Warren Kinsella and his Daisy Group consulting firm worked on a secret campaign to “seek and destroy” the fledgling People’s Party of Canada and keep Maxime Bernier out of the national leaders’ debates, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Internal Daisy Group records obtained by The Globe show a team of Daisy Group employees worked on a plan called “Project Cactus” that focused on portraying People’s Party supporters as racist.
The records make several references to a “client” for the project, including sending a bill for payment, but the client’s identity is not revealed in the documents.
A source with direct knowledge of the project said the client listed in the documents is the Conservative Party of Canada. The Globe is keeping the source’s name confidential because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Neither the Conservative Party nor Mr. Kinsella would confirm or deny that they are – or have been – working together.
“We do not comment on what vendors or suppliers we may or may not do business with,” Conservative spokesperson Simon Jefferies said.
The activity appears to have taken place prior to June 30, when new rules took effect requiring third parties to disclose their political activities. It is legal for parties to hire outside firms to assist with political campaigns. Detailed campaign expenses are not disclosed until after the election.
The People’s Party was created by Mr. Bernier, a former Conservative MP who narrowly lost to Andrew Scheer in the 2017 Conservative Party leadership race.
The launch of a new national party on the right of the political spectrum created a risk for the Conservative Party that some of its traditional supporters could switch to the new entity.
Mr. Kinsella, a former Liberal adviser who is now a vehement critic of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, has previously acknowledged that he worked briefly this year for the Green Party of Canada. However, in a phone interview, he declined to say whether he worked for the Conservative Party this year.
When asked about Project Cactus, Mr. Kinsella said his firm does work on anti-racism files. He neither confirmed nor denied that his company worked with the Conservatives to discredit the People’s Party.
“We don’t talk about client matters,” he said. “What I can say, just generally, is Daisy has been involved in anti-racism campaigns for years, most recently against the neo-Nazi newspaper Your Ward News, based here in Toronto, and we’ve had some success with that, so we’ve been very active in anti-racism campaigns, but we don’t talk about clients.”
The campaign, according to the internal documents, focused on criticizing Mr. Bernier and his supporters online.
A Daisy Group document describing the project says “Daisy’s war room campaign goals will be to place Bernier and PPC on the defensive” and to “work to attempt to ensure that Bernier and the PPC are not included in national leaders’ debates. If unsuccessful in blocking his participation, Daisy will work to ensure that Bernier and his party are weakened to the point of being ineffective.”
Senior Daisy Group employee Rob Gilmour outlined the plan in the document.
He noted that Daisy Group’s role could meet Elections Canada’s definition of third-party activity, a move that would require the filing of disclosures on its political activities. “Daisy will create an arm’s-length organization that cannot be linked to the client or any participating organization,” he wrote. He later added, “If possible, Daisy will work to ensure this campaign is not named as a third party.”
Mr. Gilmour wrote that the campaign would consist of three “phases.” First, from March to mid-April, Daisy would conduct research for the campaign and hold weekly or biweekly calls with the client.
Then, in what Mr. Gilmour called the “seek and destroy” phase, the Daisy group would launch the campaign. This phase would last from mid-April to June 30.
Finally, the campaign would enter its “full steam ahead” portion beginning on July 1 and end on a date “TBD.” “We will push Maxime Bernier and the PCC [sic] off their messages – forcing them, instead, to defend instances of hate speech and sympathy for racism,” he wrote. It is not clear if this third phase was approved.
A Twitter account called @Stamptogether – Standing Together Against Misogyny and Prejudice – was created in April, 2019.
Managers of the account would respond favourably to Conservative politicians, while repeatedly condemning Mr. Bernier and his supporters.
For example, Mr. Bernier tweeted on May 2 that he left the Conservative Party “because there was no place for my bold ideas under Scheer’s leadership. Remember, he publicly disavowed me after my six tweets on radical multiculturalism. You could not have voted for my ideas if I had stayed.”
The STAMP account responded that day, stating: “Inventing race-based phenomena that doesn’t exist is just one more example of how @MaximeBernier is a dangerous racist. ‘Radical multiculturalism’ is not a real problem.”
In one post, the group’s contacts are listed as Lisa Kinsella and Tom Henheffer of Daisy Group.
The Twitter account doesn’t appear to have attracted much attention. It had 69 followers as of Friday.
The account’s criticism of Mr. Bernier ended on June 29, the day before new Elections Act rules took effect that require third parties to register with Elections Canada and disclose their spending and revenue during the precampaign period that began June 30.
Internal Daisy Group documents indicate that the firm was well aware of that deadline.
Mr. Bernier issued a statement Friday in response to The Globe’s story, saying he was “astounded and shocked” by the attempts to discredit his party.
“This is an attack on the integrity of our democratic process,” he said.