian left­ist mob” when he de­cided to take the ads off Pat­ti­son bill­boards.

“I think prob­a­bly for me, the big­gest concern I have is peo­ple’s im­pres­sion of the com­pany and that we are try­ing to re­strict free speech,” Otto said in an in­ter­view Tues­day.

“More than that, has been the very strong vo­cal, some­times ven­omous, calls to my staff across the coun­try, where peo­ple are ex­press­ing their opin­ions about the de­ci­sion to ei­ther put the ads up or take them down,” he said.

“And so peo­ple who had noth­ing to do with this de­ci­sion and are sim­ply an­swer­ing the phone are get­ting ex­tremely vi­cious calls from mem­bers of the pub­lic and that’s very un­for­tu­nate.”

Otto said he was “over­whelmed” and “ap­palled” to see Frank Smeenk, the head of the third-party group, tell The Cana­dian Press he dis­avowed the ad and that he mis­tak­enly did not get the chance to sign off on the con­tro­ver­sial cam­paign.

Otto said his com­pany re­ceived the fin­ished ad di­rectly from True North Strong & Free Ad­ver­tis­ing Corp.

“This was not a large cam­paign,” Otto said. “For him to say that he had no idea of the mes­sage, I find quite sur­pris­ing.”

Smeenk, chief ex­ec­u­tive of a Toron­to­based min­ing com­pany, has not re­sponded to fol­low-up ques­tions.

Elections Canada re­quires all third-party par­ti­san ad­ver­tis­ing to in­clude a clearly vis­i­ble tagline iden­ti­fy­ing the group be­hind it and in­di­cat­ing that the group has au­tho­rized the ad. Pho­tos of the bill­boards show this tagline was in­cluded.

Ac­cord­ing to fi­nan­cial re­turns the group has filed with Elections Canada, True North Strong & Free Ad­ver­tis­ing spent $59,890 on bill­boards to be mounted in “se­lect cities in Canada.”

It also re­ceived $60,000 from Bas­sett & Walker In­ter­na­tional Inc., a com­pany that spe­cial­izes in the in­ter­na­tional trade of pro­tein prod­ucts.

Mes­sages left at Bas­sett & Walker have not yet been re­turned.

The Peo­ple’s Party of Canada did not place the ads, but Bernier has said he agreed with their mes­sage.


Maxime Bernier, leader of the Peo­ple’s Party of Canada, launches his cam­paign on Aug. 25, in Sainte-Marie Que.

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