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Peter MacKay, a former Conservative cabinet minister, seen here in Halifax on Feb. 8, 2020, and Ontario MP Erin O’Toole are among the candidates in the Conservative leadership race.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay is calling for an apology through a lawyer over information in an article in The Post Millennial, a digital news website, on the party’s leadership race.

Mr. MacKay has retained legal counsel to say an April 27 report titled “Leaked Polling Report Shows MacKay’s Support Plummeting, O’Toole Takes the Lead" is defamatory and provides an “entirely false and misleading impression to any reader.”

The Post Millennial said Friday the article was fair and that the website would not apologize for it.

Mr. MacKay, a former Conservative cabinet minister, and Ontario MP Erin O’Toole are among the candidates in the Conservative leadership race. This week, the party’s leadership election organizing committee announced that mail-in ballots will need to be completed and received by Aug. 21.

On Friday, Mr. MacKay’s lawyer, John Adair, issued a legal notice saying the article leaves the impression it is written by an “independent news source reporting on the results of an independent poll.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr. Adair said.

The article fails to disclose key information, including The Post Millennial’s connection to Jeff Ballingall, the website’s chief marketing officer, who serves as digital director for Mr. O’Toole, Mr. Adair added.

Mr. Ballingall is also the founder of right-leaning organizations Canada Proud and Ontario Proud, both of which reposted the article, he said.

In addition, Mr. Adair said the polling firm referenced in the article, DesLauriers Public Affairs, is run by Fred DeLorey, who is serving as Mr. O’Toole’s campaign manager.

These facts demonstrate this was not an independently conducted poll but rather a concerted action to publish “defamatory statements about Mr. MacKay," he said.

The article states Mr. MacKay failed to respond to a request for comment, but his lawyer says he carefully reviewed his phone, voicemail and e-mail, and has determined that no request for comment was ever made.

Mr. Adair also said the article mentioned that Mr. MacKay’s campaign had been accused by DesLauriers Public Affairs firm of selling fraudulent memberships through pre-paid credit cards.

The MacKay campaign is not selling memberships by direct credit card payment because doing so would not allow leadership contest rules to be met, Mr. Adair added.

The campaign has respected the letter and spirit of those rules, he said, noting the party has confirmed no such allegations have been made.​

“My client demands a formal, written and unreserved apology to be published on the home page of the websites of DesLauriers Public Affairs, The Post Millennial, Canada Proud and Ontario Proud, and that each of you immediately cease and desist from any such conduct going forward," Mr. Adair said.

In response, The Post Millennial issued a statement Friday saying the filing is a “disappointing development” from the MacKay campaign and that there will be no retraction or apology.

“MacKay’s camp was contacted for the story and did not respond,” Post Millennial chief executive Matthew Azrieli told The Globe and Mail.

Mr. DeLorey also said Friday that Mr. MacKay’s claim is meritless.

“His team has run what is widely recognized as one of the most disjointed and mocked campaigns in recent political history,” he said in a statement. “The results of our poll should not be surprising."

Ryan O’Connor, a lawyer representing Canada Proud and Ontario Proud, confirmed Friday that the libel notice from Mr. MacKay’s lawyers has been received.

“Canada Proud and Ontario Proud shared this news story on its social media accounts, just as they have shared countless news stories of interest to their supporters and members of the public,” Mr. O’Connor said.

The proposed lawsuit is an attempt to silence discussion about the leadership race, he said, adding that Canada Proud and Ontario Proud will bring a motion to dismiss and seek legal costs should Mr. MacKay proceed with “his non-meritorious lawsuit.”

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