Groups ask for investigation into CAPP ad campaign during Ontario election

The request by Democracy Watch and Greenpeace focuses on a CAPP initiative called Canada's Energy Citizens, which ran a national ad campaign that coincided with the Ontario election.

Democracy Watch and Greenpeace allege the national ads were targeted at specific ridings

Ads like this ran in Ontario during the provincial election. Greenpeace and Democracy Watch have asked for an investigation into whether they violate election rules. (CAPP)

Two groups are asking Ontario's election watchdog to investigate whether the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers violated provincial election laws.

The request by Democracy Watch and Greenpeace focuses on a CAPP initiative called Canada's Energy Citizens, which ran a national ad campaign that coincided with the Ontario election period. 

CAPP was not identified as the funder behind the multimedia campaign and did not register with Elections Ontario, according to Democracy Watch.

"The Ontario elections law says that if a third-party individual or interest group that's not a political party or candidate runs ads that are about issues that the parties and candidates are talking about, then if you spend more than $500 you have to register and you have to disclose who's running the ad on every ad, and who's paying for the ad," said Duff Conacher, a co-founder of Democracy Watch. 

"So we're raising questions about whether those rules were followed."

National campaign on Trans Mountain

The ads focused on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and asked if Canada was closed for business. The ads encouraged people to contact their federal MP and ran during the lead-up to the federal purchase of the pipeline.

In the formal complaint submitted to Ontario's chief electoral officer, the two groups say carbon pricing and whether Ontario was open for business were two central issues of the Progressive Conservative party during the campaign. 

Democracy Watch and Greenpeace say in a news release the campaign "targeted 13 Liberal swing ridings in the Greater Toronto Area and involved billboards, mailings to 400,000 homes and social media postings."

Tim McMillan, the president and CEO of CAPP, says the ads were part of a national campaign on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and had nothing to do with the provincial election. 

Duff Conacher, a co-founder of Democracy Watch, says he thinks CAPP violated Ontario's election laws. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

"I can say unequivocally, and I encourage you to look at the ad campaign, they were explicitly about Kinder Morgan, a federal issue, and explicit that in each of them it identified your member of parliament, federally, your federal MP," he said.

Specific ridings

In the formal complaint, Democracy Watch and Greenpeace acknowledge the campaign was focused on the federal level, but point to the fact it was deployed only in "Liberal swing ridings" in Ontario and that social media posts from Canada's Energy Citizens frequently discuss carbon pricing as a central issue and encouraged people to contact all levels of government to voice their concerns. 

"The targeting of Liberal swing ridings indicates a strategy that includes both partisan considerations and an interest in affecting electoral outcomes," reads the complaint signed by Conacher and Greenpeace energy campaigner Keith Stewart.

Conacher says he thinks the evidence is clear that CAPP violated Ontario's election rules and hopes the regulator agrees. 

"Hopefully Elections Ontario won't look at this situation and say, 'oh but it was this front group for the oil and gas producer companies, not the industry association, and we're going to interpret the law to open this technical loophole and that technical loophole to make this all legal,'" said Conacher. 

"Because the laws are there to stop wealthy interests from essentially buying elections, and they need to be strictly and strongly enforced or we will not have fair and democratic elections across Canada."

​With files from Brooks DeCillia and Francois Joly.

About the Author

Drew Anderson

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.