Elections Canada is cancelling a $650,000 campaign to hire social-media influencers after a final review found comments from some of the online stars that could be viewed as partisan.
As it cancelled the program, the agency identified the names of the 13 influencers on Thursday. A review of the influencers’ online comments by The Globe and Mail found one had called in 2015 for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be voted out of office. Another was quoted in 2016 as describing Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “really dreamy.”
Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault had told The Globe in an interview that the influencers were required to sign pledges promising to remain politically neutral in their public comments during the election campaign and for a year after the scheduled Oct. 21 vote.
Mr. Perrault also said Elections Canada screened the public comments of potential candidates to ensure the non-partisan agency did not hire personalities who have been associated with any political party.
However, in a news release on Thursday, Mr. Perrault said a final vetting of the proposed influencers revealed some past activities that could be perceived as partisan in nature.
“I did not have the necessary reassurances I needed to make sure that Elections Canada would maintain our organizational reputation for unimpeachable neutrality,” Mr. Perrault said in a statement.
The agency declined to identify the comments that prompted concern.
Details of the campaign to encourage youth registration ahead of the 2019 election were first reported this month by The Globe. News of the campaign provoked sharp criticism from Conservative MPs who called for it to be cancelled.
For the first time, Elections Canada also released the names of the social-media influencers. They are First Nations activist and actor Ashley Callingbull; Olympians Andre De Grasse, Penny Oleksiak and Max Perrot; YouTubers Mitch Hughes, Elle Mills and Lilly Singh; comedian Katherine Levac; TV host Maripier Morin; singer-songwriter Alex Nevsky; TV host Nicolas Ouellet; lifestyle blogger Thanh Phung and disability-issues activist Maayan Ziv.
Shortly after becoming the first Indigenous woman to be chosen as Miss Canada and then Miss Universe, Ms. Callingbull posted a political statement on Twitter in August of 2015.
“I urge all First Nations people in Canada to vote in this upcoming election. We are in desperate need of a new PM. Fight for your rights,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, Ms. Ziv was quoted in a Dec. 14, 2016, Flare article speaking highly of Mr. Trudeau.
“He comes in the room and there’s this glow – I can’t really explain it,” she is quoted as saying as she praised the Prime Minister’s comments on accessibility issues. “He is really dreamy.”
An Elections Canada spokesperson said most of the $650,000 has been spent.
The agency said it hired two outside firms with expertise in social-media talent to screen potential candidates.
“Both agencies were responsible for conducting vetting of any proposed influencers. Over 100 potential influencers were eliminated through this process. We are in discussions at this time to determine how some of the activities in question were not identified earlier in the vetting process,” Elections Canada said in an e-mail. “We are working with the agencies to recuperate some of the costs.”
Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, her party’s democratic institutions critic, said she isn’t surprised that a review of the influencers’ activities found partisan comments.
She said that is why Conservatives “were so adamant in our objections to their use from the beginning.”
“Canadians expect Elections Canada to remain focused on administering free and fair elections,” she said.