The costs of a secret political war room targeting Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada were invoiced to the Conservative Party of Canada’s headquarters, newly obtained documents show.
The Globe and Mail first reported during the October, 2019 federal election campaign that the Conservative Party hired the Daisy Group consulting firm, led by former Liberal adviser Warren Kinsella, to run a “seek and destroy” effort earlier that year called Project Cactus. The plan focused on discrediting Mr. Bernier and keeping him out of the national leaders’ debates.
The Conservative Party and Mr. Kinsella have previously declined to confirm or deny that they worked together.
This week, The Globe obtained an image of an invoice from Daisy Strategy Group Ltd. billed and addressed to “John Walsh Conservative Party of Canada.” The address is the same address as the Conservative Party’s Ottawa headquarters on Albert Street.
Mr. Walsh served as the chair of the Conservative Party’s 2019 election campaign.
The invoice states: “Project Cactus Monthly retainer for May, 2019.” The amount billed is $20,000 plus HST.
A second document obtained by The Globe this week is a seven-page contract describing the campaign to create and run a “confidential and high-profile war room” focused on Mr. Bernier.
The document states that people working with Daisy “will never know who is ‘behind the curtain’ and will have no knowledge of this concerted campaign.”
The bottom of the document lists Mr. Walsh and Mr. Kinsella. There is a signature above John Walsh’s name, but the section for Mr. Kinsella’s signature is blank and unsigned. The Conservative Party is not mentioned in the contract document.
Elsewhere in the document, it says “the total amount of this contract will be $120,000 plus HST.” It states that this would include four initial monthly payments of $20,000 plus HST. It also states that “subcontractors will be billed at their professional rate of $120/hour for design and video work.”
Mr. Kinsella responded to questions about the two documents via e-mail Wednesday.
“The client was a lawyer, and that is who the invoice is addressed to. Who he gets to pay his bills, and from which address, is determined by him, not us,” he wrote.
As for the contract document, Mr. Kinsella said it is not a contract because he did not sign it. He also said it does not provide an accurate description of his firm’s work.
“We researched racism and published our research on social media,” he said. “We don’t discuss client relationships when the client insists on confidentiality. But we are proud to oppose racism and bigotry, and will never apologize for doing so. The client, here, deserves credit for opposing racism and bigotry as well.”
Mr. Bernier’s lawyer, former Ontario ombudsman André Marin, has said claims that his client is racist are “false and malicious.”
The Commissioner of Canada Elections looked into Daisy’s work and concluded last year that neither Mr. Kinsella nor his firm violated the Canada Elections Act. The conclusions of the commissioner did not mention the Conservative Party.
Mr. Walsh did not respond to a request for comment. Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann provided a statement Wednesday in response to questions about the invoice.
“As we already know, the 2019 campaign followed all elections rules, regulations, and laws in regards to this matter,” he wrote. “We’ll always work to expose the kind of intolerance Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party stands for, just as we’ll always work to expose the kind of scandal that plagues Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party.”
The Globe has previously reported that part of Project Cactus involved the use of a Twitter account called @Stamptogether – Standing Together Against Misogyny and Prejudice. The account would respond favourably to Conservative politicians, while repeatedly condemning Mr. Bernier and his supporters.
The disclosure of Project Cactus has led to a long-running legal battle between Mr. Kinsella and Mr. Bernier. Mr. Bernier is currently suing Mr. Kinsella for defamation. The next court hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Mr. Bernier is a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister who finished a close second to Andrew Scheer in the Conservative Party’s 2017 leadership race. He went on to form the PPC, which received 1.6 per cent of the vote in 2019.
In recent months, Mr. Bernier has been touring the country to speak at anti-lockdown protests. He was arrested last week in Manitoba for violating public-health orders and later released on bail.
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