Starting Sunday, Canadians will begin to see which third-party groups will be spending money to sway their votes in the upcoming federal election.
As of June 30, groups that aren’t political parties but want a say in the fall campaign will need to register with Elections Canada if they spend more than $500 on political activities, and file interim disclosure forms once they raise or spend more than $10,000.
Groups such as Engage Canada and Shaping Canada’s Future stole the spotlight earlier this month with duelling ads during the NBA Finals (Engage Canada attacked the Conservatives; Shaping Canada’s Future went after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau), while groups such as Canada Proud will likely be spending big in the coming months.
But more than half the more than $6 million directly spent on electioneering by third parties in the 2015 election was shelled out by the top 10 organizations, most of which are unions.
Those tallies are just for the 78-day election period in 2015. Now, new rules on advertising disclosure will show how much groups are spending in the months before the campaign officially begins.
Bill C-76, the election-reform law passed by Parliament in December, sets limits for third parties of just over $1 million in the “pre-writ period,” and about $500,000 in the election period. In any given electoral district though, those limits are $10,000 and $5,000.
At least one union group will be trying to reach that limit, and has already spent on ads prior to the start of the pre-election period.
“We’re all in,” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, the country’s largest private-sector union.
“We’re entitled to spend $511,000 in the writ period — we’re going to spend $511,000” he added. “There is no question, we will be very aggressive.”
An outspoken critic of conservative politicians both federally and provincially, Dias said his focus will be on supporting Liberal or NDP candidates and incumbents in winnable ridings.
Dias said Unifor will put more emphasis than ever on social-media spending. Digital advertising on platforms like Facebook and Twitter has, he said, greater reach than traditional means.
But for some of 2015’s top spenders, the mood is more cautious.
“We will be registering for the pre-writ period, and the post-writ period,” said Riccardo Filippone, director of communications at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, but said his union’s final amount of advertising spending isn’t certain.
Filippone said the overall priority will be reminding members of the union, which is the biggest representing federal employees, why PSAC thinks they should oppose Conservative candidates.
The exact tone of the messaging hadn’t yet been worked out, Filippone added, “but it won’t be gentle.”
The United Steelworkers Union, which was the top direct spender in the last election with over $430,000 worth of advertising activities, has not yet committed itself to any spending.
“One has to think about whether or not spending money on ad buys in media in July and August is money well spent,” said Mark Rowlinson, assistant to the union’s national director. The union’s elected leadership needs to approve a plan, he said, and that hasn’t happened yet.
If the decision is made to run ads over the summer and into the writ period, he added, the spending needs to be carefully targeted so as not to exceed the prescribed limits, while still providing value.
The limits on spending in any given electoral district were particularly notable, Rowlinson said, because it made buying ads in urban centres difficult.
Daniel Bernhard, executive director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an advocate for public broadcasting, said his organization will also wait to make major decisions.
“We will be running some print ads, probably next week, to get the ball rolling,” he said. “And then we’ll see what happens in the summer and fall.”
But, he added, the group is already out and active in 22 swing ridings.
Bernhard also argued any conversation about third-party advertising in Canada needs to acknowledge the roles of platforms like Facebook and Twitter in allowing for “nefarious activity” and enabling groups to skirt limits or act anonymously, he said.
He likened the dynamic to the relationship between the tax system in Canada and the offshore tax industry.
Facebook has rolled out an ad library to meet the transparency requirements of Bill C-76, so people can see where political advertisements come from and how they’re targeted. Twitter is temporarily banning political ads on its platform in Canada as it builds its own tracking tool.
But those actions weren’t enough for Bernhard.
“All this talk of limits is almost a sideshow,” he said. “The people who are already reporting and complying with the limits are the least of our problems.”
Here are the top 10 third party spenders from 2015, and what they spent money on:
10. Canadian Union of Postal Workers — $208,572.46
The postal-workers’ union spent big in dozens of ridings across the country in 2015, with most of those dollars going to election merchandise like buttons and signs. Also, almost $7,000 went to wrapping an RV in a “Save Canada Post” ad during the writ period.
9. Canadian Media Guild — $237,032.61
The union representing workers at many of Canada’s major news agencies (including The Canadian Press) used its cash to produce lawn signs and buy ads in The Globe and Mail and on Facebook in a campaign to support the CBC.
8. British Columbia Nurses’ Union — $256,871.81
The nurses’ union launched a series of online media ads and newspaper advertising late in the campaign.
7. Unifor — $299,901.77
The bulk of direct spending from Canada’s largest private-sector union was in the form of newspaper and radio ads in major cities, particularly in Ontario. Notably, the group ran ads in Punjabi.
6. Canadian Labour Congress — $306,518.02
The national labour group did spent on newspaper ads, but differs from most of the other top spenders because of the proportion of its expenses that went to on-the-ground canvassing, as well as its emphasis on non-English language media.
5. Friends of Canadian Broadcasting — $332,687.11
The group advocates for a more vibrant public broadcaster, and did so last election through a series of TV ads and print advertisements in The Globe and Mail, as well as classic campaign materials like lawn signs and stickers.
4. Public Service Alliance of Canada — $390,236.50
The biggest union representing federal workers, PSAC ran a series of anti-Harper ads in 2015, with a focus on buses and bus shelters, as well as more standard online newspaper and print advertising.
3. Canadians United for Change — $425,462.08
Funded by Canadian units of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Canadians United for Change ran big national anti-Harper ad campaigns.
2. Let’s Build Canada — $428,974.88
The coalition of construction unions spent enormous sums on print and online newspaper advertising, mostly in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg, along with posters in those areas. Notably, many of those ad dollars went to posts on The Weather Network’s website.
1. United Steelworkers – $431,639.74
The avowedly pro-NDP union spent most of its money in 2015 on radio, print and online ads in some of its key bases of support — London, Hamilton and Sudbury, as well as cities in south-central B.C.
Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press
India suspends visa services in Canada and rift widens between countries
India’s visa processing centre in Canada suspended services Thursday as a rift widened between the countries after Canada’s leader said India may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen. The High Commission of India is seen in Ottawa, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle
India’s visa processing centre in Canada suspended services Thursday as a rift widened between the countries after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said India may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen.
Trudeau told Parliament on Monday that there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had been wanted by India for years and was gunned down in June outside the temple he led.
Canada also expelled an Indian diplomat, and India followed by expelling a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday. It called the allegations being investigated in Canada absurd and an attempt to shift attention from the presence of Nijjar and other wanted suspects in Canada.
“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 Sept. Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” the BLS Indian Visa Application Center in Canada said. It gave no further details. BLS is the agency that processes visa requests for India.
India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately comment.
The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said all its consulates in India are open and are continuing to provide services, but staff safety is being assessed.
“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats. With some diplomats having received threats on various social media platforms, Global Affairs Canada is assessing its staff complement in India,” it said in a statement.
It said Canada expects India to provide for the security of its diplomats and consular officers under the Vienna conventions.
In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited India, making them the fourth largest group, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.
On Wednesday, India’s External Affairs Ministry issued an updated travel advisory urging its citizens travelling in Canada and especially those studying in the North American country to be cautious because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes.”
Indians should also avoid going to venues in Canada where “threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose anti-India agenda,” the ministry said.
Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora on independence from India at the time of his killing. He had denied India’s accusation that he was a terrorist.
The second stage of B.C. voting on whether a Sikh homeland should be established in India’s Punjab province is scheduled to be held on Oct. 29.
The Vancouver Police Department beefed up security outside India’s Consulate after Trudeau’s announcement this week.
Const. Tania Visintin, Vancouver police media relations officer, said in a statement Wednesday that police are “closely monitoring the situation.”
“We’re doing significant work behind the scenes, which includes continuous risk assessments, with a goal of maintaining public safety and preventing violence,” Visintin said in an emailed statement.
Visintin said Vancouver police were not aware of any specific threats to Indian consular officials, but have increased their presence at the downtown Vancouver consulate.
Demands for an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, started as an insurgency in India’s Punjab state in the 1970s that was crushed in an Indian government crackdown that killed thousands. The movement has since lost much of its political power but still has supporters in Punjab, where Sikhs form a majority, as well as among the sizable overseas Sikh diaspora.
India’s National Investigation Agency said Wednesday it has intensified its crackdown on Sikh insurgents operating in India.
It announced rewards of up to 1 million rupees (CAD$16,240) for information leading to the arrest of five insurgents, one of whom is believed to be based in neighboring Pakistan.
The agency accused them of extorting money from businesses for a banned Sikh organization, the Babbar Khalsa International, and of targeted killings in India. “They also have established a network of operatives in various countries to further their terrorist activities in India,” it said in a statement, without naming any country.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting insurgencies in Kashmir and Punjab, a charge Islamabad denies.
— with files from The Associated Press
Cross-country rallies against ‘gender ideology’ in schools met with counter-protests
People hold signs during a demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Protests and counter-protests for and against Canada’s trans and LGBTQ community are being planned across Canada on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Heated exchanges between protesters and counter-protesters are taking place across the country today over school policies on gender identity.
Posters created by a group called “1MillionMarch4Children” say rally participants are standing together against what they call “gender ideology” in the nation’s schools.
The protests are linked to policies across the country, including in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, that require young people to get parental consent before teachers can use their preferred first names and pronouns.
But the rallies are being met with counter-protesters who say those policies are a violation of children’s rights and that transgender youth should not be outed to their parents by teachers.
Protests are occurring across the country, including in Montreal, Fredericton and Ottawa — where thousands of people are facing off in front of Parliament Hill and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh led a group of counter-protesters down Wellington Street.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs — whose government helped spark the national debate about gender policies in schools — told reporters today that parents must be informed if their children are questioning their gender identity.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
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