A company with ties to the federal Conservatives is receiving contracts to produce election ads for both the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Conservative Party.
Records filed with Elections Canada show that One Persuasion Inc. – also known as One Persuades – has received four payments totalling $15,404 from CAPP, the industry group representing Canada’s oil and gas sector. The oil-lobby group has spent $87,676 on political activities so far, almost entirely on advertising.
One Persuades confirmed it is also doing advertising work for the Conservative Party in this campaign, but did not provide a dollar value. The company was co-founded by Hamish Marshall, who has taken a leave of absence to be the Conservative campaign manager.
The fact that advertising work for a political party and a third party are being handled by the same ad agency raises questions as to whether the activities comply with the new limits on collusion.
Under changes to the Canada Elections Act that are in place for the first time this campaign, it is against the law for a political party to collude with a registered third party in areas such as advertising. Elections Canada’s guidelines outline various scenarios and state that whether specific actions meet the threshold for collusion will depend on the circumstances of each case.
According to Elections Canada’s published guidelines, a registered party must not collude with a third party to “influence the third party in its partisan activities, its partisan advertising or its election surveys conducted during a pre-election period, including by sharing information.”
Elections Canada adds that “where a third party independently engages in activities that result from agreeing with a party’s or candidate’s platform, this is not collusion.”
One Persuades partner Dan Robertson said Mr. Marshall has been on leave since June and all of the company’s work for CAPP took place after Mr. Marshall’s temporary departure to run the Conservative Party’s election campaign.
“We obviously know that there will be close attention paid to our work because of his role on the campaign,” Mr. Robertson told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail. “Therefore [Mr. Marshall]’s leave is rigorously observed. There have been no communications between him and us concerning any of One Persuasion’s business activities or relationships. That includes our relationship with the Conservative Party and our other clients.”
One Persuades was founded in 2018 and has offices in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. Senior staff include several individuals who previously held senior roles with the Conservative Party or the Prime Minister’s Office under Stephen Harper.
Mr. Robertson worked in Mr. Harper’s PMO and was the Conservative Party’s director of advertising for the 2011 election campaign.
Mr. Robertson said the company’s work for the Conservative Party is kept separate from its work for CAPP. “We aren’t a part of the [Conservative Party] campaign,” he said. “We are a vendor to the campaign. We provide a service. We don’t have a role in any of its decisions.”
Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba who served on an Elections Canada advisory board until last year, said the new law’s definition of collusion is currently untested.
“The operational meaning of that term, collusion, is something that will be debated and probably refined over time based on precedents. But I think the drafters of such legislation had this kind of situation in mind,” he said. "We want people to have trust and confidence in the fairness of the election process and if it is seen that an advertising agency is acting in ways where there is potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest, then that gives rise to concern.”
Conservative spokesman Simon Jefferies declined to comment in detail. “We don’t comment on what vendors the Conservative Party of Canada does business with," he said, adding that Mr. Marshall is on a leave of absence from One Persuades.
Stacey Hatcher, CAPP’s vice-president of communications, said in an e-mail that the association is non-partisan and has adopted “a strict compliance policy and program to ensure that we are fully compliant with the Canada Elections Act at all times.”
The ad agency and the party did not respond to questions about whether or not Mr. Marshall holds an ownership stake in the company.
The Globe reported in April that Mr. Marshall and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer both spoke at a private conference that month in Alberta in which oil-industry executives and Conservative politicians mapped out a strategy for defeating Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
The Globe report said Mr. Marshall spoke on a panel about “rallying the base” by using like-minded interest groups that operate independently of the party. Tim McMillan, the president of CAPP, also spoke at the private meeting.
The gathering took place before new rules took effect that ban collusion between political parties and third parties.
Climate change has emerged as a key issue in the election campaign. The Conservatives are promising to scrap the Liberal government’s carbon tax, which applies in provinces without carbon-pricing plans.
Canada’s oil and gas sector has been highly critical of the Liberal government, particularly over bills that were viewed as harming the sector’s ability to secure regulatory approval for new projects.
Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart says Canada’s election authorities should investigate the links between CAPP and the Tories.
“It’s become impossible to tell where the oil lobby ends and the Conservative party begins in this country,” he said.
With a report from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa