thumb-2024-04-01-erin-otoole-russia This article is more than 1 month old

Peoples’ Party Disputes Claims That Russian Interference Helped Sink Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives in 2021 Election

Erin O’Toole suggested Conservatives lost votes to PPC after Russian ‘troll farms’ promoted anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown content

The People’s Party of Canada is disputing claims suggesting the far-right party benefited from Russian foreign interference during the 2021 federal election at the expense of Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives.

Evidence tabled at the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference this week revealed that a special Global Affairs Canada unit tasked with monitoring foreign disinformation assessed that “Russian-friendly accounts” were actively promoting PPC content during the 2021 federal election.

“Russia-friendly accounts continued to amplify Peoples Party of Canada (PPC)-related content,” said a September 23, 2021 report from GAC’s Rapid Response Mechanism unit.

Erin O’Toole, the former Conservative leader who was ousted during the Freedom Convoy, told the inquiry that he believed the Conservatives lost the 2021 election due to vote splits with the PPC created by his position on COVID-19 vaccines.

“In the final days of the election, the CPC saw its projected seat count drop. (O’Toole) attributes much of this drop to the COVID-19 vaccine issue and vote gains by the People’s Party of Canada,” O’Toole’s witness statement to the inquiry indicates. “The CPC data suggested that one-third to one-half of PPC voters would have voted for the CPC in the absence of a PPC candidate.”

Erin O’Toole witness statement

On Wednesday, O’Toole testified that he had personally witnessed Russian accounts boosting the PPC by amplifying anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown content.

“There was always a fear that some of the troll farms and some of the Russian influence was boosting some of the messages from the PPC both on anti-LGBTQ type messaging,” O’Toole said. “When COVID happened, the restriction / vaccine issue I believe was amplified by those channels.”

O’Toole suggested his opposition to Vladimir Putin’s expansionist invasion of Ukraine made him a target, noting he had been placed on the autocrat’s sanctions list and was banned from Russia.

“I have a lot of concerns of (the) PPC and some of the far-right narratives in the United States, particularly with respect to funding the war in Ukraine, being very influenced by Russian propaganda and social media manipulation,” O’Toole added. “I’ve seen it in Canada as well and I’ve spoken out against it.”

“I do think Mr. Bernier tries to harness some of these forces – whether accidentally or whether it’s coordinated, I can’t speak to.”

RRM Canada’s only specific reference to Russian foreign interference relates to information obtained from Yonder, an artificial intelligence firm contracted by GAC that found one or two suspected Russian state-sponsored accounts had retweeted a pair of PPC candidates.

RRM Canada noted that “the scale is very small” and consisted of “approximately 1-2 likes / retweets,” something the PPC says shows O’Toole is exaggerating the impact of foreign interference.

“We’re talking about 1-2 Russian state-sponsored accounts liking and retweeting two PPC candidates,” PPC spokesperson Martin Masse told PressProgress. “It’s a complete nothingburger.”

“The fact that O’Toole mentions this supposed interference and claims to have been concerned about how it amplified our messaging is laughable.”

“O’Toole lost that election not because the PPC somehow got help by a few Russian Twitter accounts, but because he has the personality of a wet noodle, is a fake Conservative who flip-flopped on key issues such as the carbon tax, and who supported Trudeau’s tyrannical and costly vaccine mandates.”

Masse said the PPC was never contacted by CSIS or national security officials about potential interference from Russia and did not notice anything that raised concerns internally about foreign interference.

“We of course disavow all kinds of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic process,” the PPC spokesperson added. “Although foreign interference is certainly a very concerning issue, our small team had much bigger problems to deal with as a small party.”

Masse also noted that the PPC believes Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives are currently operating a “gigantic army of CPC trolls and bots whose only purpose is to constantly attack us.”

Global Affairs Canada did not respond to questions from PressProgress about whether its assessment of Russian interference relied on any additional sources of information beyond the one or two retweets cited by the third-party contractor.

While Canadian intelligence reports tabled at the foreign interference inquiry acknowledge Russia is a malicious actor that attempts to “undermine public confidence in political systems and democratic processes,” it also assesses that Russia is “likely not currently a significant foreign interference actor in relation to Canadian federal elections.”

On Thursday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service all told the inquiry they received no evidence suggesting Russian foreign interference campaigns targeted Canada’s 2019 or 2021 federal elections.

“At the moment, Russia does not see Canada as a priority for (foreign interference) activities as it does not perceive us to be an existential threat,” said one CSIS report.


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Luke LeBrun
Luke LeBrun is the Editor of PressProgress. His reporting focuses on the federal political scene, right-wing politics as well as issues in technology, media and culture.

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