The federal Conservatives decided to no longer engage with Rebel News, hours after an e-mailed interview exchange between Leader Erin O’Toole’s staff and the far-right outlet was published.
Mr. O’Toole’s office participated in an interview with Rebel News on Mr. O’Toole’s behalf. After it was published on Monday, Mr. O’Toole’s office said it would no longer respond to the controversial group and the Leader would not do interviews with them either.
The new policy revives one held by former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and is in-step with other major political parties. In the summer of 2017, Mr. Scheer said he would not do any more interviews with the Rebel until it changed its editorial direction. The tipping point was the Rebel’s sympathetic coverage of racist white-nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Va.
“Mr. O’Toole did not have an interview with the Rebel and will not in the future,” Mr. O’Toole’s press secretary Chelsea Tucker said in an e-mail. She did not say why Mr. O’Toole’s office agreed to the interview.
Rebel News published a Q&A style post on Monday billed as an “exclusive” interview with the new Conservative Leader. The answers are attributed to Mr. O’Toole and it reads as a traditional interview. However, Ms. Tucker said she provided the responses which were attributed to Mr. O’Toole.
Neither the Liberals, New Democrats nor Greens take calls from Rebel News. Alex Wellstead, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said Liberals “do not engage with that organization.”
“The NDP does not respond to media requests from the Rebel, neither does it conduct interviews with the Rebel,” said NDP spokesperson Mélanie Richer.
“In the past they have given a platform to those who hold white supremacist views. We choose not to contribute by providing any content,” she added.
Engaging with the group is politically risky, according to political watchers, and the latest incident surfaces just as election speculation started again in Ottawa. According to a source, Mr. Trudeau told the Liberal Party’s executive before Christmas to prepare for a spring election, with the timing potentially tied to the budget. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person as they were not permitted to speak publicly.
One of the people vying for a Conservative nomination also did an interview with Rebel News. In December, Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Gila Martow, who is vying to represent Thornhill, north of Toronto, for the federal party tweeted a video of her interview with the right-wing group. Ms. Martow did not respond to a request from The Globe.
Tim Powers, Conservative strategist and vice-chair of Summa Strategies, said a good rule of thumb for any communications person in the federal Conservative Party is: When Rebel News calls “don’t answer.”
“I don’t know what happened there, but it’s a story that Conservatives don’t want to have today,” Mr. Powers said about the e-mail interview with Mr. O’Toole’s staff, adding it’s possible it was an innocent mistake.
Any association with Rebel News is going to be used by opponents and torqued, he said, adding that Mr. O’Toole is not one to embrace the editorial content of that website
Last week, a photo of Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen wearing a Make America Great Again hat circulated online. In response to questions from The Globe about the hat, her office avoided commenting, instead sending a statement condemning the violence incited by U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington. Ms. Bergen’s office said Monday the hat was not hers and someone handed it to her and asked for a photo at an event a few years ago.
Nik Nanos, the chief data scientist and founder of Nanos Research, said the recent politics from the Conservatives was reminiscent of American politics and warned that many Canadians have a “default aversion” to it.
While it might help to shore up the party’s right flank against the upstart Maverick Party, in the Prairies, he said, “They run the risk of repelling Conservative voters in Ontario and Quebec and Atlantic Canada.”
With a report from Robert Fife in Ottawa