July 6, 2019 Opinion by Darren Clarke
In many ways I am a simple guy. I like ice cream, jangly guitars, cool breezes on warm days, and I hate it when people lie to my Mom.
And Ontario Proud lies to my Mom, not to mention my aunt, my brother, and that Facebook friend I don’t actually know or remember adding. They lie to them a lot.
Ontario Proud uses a variety of different methods to get in your house but, as always, they have to be invited in. One of Ontario Proud’s posts that often manages to engage my friends and relatives is a series of pictures celebrating many of Canada’s natural wonders- lakes, coastline, oceans, “Share if you are Canada Proud.”
It seems so innocuous right? What could be wrong with celebrating the beauty of Canada? The thing is, that’s not really what they do.
To give you a better idea of what Ontario Proud, “For the Many not the Few,” actually does as a social media influencer I dove into their June content.
Scrolling through Ontario Proud’s Facebook page posts from June it takes a moment to get the larger narrative being created via the seemingly diverse collection of stories: A report of kittens being thrown from a car on the highway, a story about a sex cult at a foster home, snow in Quebec on June the 2nd, the Toronto Raptors parade, Ontario strawberry season, Justin Trudeau and plastic, the NDP suggesting they would let 14-year olds vote, a nostalgic meme remembering the great, lost, discount store, Bi-Way.
At first glance it seems all over the map. That is until you break down the hundreds of articles into simple groupings-
Keep in mind when I was tallying the posts I elected to pick just one category for the post to be attached to. Clearly though Ontario Proud aims for more than one bird with every stone, i.e. one article managed to disparage Justin Trudeau for his desire to limit plastic use while simultaneously suggesting his tolerance of terrorists. Picking a specific category for a post is to an extent a subjective exercise but in the end the broader implications are obvious. Take the recurring posts of the video clip wherein Justin Trudeau is struggling to answer a question about his own plastic use. It could be viewed as a personal attack on Trudeau, it could be viewed as an attack on his efforts to reduce use of plastics, it could be viewed as simply relaying that his views aren’t fully formed on the topic. Whatever you want to classify it as individually the recurring post is clearly designed to negatively reflect upon the Liberal Party.
This is the art of the Ontario Proud lie. It’s distortion through proportion. It’s persuading through inflaming. The lie is not being overt about who they are and who anybody else is. What Ontario Proud amounts to is a Conservative Party attack dog. Not only does Ontario Proud allow the party to in essence circumvent campaign finance laws it allows for a level of loose-with-the-truth mud slinging that traditionally political parties have been reluctant to engage in. Why? Well, the fear would be that sooner or later decent people will reject being associated with rampant negativity and dishonesty.
In the About section on their Facebook page Ontario Proud defines itself as a, “non-profit, media, community organization.” The actual webpage for Ontario Proud brings their purpose into focus more clearly, “Ontario Proud is standing up for working Ontarians. We’re fighting for affordable government, holding our politicians accountable and working to defeat our failed prime minister, Justin Trudeau.”
For more clarity we would want to look at who runs and who funds Ontario Proud. Ontario Proud and Canada Proud are both run by Jeff Ballingall. A Macleans magazine article from 2018 noted, “Before he founded Ontario Proud, Ballingall held several political jobs in the Harper government. He was a video specialist for the Conservative caucus and ran communications for Jim Prentice, who was then the minister of western economic diversification, until 2009. Subsequently, he spent a year as Toronto city councillor John Parker’s executive assistant and two years working for Sun Media.”
In the wake of their profound impact on the last Ontario provincial election the CBC’s Mike Crawley found that Ontario Proud served as an outlet for corporations looking to influence Doug Ford’s Conservatives defeating Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, “After corporate donations to parties were banned companies shifted donations to anti-Wynne group.”
Crawley began his article noting-
“Ontario Proud, a group credited with helping Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives win the provincial election, received nearly $460,000 in corporate donations to fund its campaign efforts, new documents reveal.
Development companies and construction firms contributed the bulk of Ontario Proud’s election campaign funding, according to the group’s newly submitted report to Elections Ontario.”
Given Crawley’s article also notes that Ontario Proud leveraged a publicly available list of Conservative donors to seek out funding it’s not hard to see Ontario Proud as a crude extension of the Conservative Party. It’s for the few, not the many, but manipulating the many is the job.
Consider that June was quite the month for Doug Ford and his Conservative government. Somehow though, despite framing themselves as members of the media and averaging about five political posts a day Ontario Proud managed to not relay to its’ followers any of the numerous troubling matters concerning the Ford government. The Dean French Nepotism scandal, the near one-million dollars of tax payer money spent fighting a losing battle against the carbon tax in court (never mind the billions lost via pulling out of the previous government’s Cap and Trade model and the 30-million he has earmarked for fighting the carbon tax to allow for disseminating misinformation to the public), the report that the Ford government deliberately spread misinformation about the impact of their changes to the provincial autism program, the longest summer vacation taken by a provincial government in almost 25-years and significant cuts to legal aid. There’s more of course but you get the point. The entirety of the attention provided to these and other Ford government negatives that played out in June was reflected on Ontario Proud’s Facebook page to the tune of precisely one article praising the carbon tax fight and one share of an article on the Dean French situation from one of Ontario Proud’s favourite sources, conservative cheerleader and sex crime chasers, The Post Millenial, that amounted to, “In a statement released this afternoon, Doug Ford thanked French “for his hard work, his leadership and his friendship.” The article then mentioned that this was a “breaking story,” and more information would follow. Two weeks later, no information followed. (note- as of May 2019, Ontario/Canada Proud’s Jeff Ballingall was announced as Chief Marketing Officer for The Post Millenial)
June was also a month in which Ontario Proud posted 18 articles related to the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors. Despite this they managed to miss one of the months’ significant demonstrations of the many’s feelings which took place at the Raptors Championship Parade on June 17th- Conservative Premier Doug Ford being uniformly, overwhelmingly, booed by seemingly the entirety of the thousands of people amassed in Nathan Phillips Square when he was introduced on stage. Ontario Proud, the same unit that had posted multiple articles revelling in small, mostly-imagined, rejections of Prime Minister Trudeau at various political functions, did not manage to convey this event on its’ Facebook page instead choosing to run the next day with a few posts framing the Liberal government under Trudeau as hypocritical for suggesting there was a climate crisis while still choosing to fly in planes.
Given this willful perversion of political happening the following charts should come as no surprise in terms of what happens when Ontario Proud looks to, “hold our politicians accountable.”
That’s a total of 14 articles of positive news spins for the Conservatives, 0 for the Liberals, 0 for the NDP. When it came to negative stories Ontario Proud really went to work with 107 Anti-Liberal stories over the month, 5 for the NDP and of course 0 for the Conservatives.
Now, Ontario Proud proposes itself to be acting in the interests of the little guy in their fight for affordable government. So you would expect the bulk of their June content to reflect that right?
Not so much. Ontario Proud’s obsession with Trudeau’s efforts to reduce plastic use in Canada is truly breathtaking. To a point I don’t really get it. Is reducing the use of plastic really that crazy of an idea? It should also be mentioned that five Ontario Proud posts were dedicated to the recurring narrative of Trudeau, “skipping,” a fallen soldier’s funeral/repatriation ceremony. This narrative however appears to fall flat when held up to the light. A former repatriation officer, Captain Wayne Johnston*, noted in response to these posts, “At no time has any Prime Minister attended a repatriation ceremony, ever full stop. The protocol simply wouldn’t allow it and for good reason. The sad task falls to the Governor General of Canada, as she is Head of State, and Commander and Chief of the Forces.”
Which brings us to the means by which Ontario Proud looks to manipulate the Facebook algorithm to appear on our feeds. Clickbait. Clickbait, the modern day candy offering your parents warned you about as a kid.
“Hey kid, want a story about Spiderman blocking traffic?”
Given 23% of Ontario Proud’s June content could be filed under General Clickbait it’s telling to see what they thought would get the levels of views and engagement they need to further their brand and encourage engagement with their partisan agenda. The Raptors, snow in June, Spiderman, Sex/Violent crimes.
Come for the sex cult clickbait, stay for the orgy or partisan hate.
Ontario Proud, like the email from a Nigerian Prince notifying you of your lost inheritance, or the one from, “your bank,” telling you your account has been compromised, just wants you to engage.
Why? So they can take something from you.
Ontario Proud’s agenda is- Power for the Conservative party as a means to allow the rich and powerful that fund them to continue to accrue disproportionate wealth.
Want to understand why the Clean Water Act, public health care and the Green Belt have all been under threat by Conservative governments? Want to know why minimum wage hikes have been stalled and everyday costs for everyday people are on the rise? Because with the Conservatives in power the people that fund them and Ontario Proud are able to increase their wealth at the cost of diminishing our quality of life.
And it would be one thing if we were having meaningful public discourse about the larger realities of parties in terms of their past and present manifestations. If we were talking about the large scale deficits accrued not just by Justin Trudeau but Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney, if we were talking about the concerted efforts to undermine the public healthcare system in Canada (a public healthcare system that has massive support from the populace) by both the Liberal and Conservative parties, if we were talking about the environmental challenges that all parties have struggled to meet. But that’s not what is happening here.
It’s Spider Man and personal attacks as a means to get unchecked power. Ontario Proud seeks to inflame debate so as to prevent us from having real, nuanced conversations about what kind of government best represents the real interests of the many.Beyond the general clickbait there is the pro-Canada hyperbole. The kind that gets my Mother and my friends to share and like a post so that they are on the hook for the full onslaught of Ontario Proud propaganda going forward. There were by my count, twenty-three of these kind of posts in June. And it’s here where we get into the notion of what Canada is through the lens of Ontario Proud. In their pro-Canada posts we can see their limited vision of Canada as a nation being defined by the military, police, firefighters, basketball teams. And I am not here to say they aren’t a part of Canada, of course they are, and honest appreciation for their contributions is understandable. The idea though that they are the totality of what positively defines Canada is disturbing on many levels but mainly because teachers, scientists, doctors, organized labour, protestors, people that serve coffee, janitors, guitar teachers, etc. a whole wide range of people from across the workforce have contributed in big and small ways to making Canada Canada and they deserve meaningful appreciation as well.
Where exactly did we come up with the idea that what is Canadian is defined predominately by the sports teams, the military and the police? And ask yourself, historically, what kind of organizations suggest that a group of people can only be defined by sports, military and policing?
Like I said, I am a simple guy. I like long walks on the beach, greasy pizza, catching long fly balls and people not lying to the folks I care about (and my friend on Facebook that I duck at the grocery store). So, when I see that Ontario Proud post about Canada’s natural wonders, our fresh water, our coast line, the oceans that surround us I simply know that much like the Nigerian Prince doesn’t want to make me rich and the pretend bank doesn’t really want to provide security for my account, Ontario Proud doesn’t really want to make Canada better.
* Wayne Johnston and his position can be easily verified via a number of sources however the quote comes from his Facebook page. Governor General Michelle Jean’s website does go a long ways to providing support for the claim, “As Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces… She assists the families of fallen soldiers, including in over 150 heartbreaking repatriation ceremonies.”