Did the campaign manager for Vancouver mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart go too far with an aggressive phone call to a rival campaign’s volunteer, demanding they take down a tweet?
Not if you ask Stewart.
“Absolutely, that was the right thing to do,” Stewart said Saturday when quizzed about Neil Monckton’s behaviour earlier in the week.
The fracas surrounds a profanity-laden phone call between Monckton and Michael Jagger, a friend of Non-Partisan Association (NPA) mayoral candidate Ken Sim and a volunteer on Sim’s campaign.
Jagger had posted a now-deleted tweet criticizing the Vancouver District Labour Council’s (VDLC) support of Stewart. Stewart’s campaign claims the tweet suggested it had received illegal financial help from the union group.
Jagger recorded and then published the phone call, which he describes as threatening and bullying.
“Hey, Mike. You need to take that tweet down because you are libelling Kennedy Stewart,” says Monckton in the call.
Jagger asks several times whether the tweet is untrue, adding: “I’m just confused. I’m trying to understand which part is libelling?”
“Yeah, you’re confused. But I can’t help your confusion. When you say that there are organizers paid by unions working on his campaign, you are libelling him,” says Monckton.
“I’m not going to f**k around anymore here. Just take it down or I’m going to have to follow up with a stronger, you know, kind of approach.”
From where Stewart stands, Monckton was well within his rights.
“I think, actually, he was kind. The level of slander and libellous statements that have been going around are just uncalled for,” Stewart said.
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“I’m very concerned in what’s happening in this campaign, with attempts to suppress voters by telling untruths and statements that are potentially slanderous or libellous, so I’m extremely comfortable with my campaign manager letting the other campaigns know that this won’t stand,” Stewart added.
But Sim says Stewart’s campaign went too far and that its actions belie the former NDP MP’s branding as a consensus builder.
“I don’t think it was professional at all, and it was actually quite disturbing,” said Sim.
“Mr. Stewart talks about being inclusive and being a bridge builder and he basically swears at a volunteer and threatens one of our volunteers, and that’s unacceptable.”
Stewart’s campaign has earned the support of the VDLC, which has distributed thousands of flyers to Vancouver homes urging voters to pick him as mayor. The VDLC also has four full-time employees working to promote its favoured slate of “progressive” candidates.
The VDLC is legally registered as a third-party sponsor with Elections BC, meaning it is banned from co-ordinating with political campaigns and strictly limited in how much money it can spend.
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Stewart said both he and the union group are playing by the rules.
“The problem is that they were implying what was happening is illegal, and that is the problem and that’s why my campaign reached out,” Stewart said.
Jagger, who recorded the conversation, is making no apologies for drawing attention to Stewart’s union backing, which he argues flies in the face of the candidate’s assertion that his campaign is the most open and transparent in the mayoral race.
And he said Monckton’s calls — which were made to his workplace — were not the right way to address a perceived wrong.
“Clearly an intentional effort of just bullying and harassment; it’s completely unnecessary,” he told Global News.
“If someone says something on Twitter that you disagree with, or even just want to argue another side of, you argue right there.
“It’s a public forum for that discussion. Instead of replying to me directly … they researched me and called my office,” he added.
—With files from Paul Jonson