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HomeBusinessExclusive: Party pollster influenced Ford’s Ontario pandemic policy — what about B.C.’s Horgan?

Exclusive: Party pollster influenced Ford’s Ontario pandemic policy — what about B.C.’s Horgan?


Bob Mackin

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced June 2 that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the school year.

Doug Ford and John Horgan (Flickr)

The Progressive Conservative premier’s decision to continue online classes was based on polling commissioned from the right-leaning Campaign Research. According to CTV News, the poll found 1,624 people surveyed feared reopening schools would jeopardize the economic reopening.

How many of the B.C. NDP government’s decisions were influenced by its publicly-paid party pollster, Strategic Communications?

The secret is in thousands of pages of polling results that the NDP refuses to show to learned that the government contracted the Vancouver firm, aka Stratcom, to conduct daily polling about the pandemic on a no-bid contract worth $94,986.

In 2019-2020, Stratcom billed taxpayers $358,375. Company founder and CEO Bob Penner is a fellow with the Broadbent Institute, the NDP think-tank behind the Press Progress website that reports on NDP opponents.

Stratcom boss Bob Penner and a Vision campaign sign (Penner)

After a freedom of information request last October, representatives of Government Communications and Public Engagement sent a $150 invoice.

They claimed it would take five hours to prepare the records, but did not give any hint about the amount of pages. successfully applied for a public interest fee waiver. But, three weeks later, the department sent a denial letter, claiming all the records were protected by cabinet secrecy.

According to internal email obtained under a separate FOI request, Stratcom generated as many as 7,000 pages from its polling.

“The material being requested on this file will hold approximately 6,200-7,000 pages,” wrote FOI lead Justin Smith on Nov. 3. “The material is digitized and was prepared by the supplier for GCPE. The findings of this material were presented to cabinet as a whole, not a committee of cabinet. GCPE will be recommending the entirety of this material be redacted under section 12 [the cabinet confidences exception under the FOI law].”

Assistant Deputy Minister Nammi Poorooshasb suggested Nov. 4 to Smith that the fee would be eliminated by reducing the scope to the final survey and top line results, but he still recommended severing due to cabinet confidences.

Smith co-worker Lise Mino suggested two options on Nov. 24: waive the fee and issue an access denied letter or provide options to narrow if a portion of the records could be released.

(Information Access Operations)

On Dec. 7, the day before received the fee waiver, NDP appointee Liam Iliffe, the  the director of special projects and coordination in the GCPE deputy minister’s office weighed-in.

“I have spoken to Don [Zadravec, deputy minister], and we are settled on option 1. I’ll await Nammi’s thoughts to seal the deal,” Iliffe wrote.

Three weeks later, on Dec. 30, the denial letter was sent.

Key questions.

What do the 6,200 to 7,000 pages say and how did Stratcom’s findings influence the NDP’s pandemic response?

How did the first wave polling inform Horgan’s decision to call a snap election in September? 

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating.

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