Nova Scotia

N.S. premier, MP take aim at billboards telling Canadians to 'say no to mass immigration'

A billboard along a Halifax highway bearing the logo of the People's Party of Canada has drawn the ire of Stephen McNeil: 'I welcome everyone to Nova Scotia - but I don’t welcome this negative, divisive tone.'

'I welcome everyone to Nova Scotia - but I don’t welcome this negative, divisive tone,' tweets Stephen McNeil

Billboards like this one appeared in several Canadian cities including Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax this week. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

A political billboard along a busy Halifax highway warning Canadians to "say NO to mass immigration" is being condemned by Premier Stephen McNeil and MP Andy Fillmore.

The billboard, which appeared this week in cities including Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Toronto and Regina, bears Maxime Bernier's face and the logo of his People's Party of Canada along with the word "VOTE."

The sign sparked criticism on Twitter, and the Liberal premier added his voice to the opposition, tweeting

"As premier, I welcome everyone to Nova Scotia - but I don't welcome this negative, divisive tone. Our population is at an all-time high, unemployment is at a record low and our economy is growing, in large part thanks to immigration. That's fact, not opinion."

Fillmore, the Liberal MP for Halifax, tweeted "How about no to Maxime Bernier, instead."

"There's no place in Nova Scotia for the PPC's politics of fear & division. Our province is a welcoming place, one where newcomers become our neighbours. We also understand that immigration is key to addressing our demographic challenges."

People's Party says billboard not theirs

However Bernier's party tells CBC News they were not involved with the sign. 

"The billboards are not the product of the People's Party of Canada," the party said in a statement. 

"They are authorized by a third party and the PPC has not been in contact with this third party."

The party would not answer any questions about the billboard beyond their statement.

Who's behind the sign?

The group behind the billboard, True North Strong and Free Advertising Corporation, is run by a Toronto mining executive named Frank Smeenk. The group is registered as a third party with Elections Canada. 

According to documents filed with Elections Canada, Smeenk's group spent $59,890 to run billboards in Canadian cities between Aug. 19 and Sept. 16.

Some Halifax residents used social media to call on the company that operates the billboard network, Pattison Outdoors, to take down the sign.

However Randy Otto, the president of Pattison Outdoors, told CBC News the billboard meets their standards. The company's rule is that the advocate needs to be clearly defined, and the group that paid for the billboard is clearly identified at the bottom of the ad, including their contact information.

Otto told CBC News he had no comment about the content of the sign.

$60K donation

The group also received a $60,000 financial contribution on Aug. 2 from a company, Bassett and Walker International. According to its website, Bassett and Walker is a Toronto-based firm specializing in the global trade of meat, fish, dairy and vegetables.

This isn't the first time an ad campaign from Smeenk has drawn criticism. His mining company, KWG Resources, created a video to promote Ontario's Ring of Fire mineral deposits using women in bikinis in 2016.

In an interview with CBC News at the time, Smeenk defended the video saying "sex sells."

Calls to Smeenk about his group's billboards were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

With files from Carolyn Ray

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