Stephanie Levitz, Canadian Press, August 25, 2019
The owner of billboards currently showcasing ads that seek to promote the People’s Party of Canada’s controversial stance on immigration reversed course on Sunday, saying the company would take the material down in response to “overwhelming” criticism.
The ads, featuring a photo of party leader Maxime Bernier, the slogan “Say NO to mass immigration” and a call to vote for his party, started popping up across the country late last week. They were criticized nearly immediately as promoting anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The company released two statements on Sunday, the first of which said that people who have a problem with the ads should take it up with the advertiser, True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp. The statement suggested they reviewed the ad content and it did not violate the Ad Standards of Canada (ASC) code or their own policies.
“We take a neutral position on ads that comply with the ASC code as we believe Canadians do not want us to be the judge or arbiter of what the public can or cannot see,” the company said in a statement circulated on their social media accounts.
But later in the day, the company issued a second statement saying that while the billboards didn’t violate any policy, they would come down nonetheless.
“It was never my or Pattison Outdoor’s intention to offend, alienate or in any way insult the public by allowing this ad to be run,” company president Randy Otto wrote, adding that the company would review its advocacy guidelines.
At the People’s Party national campaign launch Sunday in Sainte-Marie, Que., Bernier said he agreed with the ad’s message, though noted they were placed by an outside group.
He said the current number of immigrants Canada accepts annually — 350,000 — is too high and needs to be scaled back.
“For me, mass immigration is 350,000 a year so yes we’re against mass immigration,” he said.
Critics of the term often consider it a synonym for opposition to visible minority immigrants on the grounds they pose a threat.
Critics of the ad were interpreting it that way. The premier of Nova Scotia called the tone “negative, divisive,” while one Calgary resident who posted a petition calling for their removal said the ads are hurtful to newcomers and don’t recognize their contribution to Canadian culture.
The People’s Party of Canada platform says specifically that “mass immigration” is used as a tool by mainstream parties to buy immigrant votes and that it drives up housing prices.
The party also says immigration “should not be used to forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of our country. And it should not put excessive financial burdens on the shoulders of Canadians in the pursuit of humanitarian goals.”
]Polls suggest the People’s Party of Canada has around four per cent of voter support heading into the October election, and thus far, Bernier has been excluded from the official leadership debates.
On Sunday, Bernier was greeted by hundreds of raucous supporters who cheered his every word as he pitched his case for inclusion in the debates and repeated promises to eliminate the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and corporate subsidies.