Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, speaks at the launch of his campaign on Sunday, August 25, 2019 in Sainte-Marie Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Billboard company ‘appalled’ no one taking ownership of anti-immigration Bernier ads

CEO of company that paid for ad has said he didn’t sign off on it

The owner of the billboards that featured ads promoting Maxime Bernier and his stance on immigration said they would have stayed up had the third-party 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.

READ MORE: Maxime Bernier blames billboard woes on ‘totalitarian leftist mob’

“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 Toronto-based 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.

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kent cuts utility payment penalty

Dropped from 10 per cent to one per cent

Shots fired in Abbotsford, but no victims or suspects found

Incident occurs Tuesday afternoon at Whatcom and Old Yale roads

Sugar Fairy sweetens someone’s day

Anonymous person gifts local with long-sought sugar

Family medicine still available just different in the age of COVID-19

Local health officials send reminder that doctors are still providing care, by phone or video chat

B.C. couple celebrates 61st anniversary through seniors’ home window

Frank and Rena Phillips marked occasion at Nanaimo Seniors Village this week while social distancing

A look at some of the B.C. inventors creating life-saving tools in fight against COVID-19

Groups across B.C. are working together to create what they hope will help people affected by the pandemic

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

COVID-19: Fraser Valley crafters are busy sewing cotton masks for health-care workers and others

One Chilliwack woman has made 125 masks so far, and is still going strong

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

VIDEO: Dog missing in Lower Mainland since winter sees his family again for the first time

Aldergrove helped find Buster, says dad, who has now witnessed ‘the power of social media’

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Most Read