Dan Fumano: Vancouver developer behind an anonymous political advertiser

Column: Views of Vancouver has spent tens of thousands of dollars since last year on online advertising, including political attack ads, but has been anonymous until now.

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The Views of Vancouver Facebook page does not hide its contempt for Mayor Kennedy Stewart. Between innocuous posts celebrating the city, the site takes a shot at the mayor, claiming he has failed to bring homelessness and crime under control and has “destroyed Vancouver.”

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A message says that “Vancouver has a terrible new reputation” as “the city where random muggings are rife.” Another said: ‘Our city is no longer safe like it used to be.

Views of Vancouver describes itself as “a grassroots organization,” but its Facebook page and website contain no information on who is behind it or who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on digital political advertising to reach hundreds of thousands of people. constituents of Vancouver.

Views of Vancouver had openly encouraged the Nonpartisan Association, calling it “the only party that will tackle crime and implement a serious plan” and praising John Coupar, who was, until recently, the mayoral candidate of the NPA. But NPA leadership says it has “no connection” with Views of Vancouver and only discovers the website promoting the party, its candidates and events when the material is published.

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Postmedia News has confirmed that the person responsible for the site is local real estate magnate Peter Wall.

“Views of Vancouver is us, I started it,” he told me.

Many of the issues highlighted in Views of Vancouver are important to Wall personally.

In June, Views of Vancouver spent $1,800 promoting a Facebook ad stating, “Instead of closing streets, we need to reduce congestion by opening West Point Gray to traffic again.

In a recent phone conversation, Wall, who lives on West Point Gray Road, referred to the bike lane that closed part of that street to car traffic. He also raised the topic of raw sewage and polluting False Creek runoff.

Another Views of Vancouver ad, which ran in June, stated, “John Coupar was the only mayoral candidate who prioritized real change. His plan as mayor of the NPA is to tackle Vancouver’s dirty little secret: the dumping of raw sewage into False Creek, which is making surrounding waters dirty and dangerous.

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At the NPA’s campaign launch event in May this year, Coupar, then the party’s mayoral candidate, said his administration would “restore our reputation as the cleanest, greenest city in North America.” North, starting by addressing our dirty little secret: the problem of millions upon millions of gallons of raw sewage being dumped into False Creek.

A philanthropist who has donated to a variety of local causes large and small, Wall often speaks openly about his love for Vancouver and his concerns about its challenges, including homelessness, mental health and addiction.

Peter Wall, photographed in Vancouver in 2006.
Peter Wall, photographed in Vancouver in 2006. Photo by Gerry Kahrmann /Province

“I would like to wake up Vancouver to start asking questions and demanding answers for some of the stupid things we do. And let’s celebrate some of the good stuff,” Wall said of his goals for Views of Vancouver. “We are not trying to influence anyone.”

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Facebook records show Views of Vancouver has spent $20,952 on dozens of ads since last year, largely political posts criticizing Stewart and supporting the NPA and Coupar. While this far exceeds the third-party political ad limit of $11,588, the timing of Views’ Facebook ad means it falls outside of the pre-election period when third-party advertising rules come into effect.

Wall was a big part of the NPA’s May campaign launch featuring Coupar. But the day Coupar abruptly dropped out of the race in early August, Wall told me he blamed the NPA board, saying “John had to quit, because they were working against him.”

Speaking last week, Wall said he wanted to be clear that he did not support the current leadership of the NPA.

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Views of Vancouver hasn’t posted any messages supporting the NPA since Coupar’s departure, but has continued to run paid ads about homeless encampments in the Downtown Eastside, encouraging people to “sign our petition if you want some help.” change in our city.

In the months leading up to Coupar’s resignation, Views of Vancouver had published information about NPA events, including photos from the party’s May campaign launch, and promoted a “meet and welcome” in June with the NPA candidates in the Wall Center pavilion. These posts appeared on the Views of Vancouver Facebook page as of August 3, but appear to have since been deleted.

Views of Vancouver does not appear to have promoted events or official messages from political parties or candidates other than the NPA.

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NPA President David Mawhinney said his party “has no connection with Views of Vancouver.”

“They may have promoted the NPA events, but the NPA had no prior knowledge or connection to it,” Mawhinney said.

There is a name to run an entity that claims to be a grassroots organization while obscuring its funding source and organizers. It’s called “astroturfing,” as in something that seems to be popular, but isn’t.

An entity like Views of Vancouver, which has more than 18,000 Facebook followers, deserves attention and scrutiny, said Ahmed Al-Rawi, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who studies social media and online political activity.

“This type of astroturfing activity is, in my opinion, more influential than normal advertising…. They could actually be more influential than any type of direct political party promotional marketing.

This is because people are more likely to trust and pay attention to information from a supposedly grassroots community organization than advertising from a political party, Al-Rawi said. He cited the example of “astroturfing”, including from Russian sources, which is widely believed to have influenced the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

In addition to his philanthropy and business success, Wall is known for putting his money to work in politics.

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