Elections Canada dropping plan to use 'influencers' to promote youth voter registration

Elections Canada has abandoned a plan to use social 'influencers' to encourage young people to register to vote in the upcoming federal election.

Some influencers could be seen as biased due to past activities, chief electoral officer says

Elections Canada had budgeted $650,000 for a video featuring 13 influencers to promote youth voting. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Elections Canada has abandoned a plan to use social 'influencers' to encourage young people to register to vote in the upcoming federal election.

The agency had been planning to release two videos (one in English, one in French) featuring 13 high-profile online personalities — Olympians, TV stars and music icons — to spread information on how young voters can register.

But after four rounds of vetting, Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault said the "past activities" of some of the influencers could be perceived as partisan — and decided to drop the project.

"It was clear from the outset that it had to be beyond any reproach, beyond any possible interpretation that, whether for lifestyle choices, or comments, or pictures, that these could be tied to a particular partisan point of view," Perrault told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House, in an interview airing Saturday.

Perrault did not go into detail about the "past activities" that came up during the vetting process, or say which influencers were causing concerns for Elections Canada.

"If I use examples, then it will start pointing fingers at some of them and I think that's not fair. I think these people were in good faith and they wanted to support the election," Perrault said.

Elections Canada budgeted $650,000 for the videos. Most of that money has been spent already; the agency said it is working to recover some of it.

Agency under fire

The decision to drop the project comes weeks after it was harshly criticized by Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who called the move "gross" and tweeted that it was "hard to trust the Liberal lapdogs at Elections Canada."

Young people tend to vote at lower rates than other age cohorts, and when they do vote, they tend to favour left-leaning parties.

But Perrault denied the suggestion that the criticism had anything with the decision to drop the project.

"They have to be non-partisan of any particular party affiliation, that was a concern from the get-go," Perrault said. "It was a concern from my part even before there was any reaction."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre has been critical of Elections Canada's plan to use influencers to encourage youth to vote. (The Canadian Press)

Poilievre said he's glad that the influencer plan was axed.

"We hope to continue to make the point that impartiality should be the watchword for any body that watches over our elections," he said.

But Perrault said his agency is responsible for removing barriers to voting — which is why it explored using influencers to encourage young voters to register for the vote.

"We make those decisions without asking ourselves whether seniors, or youth, or Indigenous [people] vote a particular way," he said. "We make those decisions based on the evidence that there are barriers that these group face."

Perrault added that, as an independent officer of Parliament, it's not his role to comment on what politicians say about the elections agency.

The influencer videos were meant to be part of a larger voter information campaign Elections Canada is launching next week. The agency has released a list of the 13 influencers it had recruited for the videos:

  • Ashley Callingbull, actor, model and First Nations activist
  • Andre De Grasse, Olympic sprinter
  • Mitch Hughes, YouTuber
  • Katherine Levac, comedian
  • Elle Mills, YouTuber
  • Maripier Morin, TV host and model
  • Alex Nevsky, singer-songwriter
  • Penny Oleksiak, Olympic swimmer
  • Nicolas Ouellet, TV host
  • Max Parrot, Olympic snowboarder
  • Thanh Phung, lifestyle/family blogger
  • Lilly Singh, YouTuber and talk show host
  • Maayan Ziv, photographer, disability issues activist and founding CEO of AccessNow

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  • A previous version of this story stated Elections Canada was intending to encourage youth to vote in the upcoming election. In fact, Elections Canada planned to use influencers to encourage young people to register to vote.
    Jun 20, 2019 4:30 PM ET