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HomeNewsExclusive: NDP, Vision agency behind Yes campaign for proportional representation

Exclusive: NDP, Vision agency behind Yes campaign for proportional representation

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Bob Mackin

The NDP and Vision Vancouver consulting firm behind the failed TransLink tax plebiscite is involved in the Yes campaign for this fall’s proportional representation referendum.

But nobody from Strategic Communications or Vote PR BC wanted to talk about it.

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

Vote PR BC is receiving $500,000 in public funds from Elections BC for the campaign. It can raise up to $200,000 more in donations from individuals. Spending is capped at $700,000. The same subsidy and same rules apply to the No B.C. Proportional Representation Society.

The robocall, telephone town hall and polling specialist that is also known as Stratcom was paid $1,056,153 by TransLink for voter contact on the losing Yes campaign in the transit expansion plebiscite in 2015.

Last week, a robocall survey about proportional representation was conducted by a company calling itself Strategic Research, aka Stratresearch. Nobody from the toll-free hotline or email address on the robocall recording or Stratresearch website responded to theBreaker.

Stratcom CEO Bob Penner did not respond to an interview request. theBreaker asked Stratcom president Matt Smith about his company’s involvement in the Vote PR BC campaign and whether Stratresearch is owned by or otherwise affiliated with Stratcom.

A Stratcom toll-free number is recycled by the Yes campaign in the B.C. proportional representation referendum.

“We don’t comment publicly on our work,” said an email from Smith, who is based at the Toronto Stratcom office.

The phone number listed on the privacy page of Vote PR BC’s website was previously used by Stratcom when it conducted a vote for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in early 2017. 

theBreaker also wanted to know who commissioned the Stratresearch robocall survey.

Vote PR BC’s Maria Dobrinskaya and Lesli Boldt did not respond to questions about the survey or Vote PR BC’s relationship with Stratcom and Stratresearch.

Dobrinskaya and Boldt are veterans of Vision Vancouver and NDP campaigns. The Boldt Communications office was once co-located with Stratcom and Vision Vancouver in a building owned by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson.

Antony Hodgson is the president of the Make Every Vote Count Society and Fair Voting BC. The University of B.C. professor responded, but did not deny his campaign’s use of Stratcom or that it commissioned the survey by Stratresearch.

“We are using the services of a number of firms and contractors over the course of the campaign – from designers to Internet service providers,” Hodgson wrote in an email. “As a matter of course, we don’t make a practice of talking about the mechanics of our campaign, though, of course, we will be filing all required documents and disclosures in due course.”

Make Every Vote Count’s Dobrinskaya (left), Boldt and Hodgson (Twitter)

Hodgson did not respond to follow-up questions. Fair Voting BC’s website states the group supports “improvements in operating practices of elected bodies aimed at making government more representative, inclusive, transparent and accountable…”

Stratcom is on the NDP government’s preferred suppliers’ list for polling assignments. Robb Gibbs, the assistant deputy minister of government communications, denied his office commissioned the survey by Stratresearch.

Stratcom’s early investors included Vision Vancouver bagman Joel Solomon and Working Enterprises. 

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission fined Stratcom $10,000 in 2013 after the company made unsolicited phone calls using an auto-dialling device in January 2012 without providing the name and address of the person on whose behalf the call was made in the messages.

During the 2015 federal election, The Province found Stratcom was paying Punjabi-speakers $13-an-hour to make phone calls on behalf of the NDP, instead of the $17 rate offered to English speaking applicants. After the newspaper found out, Penner pledged to pay the Punjabi speakers the same rate as English speakers. 

Coincidentally, NDP-aligned lobbyist Bill Tieleman rents office space from Stratcom. Tieleman, one of the three co-founders of the No B.C. Proportional Representation Society, told theBreaker that the No campaign is looking for office space for the fall. 

“Strategic Communications has absolutely nothing to do with our No campaign, directly or indirectly, nor its subsidiaries, goods or services, nor from any employee or contractor of the firm,” Tieleman said. 

The referendum campaign period began July 1. Mail-in voting on whether to change from first-past-the-post provincial elections in B.C. runs from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30.

  • Click the player below to listen to the Stratresearch robocall survey. 

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