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PR Firm Hired By Manitoba’s Premier Has Ties to 3rd Party Group Behind Controversial Attack Ads

Manitoba PCs previously denied connection to pro-Tory mass texts

A political operative who worked behind-the-scenes on Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson’s PC leadership campaign also previously helped run a third-party group that mass-texted partisan attack ads to Manitobans earlier this summer.

Derek Robinson, who runs a PR firm called Mash Strategy that provided services to Stefanson’s leadership campaign, was a founding director and spokesperson for a third-party advertising group called the Canada Growth Council.

The Canada Growth Council sent a controversial pro-Manitoba PC mass text to Manitobans in June, in addition to running Facebook ads, billboard ads and sending mailouts to homes.

The ads were part of the Canada’ Growth Council’s “Manitoba Watch” campaign leading up to the October 23 provincial election.

Robinson was replaced as a CGC director only a month before Manitoba Watch began its Facebook ad campaign and two months before mass texts were blasted across the province. Neither Robinson nor Mash Strategy responded to questions from PressProgress.

Text messages sent to Manitobans from the Canada Growth Council

Although the Canada Growth Council’s ads featured common Manitoba PC talking points, the PCs denied any connection to the group running the ad campaign.

“(The) PC caucus has not had any role with this third party group whatsoever,” a PC Party spokesperson told CTV News in June.

While the PCs denied any role in the Canada Growth Council’s ads, Stefanson did not mention that she previously hired Robinson’s company to work on her leadership campaign.

According to Mash Strategy’s Facebook and Twitter posts published October 30, 2021, the PR firm said it was “proud to have played a small part in helping Heather Stefanson become Manitoba’s next Premier.”

Robinson also quote-tweeted Mash Strategy’s Tweet about Stefanson’s win: “Huge shout out to [Paul Taillon] who led the project! Huge effort.”

Michael Diamond, Stefanson’s leadership campaign advisor, now chair for the Manitoba PC’s 2023 election campaign, also congratulated Mash Strategy on Twitter saying, “You guys did a great job!”

Robinson was still listed as a Canada Growth Council director while his company worked on Stefanson’s PC leadership campaign in 2021.

Neither Manitoba’s PCs nor the Premier’s Office responded to requests for comment from PressProgress.

Robinson was replaced as a Canada Growth Council director on April 12, 2023, one month before its Manitoba Watch campaign began targeting Manitobas with Facebook attack ads on May 12, according to Facebook ad data.

Robinson was a top communications officer for former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall before founding Mash Strategy in 2018.

Mash Strategy describes itself as a “public relations / advocacy” firm that specializes in “political campaigns,” particularly “large campaigns to shape public opinion” and “change hearts and minds of decision makers.”

Robinson’s company projects include Pierre Poilievre’s leadership campaign, the Alberta UCP’s 2023 election campaign, right-wing groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, industry lobby groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Shell, as well as the Vancouver and Saskatoon police departments, according to to Mash Strategy website.

Mash Strategy

 

The Canada Growth Council paid Robinson’s company, at the time called Mash Media, $11,691.77 to help run its third party advertising campaign during the 2019 federal election.

The Canada Growth Council also has ties to a controversial anti-LGBTQ religious sect whose members’ companies have obtained millions in COVID-19 emergency contracts from the Manitoba government.

The Canada Growth Council did not return PressProgress’ requests for comment.

 

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Emily Leedham
Reporter
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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