Controversial anti-immigration billboards in support of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party Of Canada were posted and quickly taken down this week. The signs were posted in cities across Canada with the slogan “Say NO to Mass Immigration.”
But you might’ve noticed a vaguely familiar name in the bottom corner of many of these billboard — Pattison.
That’s because the billboards are owned by Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the out-of-home-advertising division of B.C. businessman Jim Pattison’s empire.
In a statement Sunday, the company walked back the billboards and noted that the ads will come down as soon as possible.
“It was never my or Pattison Outdoor’s intention to offend, alienate or in any way insult the public by allowing this ad to be run,” company president Randy Otto wrote, adding that the company would review its advocacy guidelines.
But why is the Pattison name seemingly everywhere in Canada? Let’s explain.
Who can buy political billboards in Canada?
First, how does billboard advertising in Canada work when it comes to elections?
While Bernier has said he agrees with the billboards’ anti-immigrant messaging, they were not paid for by Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, but rather a third party. In this case True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp. purchased the advertising space from Pattison Outdoor Advertising to promote Bernier’s party.
After facing initial criticism for the billboards, Pattison Outdoor Advertising issued a statement suggesting that they reviewed the ad content and it did not violate the Ad Standards of Canada (ASC) code or their own policies. However, they still agreed to take the ads down after facing backlash.
What is Pattison Outdoor Advertising and why does it matter?
If you see a billboard, bus stop ad or post out on the street in Canada’s major cities, more likely than not it’s owned by Pattison.
Seriously, start looking closely. They’re EVERYWHERE.
Pattison Outdoors started in 1998 when several advertising wings of Pattison’s companies merged together. Since then, its grown immensely, and is now Canada’s largest out-of-home advertising company. It holds more than half of the national market share in horizontal posters and a third market share of all traditional out-of-home media, which refers to advertising seen by consumers outside of their homes.
The company has contracts with airports, public transit authorities, shopping malls and ferry services in basically every major city across Canada.
The Bernier billboard situation isn’t the first time the company has faced controversy. In 2012, they faced blowback after rejecting anti-oil advertisement proposed by Greenpeace in downtown Edmonton with seemingly no explanation.
“We see hundreds of billboards by CAPP, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, running right across the country talking about how tailings are just like yogurt, and yet when you try to put up an ad in Alberta talking about the threats of oil spills, and the potential benefits of green jobs and renewable energy, that ad gets rejected,” Mike Hudema from Greenpeace told the CBC at the time.
Pattison Outdoor Advertising released an official statement of “no comment” at the time.
Who is Jim Pattison?
Jim Pattison is a Vancouver-based businessman and entrepreneur. The mogul will turn 91 this October and is one of the richest people in the world.
According to Forbes magazine’s 2019 rankings, Pattison is the fifth richest person in Canada and has an estimated net worth of $5.5 billion. He owns companies that work in advertising, media, logging, food service and auto sales. He owns supermarket chain Save-On Foods and the companies behind the Guiness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
He’s also a media mogul. The Jim Pattison broadcast group encompasses dozens of radio stations and local news outlets across B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
And, as discussed above, he owns a lot of billboards.
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What’s Pattison’s political past?
Pattison once said he donated 10 per cent of his annual income to political and charitable causes, including hospitals In 2009, he gave $100,000 to the CBC to rent high-definition trucks to broadcast Vancouver Canucks play-off games from St. Louis.
Both Pattison individually, and his various companies have also made sizable donations to Canadian political parties.
Since 1997, Pattison and more than a dozen companies bearing his name have given around $140,000 to Canadian political parties. Just over a third of that was at the federal level.
Most recently, in 2017, Pattison himself gave $1,368 to the Liberal Party of Canada. Past donations have gone to the federal Conservatives, B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP.