Liberals lodge complaint against NDP's Jagmeet Singh campaign over Facebook ads

Advertisements lacked required agent identification, Liberals say

The Liberal Party of Canada has lodged an official complaint against Jagmeet Singh’s NDP campaign just days before the Burnaby South byelection.

John Arnold, the Liberals’ senior director of regulatory compliance and administration, wrote to Yves Cote, commissioner of Canada elections, on Friday complaining about Facebook advertisements from the Singh campaign. 

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The ads “lack the required authorization tag indicating that the messages are being transmitted with the consent of the candidate’s official agent or the party’s registered agent,” Arnold wrote.

Elections Canada rules require political advertisements to include such a message identifying who approved them.

 

But a spokesperson for Singh’s campaign, James Smith, said the NDP hadn’t broken the rules. 

“We are in full compliance with all Elections Canada rules,” Smith wrote in an emailed statement. “Previous to being made aware of this letter, we spoke with a representative from Elections Canada and ensured that all applicable sponsored posts contain an authorization statement so that there is no question regarding the nature of our advertising.”

In 2015, Canada’s chief electoral officer issued an interpretation of how the rules apply to digital advertising:

“Election advertising must include a statement of authorization (usually a tagline) ‘in or on the message.’ Where the statement cannot be included on the advertising message itself (i.e. the message for which there is a placement cost) because of its size, the requirement will be considered to have been met if the statement is made immediately apparent to the viewer by following the link in the advertising message, whether or not the content to which it leads is election advertising.” 

Arnold argued the ads had enough space to include the disclosure. 

The commissioner's office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Sangeeta Lalli, campaign manager for Burnaby South Liberal candidate Richard Lee, issued a statement about the complaint.

“It’s essential that every party follows the clear rules that keep our democratic process transparent and accountable, and this is even more important in the final few days of an important byelection,” Lalli wrote. “We hope that all of the parties’ advertising will meet the important standards set out by Elections Canada.”

But Smith said it was clear where the advertisements were coming from.

“Every post was shared by the official Facebook account for our campaign named ‘Jagmeet Singh for Burnaby South Federal NDP,’” Smith wrote.

Smith continued: “It’s telling the Liberals are more focused on parsing technicalities instead of the issues raised in these posts: affordable housing, the cost of living, student debt and growing disappointment in the Trudeau government for siding with massive corporations over every day Canadians. Jagmeet Singh is focused on what truly matters to the people of Burnaby South and he’s determined to take on Ottawa to get solutions they urgently need.”

The Liberals’ letter is at least the second complaint made to the commissioner about election messaging in the Burnaby South byelection. Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People’s Party lodged a complaint against the Conservatives for a flyer she said inaccurately portrayed her stance on marijuana and safe injection sites. 

Burnaby South voters go to the polls on Monday, Feb. 25. The candidates in the byelection are Liberal Richard Lee, Conservative Jay Shin, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People’s Party and independents Valentine Wu and Terry Grimwood. 

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