Elections Canada paid roughly $325,000 directly to 13 social media “influencers” who were supposed to star in a campaign to boost voter registration.
But the agency won’t be asking for any of that money back after the video campaign featuring the influencers was abruptly scrapped over concerns that some had previously been involved in activities that could be deemed partisan.
“The influencers will not be asked to return the money as they fulfilled their contractual obligations,” a spokesperson for the agency said in an email.
“Under their contract, participating influencers were also required to abstain from any partisan comments, statements or activities for the period of the election and for one year after. Most of the funds have already been disbursed, but we are working with the agencies to recuperate some of the costs.”
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Global News was the first to report on Thursday that Elections Canada had already paid the influencers despite ditching the planned $650,000 video campaign aimed at encouraging groups — like youths — who tend to vote in lower numbers to register to vote in the fall election.
While a spokesperson for Elections Canada said at the time that “most of that money has been spent already,” it was not immediately clear exactly how much of the total budget went to the controversial influencers themselves.
Now, Global News can confirm that “about half of the total amount was paid specifically to the influencers,” according to Elections Canada.
Elections Canada has not confirmed how much each individual influencer received.
If each had been paid the same amount, the payments would have worked out to roughly $25,000 per influencer.
But Elections Canada says the amounts were not equal and would not disclose how much each influencer received out of the total amount or even a range of how the amounts varied between the influencers who received the most and the least.
“As influencers were not all paid the same amount, and for contract confidential reasons, we will not provide specific amounts,” said the agency.
The 13 influencers set to feature in the video included Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse, Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak, First Nations activist and model Ashley Callingbull and YouTubers Lilly Singh and Mitch Hughes, among others.
Final vetting of some of the influencers turned up past activities that Elections Canada said on Thursday could be deemed partisan.
While it did not point to specific examples, a search of past social media posts by at least three of the influencers shows a range of behaviour.
Callingbull, for example, has said in previous social media posts that “we are in desperate need of a new prime minister” ahead of the 2015 federal campaign.
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Singh had, in December 2015, posted a photo of newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praising his appointment of a gender-balanced cabinet along with the hashtag #mancrushfriday.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who accused the independent Elections Canada of being a “Liberal lap dog” when reports of the plan to use the influences first emerged, said the agency and its officials could have known about the past behaviour of the influencers through a Google search.
“If Elections Canada’s CEO knew about the wildly partisan comments of these ‘influencers’ when he gave them money, he is biased,” Poilievre said.
“If he didn’t know, he’s incompetent.”
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According to Elections Canada, while it will not be asking any of the influencers to give back the money they were paid, officials are working with the two agencies that co-ordinated the use of the influencers and the marketing for the video to see whether any money can be recouped.
A Toronto-based agency involved in the video campaign bills itself as “one of the industry leaders in the digital marketing world,” which works by “leveraging online personalities who possess audiences that match your key demographic” to create brand ambassadors for businesses.
Elections Canada says the plan had been to produce two versions of a full-length video, including two bilingual versions in French and English.
The campaign was also to produce 13 shorter versions of the video for the influencers to share themselves.
A draft version was prepared while the final vetting of the influencers was underway, the agency says.
Global News asked why the video appeared to have been shot and a draft version produced before vetting was completed.
A spokesperson did not specifically answer the question.
“Final vetting of the proposed influencers revealed some past activities that could be perceived as partisan in nature,” the agency said. “Following that final vetting of the influencers, the Chief Electoral Officer did not have the necessary reassurances needed to protect Elections Canada’s reputation for unimpeachable neutrality and non-partisanship.”