OTTAWA — A conservative political advocacy group that was instrumental in taking down the Liberals in Ontario is going national, aiming to do to Justin Trudeau what it did to Kathleen Wynne.
But the arrival of Ontario Proud on the federal scene renews questions about when political advocacy crosses the line into collusion with a political party, enabling the party to raise and spend more money than legally allowed and, in the process, undoing decades of effort to neutralize the influence of big money on Canadian elections.
Ontario Proud was founded by Jeff Ballingall, a digitally savvy former Harper-era Conservative staffer and erstwhile employee of the short-lived Sun News Network.
It unabashedly promoted Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in last spring’s Ontario election, using social media to create viral videos and memes that mercilessly mocked Wynne before shifting to attack the NDP once polls showed the premier’s party cratering.
In a “victory update” to supporters in June, Ballingall boasted that Ontario Proud’s Facebook content was viewed almost 67 million times — more interactions than the Facebook pages of the three main parties, their leaders, the unions and all other political advocacy groups “combined!”
The group ran “an aggressive voter contact campaign” to identify Progressive Conservative supporters and mobilize them to vote, by way of one million-plus text messages and 2.5 million phone calls. It hired “street teams” to hand out 15,000 brochures and mailed out 600 “unplug Wynne” lawn signs.