Politics·Exclusive

Recordings reveal details of campaign to attack Maxime Bernier, PPC as racists before election

Audio recordings shared with CBC News reveal political strategist Warren Kinsella told employees working on a campaign against the People's Party of Canada to let "the hatred you have for Maxime Bernier wash over you like a purifying force."

Strategist Warren Kinsella told his Daisy Group employees 'Hamish and Walsh' would be asking about results

New details have emerged about the campaign by Warren Kinsella's Daisy Group to attack Maxime Bernier and the People's Party of Canada in the lead-up to the federal election campaign. Kinsella, pictured here with his then-wife, Lisa Kirbie Kinsella, wanted to target Bernier as 'racist' and 'a white supremacist.' (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe / CBC News)

Audio recordings shared with CBC News reveal political strategist Warren Kinsella told employees working on a campaign against the People's Party of Canada that leader Maxime Bernier was a "racist" and a "white supremacist" who would be "easy" to expose in the lead-up to the federal election campaign.

Dubbed "Project Cactus," the campaign against Bernier and the PPC was run by Kinsella's political consulting firm, Daisy Group. Kinsella made the comments during a staff meeting about the campaign in May.

"I want the hatred you have for Maxime Bernier to wash over you as a purifying force," Kinsella tells his staff in one recording, made during a meeting on May 16. "There's nobody in the country doing what we're doing to Max Bernier."

The recordings were provided to CBC News by a source who was present for the meetings and asked not to be named, due to concerns about retaliation.

In that same May 16 recording, Kinsella is heard telling staff that "Hamish and Walsh" will start to ask what Daisy Group is delivering on Project Cactus if they don't start "spilling some blood." Kinsella again refers to both "Hamish and Walsh" in a separate meeting discussing Project Cactus on May 30.

"I want the hatred you have for Maxime Bernier to wash over you as a purifying force," Warren Kinsella tells his staff in this recording. 0:49

In response to questions from CBC News, Kinsella would not say who he was talking about in those recordings. A source previously said the campaign was conducted on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Hamish Marshall was the Conservatives' 2019 federal election campaign manager, while John Walsh is the former president of the Conservative Party and was a co-chair of the election campaign.

In a recording, Warren Kinsella is heard telling staff “Hamish and Walsh” will start to ask what Daisy Group is delivering if they don’t start “spilling some blood.” Hamish Marshall, pictured here left of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, was the federal election campaign director for the Conservatives but says he had no role in overseeing any project with Daisy. (CBC)

Marshall denied having had any oversight role in Daisy Group's campaign.

"I have never monitored (or overseen or any other synonym) any project or anything with Daisy or any Kinsella person or entity," said Marshall in an email to CBC News when asked about the recordings.

John Walsh declined to comment on Daisy's work. 

"I was happy to serve as the volunteer chair of the 2019 Conservative party nation(al) campaign. My duties in that capacity ended on election night when I, sadly, did not deliver a victory for my leader, Andrew Scheer," said Walsh in an email to CBC News.

He added, in response to questions about Daisy's campaign: "I'm not sure what is being referred to in your email and will have no comment."

In a recording, Warren Kinsella is heard telling staff 'Hamish and Walsh' will start to ask what Daisy Group is delivering if they don’t start “spilling some blood.” 0:25

A spokesman for the Conservative Party said the party doesn't comment on election strategy, but follows all rules and election laws.

In October, the Globe and Mail first reported — and CBC News subsequently confirmed — that Daisy Group was behind the social media campaign to highlight xenophobic statements made on social media by PPC candidates and their supporters. Since then, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has refused to state whether his party had enlisted Daisy's services for the campaign.

When contacted by CBC News on Monday and told about the recordings, Kinsella issued a statement, which he also published on his personal website.

"We do not discuss client matters publicly. It is up to the client to make public the relationship," Kinsella wrote. 

"The extremism found in the People's Party of Canada is far worse, and far more pervasive, than anything I experienced before," he wrote. "We were, and are, very proud to shine a light on the many extremists found in the People's Party of Canada."

'Walsh is watching'

In the same recording of the May 16 meeting, Kinsella's wife (from whom Kinsella says he is now separated) and former partner at Daisy, Lisa Kirbie Kinsella, tells the room that "Walsh" texts her when he approves of their work. 

"Walsh is watching on Cactus," she says. "He texts to me and will be like, 'That was awesome.' Like on the Rempel stuff? So he's watching."

Maxime Bernier publicly criticized Michelle Rempel in multiple tweets in May, accusing her of being "aligned with Far Left transgender activism" and criticizing the fact that she had blocked users on Twitter.

Kirbie Kinsella responded several times on Twitter to Bernier's criticism of Rempel, accusing him at one point of "hostility toward women."

"I do not discuss business matters with the media. This includes commenting on staff or clients, or confirmation or denial of rumours," wrote Kirbie Kinsella in an email to CBC News. "Further, I am no longer a member of Daisy's management and cannot speak on Daisy's behalf."

During the recording of that May 16 meeting, Kinsella can be heard telling staff to cast Bernier as a racist and refers to his past experience working on federal election campaigns.

"We actually have a white supremacist trying to become prime minister of Canada," Kinsella says. "I've run campaigns depicting Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Kim Campbell, depicting them as racists.

"None of them were. But I was successful at depicting them as racists. This guy actually is a racist. Okay? So it's low-hanging fruit."

In his statement to CBC News, Kinsella clarified this comment.

"I have proudly been exposing and opposing racism for more than 30 years," Kinsella wrote. "As a political assistant, in 1990, I documented known white supremacists joining Preston Manning's Reform Party. In 1993, I documented Kim Campbell's inadequate response to the presence of actual neo-Nazis in the Canadian Airborne Regiment."

"In 2000, as a political advisor, I documented the presence of known racists in Stockwell Day's Canadian Alliance," Kinsella continues. "After lots of research, I concluded none of those leaders were in any way racist. However, their parties had a problem in those days, which was well-known."

A spokesperson for the People's Party of Canada told CBC News that "Kinsella wrote similar things on his website and Twitter" and that Bernier "believes these statements are clearly defamatory and is keeping all his legal options open."

Lisa Kirbie Kinsella and Warren Kinsella. In his most recent statement, and in previous statements about the campaign, Kinsella has said that the work ended on June 29, one day before the pre-writ period and spending limits came into force and that the details were always going to be disclosed. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Kinsella: Scheer just 'needs to maintain a pulse'

In the same recording of that meeting, Kinsella says he expects Scheer's popularity to grow during the campaign and the Liberals to keep sinking, based on ballot tracking data released that week — which had the Liberals under Justin Trudeau slipping under 30 per cent of the vote in a projection.

"They (the Liberals) are heading towards winter. He's going to start saying all kinds of stuff to save his ass," Kinsella says of Trudeau, adding that Scheer "just needs to maintain a pulse" to win the election.

Kinsella was a frequent critic of Trudeau during the election and shared or retweeted critical stories about him online.

Elsewhere in the recording, Kinsella exhorts his staff to be vigilant in their efforts.

"All of you are capable of doing it but I need somebody who doesn't sleep, basically. I had one kid who did it. His name's Ahmed Hussen. He's now the minister of immigration," says Kinsella. Hussen was named minister of families, children and social development following the election.

"I would walk in and he'd have been up listening to 1010 at 4:30 in the morning and say to me, 'Here's what they said' and I'm like, 'F--k, let's go,' right?'"

Workers discussed continuing into pre-writ period

Tweets attacking Bernier specifically on a Twitter account called STAMPtogether run by Daisy stopped on June 29, one day before the pre-writ period and spending limits came into force. Under new election rules, any group that spent at least $500 on election advertising during the pre-writ period was required to register with Elections Canada as a third party advertiser.

In the recording from May 30, Daisy staffers discuss registering as a third party with Kinsella. They talk about buying Facebook ads for another client and then discuss whether they might have to register if they "do a spend" for Cactus.

"I don't think Hamish wants us to, I think," says Kinsella, adding, "Walsh is in Saudi Arabia."

"It might not be a bad idea to do some paid tweets for STAMP before June 30 just to get our followers up, so then when we get to June 30 we have more followers," says a staffer in response.

In his most recent statement, and in previous statements about the campaign, Kinsella has said that the work ended on June 29 and that the details were always going to be disclosed. He added that "we have proactively reached out to Elections Canada and disclosed everything we did up until June 29, 2019, when our work ended – as the law requires."

A separate body, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, investigates any complaints related to elections.

"The Commissioner of Canada Elections does not comment on whether or not the office is carrying out an investigation into a particular matter. This is in keeping with the confidentiality provisions of the Canada Elections Act," wrote spokesperson Michelle Laliberté in an email to CBC News.

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