John Tory’s campaign team would like you to believe Nick Kouvalis’ words and actions are “not representative of who he is”
Toronto Mayor John Tory’s election campaign is standing behind its top strategist, despite his history pushing anti-immigrant and alt-right views.
Pollster Nick Kouvalis, the top strategist on Mayor John Tory’s election campaign, was a former chief of staff to Rob Ford and later the campaign manager for Kellie Leitch’s failed Conservative leadership bid – generally considered the most anti-immigrant political campaign in modern Canadian history.
At the time, Tory said Kouvalis’ rhetoric “divides people” and “causes people to be anxious about one another” – except that didn’t stop Tory from welcoming his “friend” Kouvalis back to his campaign again this year.
On Tuesday, Tory’s mayoral campaign co-chair Vincent Gasparro vouched for the character of the top strategist, suggesting characterizations of Kouvalis as a liar and a racist are “not representative of who he is.”
I am a Liberal & worked in Paul Martin’s PMO. I’ve gotten to know @NickKouvalis over the last while & can say the things you are saying about him are not representative of who he is.
— Vincent Gasparro (@vgasparro) August 7, 2018
Tory’s campaign co-chair was responding to a tweet a day earlier from pollster and former CBC At Issue panelist Bruce Anderson.
Anderson tweeted that it was “disappointing” to see the Mayor of Toronto re-hire Kouvalis, considering “lying and racially charged tensions” are already “weakening democracies” around the world.
… with the state the world is in, hyper-partisanship, lying & racially charged tensions weakening democracies everywhere you turn, its disappointing the Mayor of Toronto couldn’t campaign without Kouvalis.
— Bruce Anderson (@bruceanderson) August 6, 2018
Conservative insiders, including Doug Ford’s former campaign director Michael Diamond, defended Kouvalis, claiming the Tory adviser is not “racist.”
Kouvalis replied, suggesting that “the left” is trying to “assassinate” him and insisted “those who know me, know the real deal.”
Shame on you, the left, for what you are trying to do. You all know the truth, but you’re playing your game. Shane on you!
— Nick Kouvalis (@NickKouvalis) August 7, 2018
Yet that’s at odds with Kouvalis’ well-documented history scapegoating immigrants and refugees as a wedge issue for political gain.
During a 2017 podcast hosted by Liberal strategist David Herle, Kouvalis bragged that using “newcomers to Canada” as a scapegoat for economic anxieties was part of his strategy for “going after” older conservative voters:
“The people that we were going after were the people who are really fed up with how unfair the system has become for those that have worked hard and not taken from the system and have come into retirement now and they want to get what they thought they were paying into and they’re not getting what they thought they were paying into and newcomers to Canada are getting everything. That’s who we were going after and there are a lot of those people in the Conservative Party.”
Blaming immigrants for the economic anxieties created by right-wing policies in the first place is a pattern illustrated clearly during one of the Leitch campaign’s numerous self-inflicted blows.
In January 2017, Kouvalis found himself at the centre of controversy for deliberately spreading false information about immigration, refugee and foreign aid programs.
“This was sent to me today. Discuss,” Kouvalis tweeted, providing a screenshot that stated Canada “hands out billions to other countries while Canadians stand in line at food banks.”
Kouvalis’ tweet falsely claimed Canada spends “20 billion on immigration and refugee programs” and directly finances a “designated terrorist organization.”
After it was discovered that his claims were actually plagiarized from an American hoax chain letter, Kouvalis said he deliberately lied “to make the left go nuts” and claimed he wanted to see who would get mad so he could remove their names from his e-mail database.
— Jason Markusoff (@markusoff) January 3, 2017
Aside from making an explicitly anti-immigrant theme the centrepiece of Leitch’s campaign, Kouvalis also generated controversy using coded language associated with the alt-right.
In fact, Kouvalis ultimately resigned his formal role on Leitch’s campaign after accusing Canadian constitutional scholar Emmett MacFarlane of “treason” and calling him a “cuck” – a racially-loaded slur borrowed from online porn.
2/3rds of Canadians want what Kellie is talking about. You’ve weakened a nation today. Live with your treason. Cuck. Serious.
— Nick Kouvalis (@NickKouvalis) January 29, 2017
This is disappointing but not at all surprising. The elites will stop at nothing to keep their open border & globalist agenda rolling! https://t.co/s6JbKOCDRd
— Nick Kouvalis (@NickKouvalis) January 10, 2017
The staff wrote it! Media continue to accuse Kellie of that. Why? Because their snotty & upset their open border Ideology is under attack https://t.co/y9Po1p666x
— Nick Kouvalis (@NickKouvalis) November 26, 2016
65% of Canadians agree- its media’s job to report. Do you believe that we should integrate immigrants who believe that women are property? https://t.co/htgKD5lLAJ
— Nick Kouvalis (@NickKouvalis) September 23, 2016
“Would you shut up already with the racist and xenophobic fear mongering!”, said no one with a brain in their head… https://t.co/7ZWW32KrgS
— Nick Kouvalis (@NickKouvalis) November 11, 2016
Despite the Tory campaign’s attempts to argue Kouvalis’ own words and actions are not a reflection of who he is, the top Tory strategist seems to be making things as hard for his enablers as possible.
Tuesday night, the Tory strategist announced that he is considering settling old scores by writing a tell-all book.
“Perhaps I will write some ‘colour’ about the journalists along the way,” Kouvalis tweeted ominously.
At what point does a campaign require a crisis-communications strategy for dealing with its own strategist’s communications? pic.twitter.com/sKSlUMZ35k
— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) August 7, 2018
Kouvalis deleted his tweet a short time later.