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Politics Tory campaign director’s company linked to pro-oil interest group Canada Proud

Provincial election filings show Ontario Proud paid One Persuades $30,510 for two ads that attacked former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, seen here on Dec. 3, 2018.

Fred Lum

Conservative Party campaign director Hamish Marshall has business links with a national advocacy network supported by oil-industry executives that backed conservative parties in recent provincial elections and is gearing up to attack the Liberals in the fall federal election.

Mr. Marshall is a founding partner of Toronto media company One Persuades. Provincial election filings show Ontario Proud paid One Persuades $30,510 for two ads that attacked former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. Ontario Proud is part of a growing network in Canada of well-funded, purportedly grassroots interest groups that are playing a larger role in federal and provincial elections.

Ontario Proud’s founder, Jeffrey Ballingall, also formed Canada Proud, which is actively soliciting funding from oil-industry executives to defeat the Liberal Party in the fall federal election. Canada Proud has a Facebook page with 127,166 followers and a strong anti-Liberal, pro-oil-industry message.

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The Proud network was also active in recent elections in Alberta and New Brunswick, as well as launching in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Marshall is a Conservative organizer who has long straddled the fence between official party work and his own business with advocacy groups, including previous associations with Rebel Media, a right-wing online publication.

He referred a request for comment to One Persuades partner Dan Robertson, who said Mr. Marshall will take a leave of absence from the firm starting in June and will have “no involvement” in its operations during the election campaign.

The Proud network has received funding from the pro-oil advocacy group Modern Miracle Network and industry executives who attended a private meeting on April 11 with Conservative Party of Canada strategists, including Mr. Marshall, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and operative Mark Spiro. A copy of the agenda obtained by The Globe and Mail showed they discussed using friendly interest groups independent of the party to rally support in a bid to oust the Liberals.

The agenda underscores the co-ordination between the Conservatives and third-party groups that operate largely without restriction before an official pre-election period starting June 30, when their activities are regulated by Elections Canada.

The government’s Bill C-76, which passed in December, imposes spending caps on third parties – such as interest groups – during the election period. The rules also apply to the “pre-election” period, which is a new provision in the Elections Act.

Starting at the end of June, interest groups such as Canada Proud must document their revenue sources and expenditures for the pre-election period and formal campaign, but that information does not become available until after the election.

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Canada Proud founder Mr. Ballingall said the group in no way co-ordinates strategy with the Conservative Party. Mr. Scheer’s spokesperson Brock Harrison said in an e-mail that the party has “no affiliation” with the Proud network of groups.

One Persuades has “numerous national clients,” company partner Mr. Robertson said.

“Hamish has no involvement in any part of ONE’s business that could in any way conflict, or appear to conflict, with his role as national campaign director for the Conservative Party of Canada,” Mr. Robertson said in an e-mail.

He did not respond to queries about One Persuades’s role in the coming federal election and whether it would work with Canada Proud to mount attacks on the Liberals.

The Liberal Party issued a fundraising appeal last week saying the Conservatives had been “caught strategizing behind closed doors with oil-industry executives and interest groups” to weaken environment laws and “make pollution free again” – a reference to the Conservatives’ campaign against the carbon tax. For his part, Mr. Scheer said on Twitter that Conservatives are “proud and upfront” about their support for the oil industry and the jobs it creates.

There are numerous links between the Proud network and the oil industry, including executives connected to the Modern Miracle Network who met with the Conservative strategists earlier this month. Mr. Ballingall said he did not attend that session, but spoke at a workshop hosted by the pro-oil group in Calgary the following day.

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Election filings show the pro-oil group helped fund New Brunswick Proud, which mounted a social-media campaign opposing the Liberal Party of then-premier Brian Gallant. Nova Scotia Proud is registered to the Calgary address of Questerre Energy, whose chief executive, Michael Binnion, is chair of the Modern Miracle Network. He did not return a phone call Monday.

Another Modern Miracle Network director, Mike Rose, contributed $20,000 to Alberta Proud ahead of that province’s recent election, according to filings with Elections Alberta. Mr. Rose, the CEO of Tourmaline Oil Corp., did not return a phone message on Monday.

Mr. Ballingall, whose company, Mobilize Media Group, has created content and advised on advertising strategy for both New Brunswick Proud and Alberta Proud, said Canada Proud has solicited donations from companies and individuals in the oil patch, but declined to divulge specific backers.

“We will disclose our donors per Elections Canada requirements, but we’re not going to disclose them ahead of time,” he said by phone.

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