Despite a string of controversies faced by Canadian right-wing media outlet The Rebel, including allegations of downplaying the Holocaust, newly minted Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer has so far continued to make himself available to the company that other prominent Conservative politicians have criticized for its controversial reporting and activism, and that counts his campaign manager among its directors.
Following his leadership election in Toronto on Saturday, Scheer granted one-on-one interviews to a handful of major media organizations, including Global News, the CBC and CPAC, and followed those with a face-to-face with The Rebel’s Ottawa correspondent Brian Lilley.
The interview touched on the nature of taking on the helm of the party and reaching out to social conservatives, but in recent months The Rebel has garnered international attention that has generated a swarm of criticism and led one of Scheer’s rivals, Chris Alexander, to cease participation in its news coverage and events.
Scheer’s campaign organization has a direct connection to The Rebel: campaign manager Hamish Marshall is listed as a director on the company’s federal incorporation records, which show its most recent annual general meeting was in February of this year.
He previously told the National Observer in 2015 that he is “not involved at all in the content production and editorial side of things. My involvement is on the business side.” He did make some small editorial contributions to the Rebel in 2015, in the way of analyses of that year’s federal election, but has not been a participant in any of the company’s recent controversies.
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Marshall, a Trinity College and Oxford-educated strategist who worked in Stephen Harper’s PMO and acted as the Conservative pollster when the party won a second consecutive minority mandate in 2008, is intellectually adroit, genial and well liked in many Tory circles.
His knack for numbers and electoral modelling was cited by several Scheer campaign members over the weekend as a strategic advantage that helped the new Tory leader eke out a close victory over Maxime Bernier by attracting second and third place votes from supporters of eliminated candidates. He did not reply to requests for comment.
However, one caucus member said it would be a mistake for the Conservatives to continue a relationship with The Rebel.
“To keep interviewing with them, it certainly doesn’t look good on the party, and it was a good thing when Chris Alexander drew a line in the sand,” said a Conservative MP, who spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity.
“Andrew struck the right tone on the weekend about bringing all kinds of voters into the fold, but there are better and more pragmatic places for us to reach different parts of the Conservative movement that don’t bring with them these radical associations like the Quebec massacre conspiracy stuff which, frankly, we should not be associating with. I think he and his team are really smart about how to bring together different kinds of big and small ‘C’ conservatives and voters across the country. They have the right big tent vision: I just hope they will conclude this shouldn’t be part of it.”
Since last December, when The Rebel organized a rally at the Alberta legislature that featured Trump-style chants of “Lock her up” directed at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, several prominent Tories have criticized the media outlet. Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called the Notley chants “not only unoriginal, it’s completely inappropriate” and leadership candidates Michael Chong and Deepak Obhrai also condemned them.
A month later, in January, The Rebel purchased the domain QuebecTerror.com in the wake of an attack on a Quebec City mosque by a lone shooter who killed six and injured nineteen people. Its coverage then proceeded to question the innocence of a Muslim man who some media outlets erroneously reported was a suspect in the shooting, after he was released and police cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Lauren Southern, then a Rebel contributor and now an independent online personality, posted links to unverified online rumours about the shooting on Twitter, but then deleted the posts, noting “I usually just post interesting info I find but [people] take it as god’s word. Will be more careful.”
And Alexander disavowed The Rebel in February, after remarks by one of the network’s hosts, conservative commentator Gavin McInnes, who said during a visit to Israel “I’m becoming anti-Semitic” and added he felt an impulse to defend “super far-right Nazis” who question facts about the Holocaust.
McInnes later clarified in a follow-up video that his comments were not to be taken seriously, saying “No offense, Nazis, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t like you. I like Jews.” That was not enough for Alexander, who said “McInnes’ statements are repulsive and disturbing. No more Rebel Media events for me.”
Earlier this month, The Rebel found itself the centre of international media attention as its Washington, D.C. correspondent promoted purportedly hacked materials from the campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron which were posted on the online message board 4chan.
And, this week, its U.K. correspondent Tommy Robinson, a former head of the anti-Islam English Defense League, was given a suspended prison sentence for contempt of court after he attempted to film four men on trial as part of a Rebel shoot in Canterbury, U.K.
Prior to his convention interview, Scheer appeared on The Rebel in February in a studio interview with host Faith Goldy for her show On the Hunt. At the end of the discussion, Goldy asked Scheer if he would agree to go on a duck hunting trip with her around Canada Day if he wins the leadership, which he agreed to.
Scheer’s campaign team did not reply to requests for comment about whether he will fulfill the request or continue to give access to the controversial media outlet.
“I love that, after every ‘warning’ from important people, conservatives keep doing interviews with us,” said Ezra Levant, The Rebel Media’s founder and host of its flagship nightly online broadcast, in an e-mail to Global News. “It’s almost like they don’t respect the mainstream media’s authority, or trust its judgment.”
Scheer has given at least three one-on-one interviews with The Rebel since November 2016. Many other leadership candidates besides Scheer and Alexander, including Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, Pierre Lemieux, Erin O’Toole, Kevin O’Leary, Tony Clement, Rick Peterson, Andrew Saxton, Steven Blaney and Maxime Bernier, have variously appeared on Rebel properties or at Rebel events.
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