Sask. Party loyalists behind billboards targeting Liberal MPs across country

What started as a billboard campaign asking voters to oust Liberal MP Ralph Goodale in Regina has expanded to target Liberal MPs throughout Canada, with its latest focus being battleground ridings in Ontario.

WestWatch is a campaign launched this spring by the Canada Growth Council (CGC), a non-profit Political Action Committee (PAC) incorporated in January and based in Regina. 

The campaign recently appeared in Alberta targeting Edmonton Liberal MPs Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Bossionnault and Calgary MP Kent Hehr. Billboards in Winnipeg focused on Liberal MPs there will be up soon.

Derek Robinson, a spokesperson for CGC, said the Liberal government has done “significant damage to Western Canada, its industries and way of life.” He said oil and gas based industries in southeastern Saskatchewan and Calgary have been “devastated” and are feeling “alienated”.

Robinson said Ontario battleground ridings will see “hard-hitting” billboards aimed at the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“He’s probably the most scandal ridden prime minister in history,” said Robinson.

Goodale rips ads

Goodale, who has represented Regina for 26 years, called the ads anugly American way of campaigning.”

“You can be critical. You can disagree. You can have a different point of view but when it’s very clearly and so blatantly a drive-by smear, not based on any fact or reality, it’s just intended to be personally insulting,” Goodale said.

Goodale rejected the notion that he has not stood for Western Canada and Saskatchewan, mentioning Ottawa’s $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“If you look at all the all of the issues that I have stood for in terms of economic development and growth the energy sector in Saskatchewan or across Western Canada I’ve always been very strongly supportive,” Goodale said.

Goodale also defended his record by comparing it to that of Conservative MPs who have represented Regina, including Conservative Leader and Regina Qu’Appelle MP Andrew Scheer.

“What’s their record? What can they point to as a single thing the Conservatives have accomplished for Regina. Name one.”

CGC connections to Saskatchewan Party

Robinson said the CGC was created as a response to unions and left-leaning third parties that he said have financially “outgunned” those on the right side of the spectrum in the past.

The CGC’s three directors all have ties to the province’s governing Saskatchewan Party. Eric Clark is a former party board member, Tyler Willox was the party’s largest single donor in 2018 and Robinson worked in former Premier Brad Wall’s office.

Voters in Calgary will see these billboards from Regina-based third party advertiser Canada Growth Council. (Colin Hall/CBC)

In January, CBC reported on a PAC known as the Buffalo Project which was launched with Wall’s help. Wall attracted initial investors through speeches at private dinners.

The group is comprised of six Alberta businessmen, one of whom Stewart Turnbull said Wall had no ongoing role but advises them on occasion, as does Alberta businessman businessman W. Brett Wilson. 

Turnbull said the Buffalo Project’s goals were to help Jason Kenney and Andrew Scheer get elected.

Third party advertisers are not allowed to collude with one another. Robinson said said there is no formal connection between CGC and the Buffalo Project. In January, Robinson acted as a spokesperson for the Buffalo Project.

The Buffalo Project is not listed as a registered third party with Elections Canada.

Interim expense returns posted with Elections Canada showed the CGC had more than $10,000 in expenses and took in $15,000 in donations from two donors as of early July. Clark contributed $5,000. The remaining $10,000 came from E. Craig Lothian, CEO of Regina-based energy company Keystone Royalty Corp. Lothian is also chair of private equity firm, Lex Capital Management.

Lothian posted tweets explaining his reason for donating: 

Lothian told CBC he stands by his tweets and declined an interview request.

Robinson said the initial billboard campaign attracted more donors. The group said it has more than 50 individual donations, allowing it to expand its ad campaign from west to east.

New rules for third party advertisers

According to Elections Canada, there are 34 registered third party advertisers in Canada as of Aug. 13, CGC is the only one based in Saskatchewan.

Third-party advertisers are required to report any spending over $500, but the cost to set up a website and a Facebook page can be well below that, meaning many of these groups are not required to share their funding or expenditures at all.  

New rules introduced this year require third parties to report their spending on advertising, including in the months leading up to the election.

Third parties are prohibited from colluding with a registered party, a candidate, a potential candidate or a person associated with a candidate’s or potential candidate’s campaign.

Third parties are also prohibited from using funds from abroad and spending more than $700,000 during the election campaign, with a limit of $7,000 per constituency. The pre-election period began June 30, 2019 and ends 37 days before the election.