The tight race in a federal riding on Vancouver Island has resulted in a war of words between two former high school classmates, who both worked on a celebrated environmental documentary film.
Conservative Party of Canada candidate from Courtenay-Alberni Byron Horner is warning Ian McAllister, who is the director of Great Bear Rainforest IMAX Film, that he may be breaking Elections Canada rules in his support of NDP incumbent Gord Johns and his criticism of Horner.
Horner was brought in as an executive producer on the film by Kyle Washington, whose family owns several companies including Seaspan, which funded the documentary.
McAllister and Horner also went high school together — a photo on Horner's website shows them in earlier years together on a trip to Europe, and more recently promoting the film. McAllister doesn't describe Horner as a friend, however.
He's been critical of Horner and says he has been talking up his involvement on the film on the campaign trail to gain votes as a Conservative who cares about the environment and has a good relationship with First Nations.
Now it appears the campaign is striking back. It sent a letter to McAllister, which says Horner's campaign is aware of comments and emails about Horner and his campaign that are "disparaging."
Horner's campaign manager, David Bakker, who signed the letter, said he is urging McAllister to "be careful" in his comments, especially at public speaking engagements.
"Any slanderous and disparaging comments during your presentation will be forwarded to Mr. Horner's legal counsel," it reads.
'Intimidation and bullying'
McAllister, who is also the executive director Pacific Wild, an environmental non-profit organization based out of B.C.'s Central Coast, says he has broken no rules.
"Really it's intimidation and it's bullying and it's insulting," he said about the letter. He's concerned about Horner using footage from the film in his campaign to show he cares for the environment.
"It's extremely unfortunate that the Great Bear Rainforest film is being used by a political candidate for their political purposes," said McAllister.
"It was never meant to be used for political purposes. I kind of feel like it got hijacked."
Third Party rules
Elections Canada put in place new rules for corporations, unions, groups and individuals seeking to actively promote candidates or oppose others.
The goal is to achieve equality in how groups or people spend money on their activism. Those spending over $500 on ads or other activities must register with Elections Canada as third parties, something Bakker wants McAllister to do.
"I just want to make sure everyone is following the rules," said Bakker.
McAllister said he has not spent any money on political advertising, nor has he made any political donations. Pacific Wild is "not a charitable organization, which allows us to engage in advocacy work," the non-profit states on its website.
Posting from personal social media accounts is not a cause to register according to Elections Canada.
"Regardless of your personal influence, if you are not spending money, you do not have to register," it said in an email statement.
In late September, the Heiltsuk First Nation posted on its website concerns that Horner was using footage from the film to promote his campaign and that he was breaking an agreement with the First Nation and others that partnered on the film not to use it for political purposes.
Horner responded to the allegations on his website on Oct. 2, saying he got involved with the film because he cares, "deeply about sustainability." He also said he voluntarily removed all use images or footage from the film from his social media pages, website and printed campaign materials.
Gord Johns was first elected in the new riding of Courtenay-Alberni in 2015. It was created out of Nanaimo-Alberni and Vancouver Island North, which both elected Conservative MPs in 2011.
Bakker said that the letter sent to McAllister is the only warning letter about Elections Canada rules that the campaign has sent out. He did not say if a formal complaint had been made to Elections Canada or the Commissioner of Canada Elections.