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Canadians Should Steer Clear of Foreign Political Campaigns, Says Professor

But BC lobbyist, NDP MP defend involvement in Ukraine, US.

Jeremy Nuttall 2 Sep 2016TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

The resignation of Donald Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort amid controversy over his work in Ukraine should be a warning for Canadian political operatives plying their trade in other countries, says a Canadian political science professor.

University of Toronto professor Nelson Wiseman said Canadians would likely not welcome foreigners playing a role in our elections, so Canadians should stay out of the affairs of other nations.

“What if the Republican party had decided to send 50 people during the last election to work on the Conservative campaign?” he said. “There would have been outrage.”

But two Canadians who have worked in other countries – one as a volunteer and one as a hired consultant – don’t see any problems.

Manafort resigned last month as Trump’s campaign chair as reports raised questions about his work in the Ukraine with former president Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. Among the concerns was an alleged US$12.7 million “off the books” payment earmarked for Manafort from the party.

Wiseman said the unproven allegations illustrate the risks for Canadians if they get involved in the politics of other countries. “When you're abroad you're covered by the laws of that country,” he said. A new government can level allegations – or charges – against rivals’ political advisors, he noted.

But Brad Zubyk, a Vancouver-based lobbyist and business consultant with a political background, said many Canadians are working in politics in other countries without problems.

Zubyk also worked for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in 2007 when Manafort was advising the party.

Zubyk, who has advised on campaigns for the BC Liberals and NDP, Vision Vancouver and the federal Liberals, said he has done international work for many businesses, but won't talk about his clients.

Likewise he said he knew Manafort, but wouldn't say if he had worked with him.

Zubyk said many westerners do such work and “Canadians are actually preferred.”

Canadians working as political consultants abroad have connections to the Liberals, New Democrats and Conservatives, he said.

“There's a whole slew of Canadians,” he said. “You'd be surprised.”

Wiseman said his concerns don't stop at hired consultants. Canadian politicians have also showed up to play roles in other country's elections, he noted.

Manitoba New Democrat MP Niki Ashton was criticized in June after heading to North Dakota to campaign for U.S. Democrat presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for a day.

“How would she feel if people from the North Dakota Republican party came up to campaign against her in her riding?” Wiseman asked.

But Ashton told The Tyee foreign advisors are already involved in Canadian campaigns, pointing to the Conservatives’s consultations with controversial Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby during last year's election.

Ashton said the attention she received for going to North Dakota on a Sunday afternoon was mostly from right-wing media outlets that largely ignored former prime minister Stephen Harper’s speech to a Republican event hosted by right-wing gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson in April.

She said like-minded politicians need to support their colleagues, even if they're outside of the border.

“I have found the Bernie Sanders campaign inspiring as a Canadian,” she said. “The issues that he was fighting for and has been fighting for relate entirely to our reality in Canada, whether its saving working class jobs or fighting for Indigenous rights.”

Ashton also said she was there to see what she could learn from the Sanders campaign.

She said she didn't meet any Americans who were surprised or offended when she told them she was a Canadian.

Wiseman said the intervention of Canadian politicians or operatives in foreign campaigns Canada could spark a backlash.

“What if the NDP gets elected in the future and you've got a Republican administration knowing that some of your elected people have come down and campaigned for the other side?” he said. “What's that going to make for relations?”

But Ashton doesn't think it's a problem in an increasingly global world.

“I don't see how that would be an issue,” she said. “I think we should be encouraging people go beyond their borders and support progressive movements.”  [Tyee]

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