The Ontario PC party said Thursday it regrets sending fundraising letters labelled “invoice.” The letters were blasted by opposition parties and those who received them as a scam meant to trick vulnerable people into donating to Premier Doug Ford’s re-election fund.
On Wednesday, Ontario Provincial Police confirmed it had received a complaint about the letters and is now looking into whether or not a criminal investigation should be launched. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has also been notified, CBC News confirmed.
The Ontario NDP, meanwhile, is raising the prospect that the letters may violate the solicitations by mail regulations of the Canada Post Corporation Act. According to that part of the Act, anything that looks like an invoice but isn’t should include a declaration in boldface capital letters explaining that people are not obligated to pay. The PC party’s letters do not appear to have that declaration.
CBC News has contacted Canada Post to see if it is investigating.
Multiple Ontarians with past connections to the PC party got the letters in the mail. The tan envelopes were labelled “important: invoice enclosed” and part of the fundraising appeal was made to look like a standard bill you would get in the mail.
The only line item says “Election Readiness Fund” and listed totals of between $300 and $1,000. Lower down the page, the letter state there is a “balance due.”
The word donation does appear, but only at the bottom of the page. Another part of the letter is a more standard fundraising appeal.
WATCH | ‘It pisses me off,’ says woman who got PC party ‘invoice’ letter:
Members of the public and all three Ontario opposition parties warned that the letters could easily mislead vulnerable people into thinking they owed the governing party money.
The PC party, which did not comment on the matter Wednesday, vowed in a statement this morning that something like this “will not happen again.”
“At no time was it our intention to mislead our valued supporters,” read the one-paragraph statement.
CBC News is following up with questions about how many letters were sent out and what the party will do about any funds it raised from the letters.
Ford’s office has not commented on the letters and whether or not the premier signed off on them.
PC party confirms its vendor sent letters
The PC party statement said one of its vendors was responsible for sending the letters. Tony Miele, chair of the PC Ontario Fund, confirmed in an interview with Global News that the company was Responsive Marketing Group (RMG).
Miele wouldn’t say who approved RMG’s letters, saying only those are “internal party matters” that will be reviewed.
RMG is a Toronto-based company with a long history of working with Conservative campaigns and bills itself as “Canada’s preeminent integrated political marketing services company.”
CBC News has called and sent multiple emails to the company about its apparent involvement since Wednesday, but has received no response.
The Ontario NDP said in a news release that the PC party should disclose more details about its dealings with RMG, which was embroiled in the 2011 robocall scandal during the federal election that year.
In that instance, three former RMG employees admitted to making automatic phone calls to voters. The calls shared fake information about where people should cast their ballots, and some members of the public reported being harassed over the phone.
The NDP forwarded data from Elections Ontario showing that the PC party paid RMG $1.7 million for fundraising and outreach work in the last two years.
“Why is Doug Ford associating with, much less paying $1.7 million to this company? And what is Doug Ford buying with these $1.7 million in contracts?” asked NDP ethics critic Taras Natyshak in an email statement.