Canada Growth Council texts
Canada Growth Council texts This article is more than 10 months old
NEWS

Who is the Canada Growth Council? Why Did They Mass Text Manitobans?

Group has ties to anti-LGBTQ religious sect, Alberta’s UCP, and Sask Party

This is Part 2 of an Investigative Series: Merchants in the Temple – How an Anti-LGBTQ Religious Sect Wields Money & Power in Canada
Find the full "Merchants in the Temple" series:
This is Part 2 of an Investigative Series: Merchants in the Temple – How an Anti-LGBTQ Religious Sect Wields Money & Power in Canada
Find the full "Merchants in the Temple" series:

In June, Manitobans received a controversial mass text message from a political group called the Canada Growth Council regarding the upcoming provincial election. The text used inflammatory rhetoric to misrepresent the Manitoba NDP’s policies on harm reduction and policing.

The Canada Growth Council also asked if Manitobans had received a flyer with similar messaging in the mail.

Text messages sent to Manitobans from the CGC

The texts raised many questions from Manitobans. Who is the Canada Growth Council and who is funding their mass text messages, billboards, flyers and Facebook ads?

 

Who is the Canada Growth Council?

The Canada Growth Council was founded in 2019 and describes itself as a “group of motivated individuals that are simply fed up with anti-growth propaganda, foreign-funded activist groups and the absence of strong voices that advocate on behalf of free-enterprise and prosperity in Canada.”

The Canada Growth Council’s current Board of Directors are:

  • Dale Richardson, Former Director Digital Communications for Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe
  • Jarret Coels, Strategic Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Kyle Addison, Chief Operating Officer of Regina-based company Mitchell Developments

In 2019, the CGC’s founding board members were also deeply tied to the Saskatchewan Party and former premier Brad Wall’s office:

  • Tyler Willox, the top individual donor to the Saskatchewan Party in 2018. 
  • Eric Clark, a former member of the Saskatchewan Party’s Board of Directors.
  • Derek Robinson, a former top communications staffer under Brad Wall.

 

What does the Canada Growth Council do?

The Canada Growth Council is a third party advertiser that has previously run right-wing attack ads during election periods.

The CGC’s Manitoba Watch campaign has already spent over $50,000 on Facebook ads within the last month, according to Facebook ad data, while the cost of its billboards, flyers and text messages is unknown. 

While Manitoba Watch is not currently running any Facebook ads, there could be more to come. A third party advertiser in Manitoba can spend a maximum of $100,000 in the 90-day period preceding an election period and $25,000 during the campaign period. 

The Canada Growth Council’s Manitoba Watch campaign has so far used similar messaging and tactics as its previous campaign during the 2019 federal election, which ran on anti-Trudeau and anti-Liberal attack ads. Now, Manitoba Watch is building on previous messaging by comparing NDP leader Wab Kinew to Trudeau.

 

The Canada Growth Council’s 2019 Campaign

In 2019, the Canada Growth Council ran billboards, Facebook and front page newspaper ads attacking Liberal candidates during the federal election. The Canada Growth Council’s Facebook campaign was run through two pages: WestWatch, which ran ads across Canada, and Ontario Watch, which ran ads in Ontario.

The Canada Growth Council’s reported 2019 budget was $334,692, according to financial disclosures. Nearly $200,000 came from 144 individual donors, while $136,000 came from 29 corporate donations.

During this time, the CGC spent over $50,000 on Facebook ads across the country, according to Facebook ad data.

The Canada Growth Council specifically targeted Manitobans in 2019 by running 58 paid ads through the WestWatch page. Most of the ads had general anti-Trudeau messaging, while 14 ads targeted former Liberal MP MaryAnn Mihychuk, and six targeted Liberal MP Terry Duguid, according to Facebook ad data.

CGC Facebook Ads Data

 

Who funds the Canada Growth Council?

The Canada Growth Council registered late as a third party advertiser in Manitoba and will not have to submit financial reports until January 2, 2024 — well after the election on October 23, 2023. This means there will be no public disclosure of how much money is spent and who is financially supporting the Manitoba Watch campaign until then.

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

However, the Canada Growth Council’s 2019 financial disclosures highlight the individuals and organizations who have previously invested in the third party advertiser.

One of the biggest 2019 donors to the Canada Growth Council has deep ties to Alberta’s United Conservative Party. 

Shaping Canada’s Future, another third party advertiser, donated $50,000 to the Canada Growth Council in 2019. Shaping Canada’s Future’s was incorporated by Douglas Nelson, Jason Kenney’s chief financial officer during his 2017 UCP leadership campaign, and its board includes Brad Tennant, former Executive Director of the UCP as well as Peter Kiss, an Alberta businessman, appointee to Kenney’s economic council and a UCP donor.

Energy industry CEO and Saskatchewan Party donor Craig Lothian was also among the top individual donors to the Canada Growth Council in 2019, along with other wealthy Saskatchewan business people.

 

Anti-LGBTQ Religious Sect Members Donated to the CGC, Campaigned Against Gay Marriage, Documents Show

13 members of the secretive Plymouth Brethren Christian Church donated nearly $40,000 to the Canada Growth Council in 2019. These donations came from Brethren members across Canada but were all made within 48 hours.

The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, also known as the “Exclusive Brethren,” is a religious sect with only 50,000 members around the world, particularly in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In Canada, the PBCC are believed to have fewer than 10,000 members. 

The Brethren were the subject of a 2022 CityNews documentary that brought to light allegations from former members detailing how they were cut off from friends and families under the PBCC’s “doctrine of separation.” The PBCC disputes these claims and denies it is a “cult” — the PBCC’s leader is listed on its website as Bruce Hales of Sydney, Australia. 

In a previous statement to PressProgress, the PBCC responded that “the description of the PBCC as a cult is just not true” and added: “We are not secretive, but we are often misunderstood.”

Brethren members who donated to the Canada Growth Council in 2019 appear to be involved in coordinating a campaign against gay marriage in 2005. The campaign appears coordinated through an internal Brethren network called the North American Commission for Representation to Government

 

Brethren member John Boram, who is listed as having donated $2,000 to the Canada Growth Council in 2019, is listed as a Senior Panel member of the Brethren Commission. 

Brethren member Brad Mitchell’s signature appears on a booklet of Brethren letters to George Bush asking him to prevent gay marriage in Canada. Mitchell’s business partner, Phil Jenner, is listed as donating $3,000 to the Canada Growth Council in 2019.

A fax memo listing the names of Brethren members

Canada Growth Council corporate donor Garth Robertson and individual donor Curtis Green are also listed as recipients of another Brethren Commission letter to a US senator regarding gay marriage in the U.S. John Boram, Brad Mitchell are also named in the document — along with Gareth Hales, the son of the Brethren’s world leader based in Australia, Bruce Hales.

“We can confirm that the Canada Growth Council is not connected to the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church,” a PBCC representative told PressProgress.

“As with any other church or large organization, members pursue their own interests professionally, personally and politically.”

John Boram, Craig Boram, Brad Mitchell, Phil Jenner, Curtis Green and Garth Robertson did not return PressProgress’ requests for comment.

 

Canada Growth Council Donors Worked with Manitobans on Anti-Gay Marriage Campaign

Although there is so far no evidence that Manitoba Brethren members have donated to the Canada Growth Council, Manitoba Brethren appear to have worked with Canada Growth Council donors on the 2005 anti-gay marriage campaign.

Don Logan, a Manitoba based Brethren member, is listed on the Senior Panel member of this Commission. Craig Logan, also based in Manitoba, is listed as responsible for the Commission’s Procedure and Strategy. Three other Manitoban PBCC members are named in the Commission’s directory.

Craig Logan’s signature also appears on the booklet of Brethren letters sent to George Bush asking him to stop gay marriage in Canada. Letters from six Brethren families in Manitoba are also included in the booklet. 

Don and Craig Logan’s names are also listed in the Brethren Commission fax memo.

Craig Logan was also registered as the financial agent for the Christian & Gospel Publishing Inc, a third party advertiser during the 2006 federal election. The list of Christian & Gospel Publishing Inc donors include the names of many Brethren members  in the Commission and names that match 2019 Canada Growth Council donors.

Don and Craig Logan did not return PressProgress’ request for comment.

The Brethren have a significant presence in Manitoba, with members owning about half of the businesses in the Stonewall industrial park. Two Manitoba Brethren-run schools recently faced criticism for requesting LGBTQ content be excluded from school tours of the Canadian Human Rights Museum.

The Brethren’s charitable arm, the Rapid Relief Team, has also partnered with the Winnipeg Police Service, as well as the RCMP and other police and fire departments across Canada.

 

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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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