Rhino Party says it wasn't involved in campaign to ‘destroy’ Maxime Bernier
A satirical protest party running in Monday’s federal election was not the instrument of a firm hired by the federal Conservatives to sabotage a right-wing competitor, according to the party's leader.
On Friday evening, The Globe and Mail reported that Daisy Group — the Toronto-based strategy and consulting firm helmed by political strategist Warren Kinsella — had been retained by the Conservative Party of Canada earlier this year to "seek and destroy" the People's Party of Canada.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has refused to confirm or deny the report.
The People's Party splintered off from the Conservatives in September 2018 under the leadership of Maxime Bernier, a former cabinet minister who came in second to Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in the party's most recent leadership race.
The revelation that Kinsella's firm had been hired to work for the Conservatives lead Bernier to question whether a political stunt by the The Rhinoceros Party to run a man with the same name against him was, in fact, Kinsella's doing.
Is it Scheer’s attack dog, Warren Kinsella, who orchestrated finding a Rhinoceros party candidate named Maxime Bernier in Beauce to sow confusion and steal votes from me? https://t.co/aU50LGL9xi— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) October 19, 2019
Bernier has since filed a complaint to the Commissioner of Elections Canada, asking for a review of what he called the "smear campaign" against him, including the Rhinoceros candidate's nomination.
However, the leader of the Rhinos said this is not the case, and that the story of his party nominating a Bernier against Bernier is "much stupider than that."
In an interview, Sébastien "CoRhino" Corriveau, explained that in late August he considered the idea of replicating a previous prank the Rhinos played in the 1988 federal election, when they ran a John Turner against then-Liberal Party of Canada leader John Turner in the riding of Vancouver Quadra.
"I needed a media stunt in September to draw the attention of journalists," he said. "And, I thought, it’s a common name in Quebec so I pulled up Facebook and started messaging Maxime Berniers to see if they would run.”
He estimates he contacted close to 50 of them.
“Hello Agent 008, Here is your mission,” wrote Corriveau in French, to the complete strangers.
“If you accept, you will lend your name to the Rhinoceros Party of Canada so that it can run a candidate named Maxime Bernier in the riding of Beauce. The worst that could happen is you would be elected by the people of Beauce, and you would then have a salary of $182,000 and have paid transportation to Ottawa every week."
At one point, Facebook suspended Corriveau from sending messages, rightly thinking he was a spammer.
"Lol thank you for the proposition, but no, I have no political ambitions," replied one Maxime Bernier.
"That's funny" said another. Corriveau replied: "Excellent, so you'll do it?"
"Ah ok you were serious lol," the other Maxime Bernier replied. They then declined.
"A few people told me to 'fuck off' or that I am deranged — and okay — but most of them didn't reply," said Corriveau.
When, finally, one Maxime Bernier — a 42-year-old professional — wrote back saying he was game, the media stunt worked. The Rhinos were in the local news, on the CBC and got Montreal-area press.
In an interview with PressProgress, the Rhino Bernier denied any prior knowledge of Kinsella.
Corriveau said he initially debated how to respond to Bernier's allegation, but decided it was important to drop the satirical bent in this case, in order to be transparent with voters.
"Should I be serious or should I say stupid things?" he said was his initial internal debate. "I was about to tweet 'Oh yeah, I mean Warren Kinsella just gave us a boatload of money, so we did that.' But then I thought it was not a good idea to joke about that."
Corriveau, nevertheless, teased Bernier on Twitter Sunday, saying that the police should come and put him in jail for "stealing votes."
STEAL VOTES? Max? Did I steal votes? Let’s call the police! Let’s make it clear, now! @police please come down and take me! I stole some votes! I hate stealers! Put me in prison! NOW! #ResignNow #Police #Rhino #polcan #elxn43 https://t.co/cdzEw4tI0y— Sébastien CoRhino (@CorRhino) October 20, 2019
As far as electoral prospects go, Bernier may have cause for concern.
While the Liberal John Turner won his 1988 race handily with 44 per cent of the vote — and the Rhinoceros John Turner received just 1.4 per cent — Bernier's run for reelection as MP for Beauce, his first as leader of the People's Party, is expected to come down to the wire.
Bernier's Conservative opponent, Richard Lehoux, is a former president of the Quebec federation of municipalities and former mayor of Saint-Elzéar. Lehoux's profile, combined with Scheer's wooing of the region's powerful dairy lobby, has left political observers expecting a toss-up race.
Sláinte!— Seán O’Shea (@ConsumerSOS) October 19, 2019
Unlikely they get a lot of patrons toasting with white milk on a Friday night at Jack Salloon in Saint Georges De Beauce, QC.
But that's how Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wet his whistle during a campaign whistle stop. #cdnpoli #elxn42 pic.twitter.com/Y7nSV4qoJl
In 2019, 1.4 per cent could make a difference.
The People's Party of Canada did not respond to a request for comment asking whether it had any evidence to suggest the Rhinos were in cahoots with Kinsella's firm.
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