Manitoba

PPC candidate Steven Fletcher reusing old Conservative campaign signs while running under new banner

Steven Fletcher is running as the candidate for the newly established People's Party of Canada in the Winnipeg riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley after being rejected to run under his former party banner.

Elections Canada says Fletcher has not violated the Canada Elections Act

A sign for Steven Fletcher used during the 2015 federal election is being re-purposed as he runs for the People's Party of Canada, much to the dismay of the Conservative Party of Canada. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

While driving along Buchanan Boulevard toward Fairlane Avenue you'll see a handful of federal election signs — the Liberal red of incumbent member of parliament Doug Eyolfson and the blue of Conservative candidate Marty Morantz.

However, if you look closer, not all belong to Morantz. A handful bear Steven Fletcher's name, but with the Conservative logo painted over.

Fletcher is the candidate for the newly established People's Party of Canada in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley after being rejected to run under his former party banner.

He is reusing his old signs to run for his new party.

"They are suggesting to print off new signs that cost tens of thousands of dollars," Fletcher said. "People will be voting on the content of the candidate's character, their experience... people are smarter than voting for the colour of a sign."

Steven Fletcher, a member of the Manitoba Legislature and former federal cabinet minister, is running for Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada in the upcoming federal election. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Fletcher served four terms as a Conservative MP and was a former cabinet minister prior to losing his seat in 2015 to Eyolfson.

He then ran provincially, winning a seat in 2016, only to be kicked out of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba's caucus just over a year later.

The signs bearing his name have a streak of blue paint covering the Conservative Party logo, with a 're-elect' line in the top corner. The sign does not display any association with the People's Party of Canada or include Headingley, since the riding renamed in 2012.

Michael Kowalson, a spokesperson for the Morantz campaign, said the team recently became aware of the issue and have asked the CPC riding association's legal team to handle the matter.

"[They have] referred the matter to legal counsel to deal with and legal counsel will be doing that directly with Mr. Fletcher and Elections Canada," Kowalson said.

A sign for Steven Fletcher of the People's Party of Canada is in fact a former Conservative election sign, which some believe could lead to confusion. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

When CBC News asked about the rules on reusing and altering old signs, Elections Canada said "there's nothing in the Canada Elections Act that addresses the issue."

However, if signs from previous elections are used, they need to be recorded as a election expense of the current value. When asked if he bought the signs from the Conservatives, Fletcher said he had done everything by the book.

As the Conservative legal team takes a look at what can be done in relation to the signage, the Morantz campaign said they're concentrating their efforts on winning.

"We are focused on putting up hundreds and hundreds of real Conservative lawn signs across the riding that have actually been requested," said Kowalson.

Fletcher said he has not received legal notice from his former party and said everything that he has done and is doing is above board.

"It was all done many months ago, and really, Elections Canada is the authority on this. If it's okay with them, it's okay with me," he said.

While Fletcher contends the signage is a non-issue and a distraction away from his track record in the riding, the Conservatives say the problems are clearly visible.

"I think that that's a deliberate attempt to cause confusion and we've had many calls at our offices from supporters complaining to us about this and we've advised them that it's certainly not done with our consent to use those signs," Kowalson said.

The signs and banners inside Fletcher's campaign office on Portage Avenue have been altered to change to the PC logo to read PPC.

An extra 'P' was added to signs in Steven Fletcher's campaign office to reflect his new party. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Kowalson added that when Fletcher did not get the nomination and left the CPC, he was asked to give back everything related to the party.

"The signs and similar paraphernalia and equipment that were used in his previous campaigns are in fact property of the local Conservative electoral district association," said Kowalson.

"He was asked to return [them] and he did not."

Fletcher said he has no intention of returning the signs and believes everything he has done is ethical.

Confusing voters

Voter Lawrence Sutherland first noticed the signs on Friday and said he was dumbfounded.

"The signage says re-elect Steven Fletcher and that is sort of disturbing and deceptive because Steven Fletcher is not the incumbent in this riding," Sutherland said.

Lawrence Sutherland said he was shocked that PPC candidate Steven Fletcher is using another party's colour and scheme, and believes it's being done purposefully to confuse voters. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Elections Canada has limited rules surrounding what signage can say, and re-elected would not be incorrect in this scope, a spokesperson for Elections Canada told CBC News by email.

Sutherland, who is not a Conservative voter, said he was surprised to learn that parties can use similar colours and materials without consequence.

"[Voters] can look at the Morantz sign for the Conservative Party, they can look at Steven Fletcher's sign and they're basically almost the same colour, you know, the same branding and colour that the Conservative Party uses and they could be confused," said Sutherland.

Of the seven homeowners who CBC News spoke to about the lawn signs, five were newcomers who are not eligible to vote, and only two of them knew of the party Fletcher was affiliated with.

Graham Konrad admits he doesn't know much about the People's Party of Canada platform, but will be voting for Steven Fletcher, who he called a man of integrity. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Graham Konrad has a Fletcher sign on his lawn and admitted to being unfamiliar with the party's policies, but said he is learning.

"I think that Steven Fletcher has shown his integrity and in how he stood for what he thought was right against the Progressive Conservative party when he was sitting as a member," said Konrad. 

"I'm voting for the candidate, not the party."

When asked if the colour scheme and lettering of the signs could be misconstrued as CPC colours, Konrad said he can see how people less politically savvy could be confused. He said he didn't take issue with the re-elect sticker in the corner.

"He was an elected official, he is running for re-election, he's running for a different party and re-elect means re-elected," he said.

The NDP are running Ken St. George as its candidate, while the Greens are adding candidate Kevin Nichols to the mix.

Canadians will head to the polls on Oct. 21.

with files from Dana Hatherly

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