Politics

'Seek and destroy' contract against PPC came with strings, Kinsella says

Embattled political strategist Warren Kinsella on Friday shed new light on the "seek and destroy" campaign his company was hired to conduct against Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, saying he set three conditions when he accepted the contract.

Political strategist defends stand against 'extremists and haters' in People's Party

Warren Kinsella revealed more details Friday about his company's campaign to reveal the presence of racists in the People's Party of Canada. (Lorenda Reddekopp, CBC News)

Embattled political strategist Warren Kinsella on Friday shed new light on the "seek and destroy" campaign his company was hired to conduct against Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, saying he set three conditions when he accepted the contract.

On his Kinsellacast podcast, an unapologetic Kinsella said the campaign to spotlight racists who attached themselves to the fledgling party was not supposed to extend into the period covered by election spending rules. 

"Our efforts would strictly adhere to Canadian election law and cease all operations on June 29," he said. 

He also said Daisy Group's work was "subject to full public disclosure. It would all be disclosed."

Nor would the client be exempt from criticism, Kinsella said.

"We would reserve the right to vigorously criticize the client itself, publicly and in the media, if the client's own members were found to be espousing racism," he said, adding that there were times when he criticized the client in the media.

Won't reveal who hired him

However, Kinsella has refused to reveal who hired his company, maintaining that it was protected by solicitor-client privilege.

While Daisy Group describes itself as a strategic communications firm, Kinsella is also a lawyer and member of the Law Society of Ontario.

The podcast comes a week after the news broke that Kinsella's company was behind a social media campaign to undermine the People's Party and keep Bernier out of the federal leaders debate, according to records provided to CBC News.

A source with knowledge of the project identified the Conservative Party of Canada as the client. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny that his party commissioned the work.

The project, known as Project Cactus, was designed with three phases, according to documents seen by CBC News.

The first involved research and branding in March and April. The second was identified as a "launch phase" known as "seek and destroy," running from April 16 through to June 30, the start of the pre-writ period when new restrictions kicked in for third-party advertising.

The third phase, to run "July 1st 2019 to TBD" was called the "full steam ahead phase," where the team would "push Maxime Bernier and the PCC off their messages — forcing them, instead, to defend instances of hate speech and sympathy for racism."

Tweets critical of PPC candidates

Portions of a WhatsApp chatroom set up by Daisy for Project Cactus and shared with CBC News show Daisy employees workshopping tweets critical of PPC candidates or supporters before asking Kinsella's approval. The tweets were then published on STAMP Out Hate, a Twitter account set up April 24 for an existing anti-racism nonprofit run by Daisy.

In the documents seen by CBC News, drafted prior to the launch, STAMP (Standing Together Against Misogyny and Prejudice) is described as a screen for the project and its client. Kinsella's company worked through STAMP for months.

The STAMP Out Hate account lambasted the PPC, its candidates and its supporters right up until June 29, a day before new election rules regarding third-party advertisers came into effect.

Kinsella said Daisy Group didn't do any work on the campaign after June 29.

"If the anti-racism campaign went longer, it would've required registration as a third party under the rules," he told CBC News. "But because Bernier's alt-right party was attracting so little support, a longer campaign became unnecessary. So it was wrapped up June 29."

Bernier has filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Canada Elections to investigate the campaign.

Representatives from the People's Party have not responded to a request for comment. When questions arose during the campaign about things candidates for his party had said that could be viewed as intolerant, Bernier generally accepted their apologies or explained their comments and allowed the candidates to continue to represent his party.

Kinsella defends work against racism, white supremacy

In his podcast, Kinsella defended Daisy Group's work to undermine Bernier's party, saying its work over the years to fight racism and white supremacy has set it aside from other companies that do similar communications and opposition research work.

"Daisy Group staff have worked for, or with, every single mainstream political party or their candidates to research, expose and oppose racist elements. Those have included the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, the Green Party and the now-defunct Progressive Conservative and Reform parties," he said. 

Kinsella said years ago he helped Stephen Harper, prior to his time with the Conservatives, root out and expel Heritage Front members from the Reform Party.

Kinsella said he has not worked with Bernier's party because of some of the people it has attracted.

"He has attracted the support and involvement of myriad racists, anti-Semites and bigots," said Kinsella.

Among those who signed registration papers for the People's Party were members of the Soldiers of Odin and other white supremacist, anti-immigration groups, Kinsella said.

Kinsella said Daisy was approached because of its reputation. "Daisy fights racism and hate. That's what we do. That's why we were approached to assist in exposing and opposing racist elements within the ranks of the People's Party."

Kinsella said Daisy Group felt it was important for Canadians to know more about the People's Party and who it was attracting.

"We had been going after racists in other parties too, but Bernier had more than all the others put together."

No regrets

Kinsella said he has no regrets about waging the campaign against Bernier's party.

"Will I apologize for opposing racism and homophobia and anti-Semitism and misogyny? No. Never. Will I apologize for opposing extremists and haters in Bernier's People's Party? No. Never."

However, Kinsella did apologize for not disclosing the existence of the campaign earlier, given that it was going to be disclosed later anyway.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca