Doug Ford's PC government pushes its own message with 'Ontario News Now'

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is trying to reach the people without the media’s involvement.

The Tories are now delivering their own message directly to Ontarians with PC-made exclusive news-style content that bypasses the traditional media outlets, while promoting Ford’s political agenda.

On Monday, a sleek 60-second video began surfacing the web showing Lyndsey Vanstone, an advisor to Ford and former radio broadcaster in Toronto, speaking glowingly about Ford’s first month in office.

“Ontario News Now” has its own accounts on social networks including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. “Timely exclusive content on the PC government’s priorities for the people of Ontario,” the account brands itself on Instagram. Meanwhile, it only follows Ford on Twitter.

“Premier Ford attended dozens of events in 30 days and he managed to keep a few campaign promises, too,” Vanstone says in the video featuring footage of a smiling Ford touring the province before he’s seen on camera touting his own accomplishments as premier.

“We said we are going to get rid of cap and trade and the carbon tax, reduce gas prices by 10 cents, we did it,” Ford proclaims in the video. “We said we are going to get rid of the CEO and the board of Hydro (One), we did it. We said we were going to get the kids back in school at York University, we did it.”

While Ford slashes away at policies pushed by the previous Liberal government, Ontarians might be surprised to learn that this new media campaign is being funded by taxpayers, the Toronto Star and Global News have reported.

“We’re using technologies available to us to communicate with the people,” Jeff Silverstein, director of communications for PC Caucus Service, told both the Star and Global.

So far, the message seems to be getting across. As of Wednesday afternoon, the video was viewed more than 20,000 times in just two days on Facebook. But with viewership comes mixed reactions from the public, with some slamming the content as “resembling North Korean TV and others branding it “#FakeNews.”

How many nurses could this propaganda pay for?” Trevor Ashman asked in response to the video on Facebook. “Stop this state sponsored propaganda! Answer the real questions from real journalists,” Adam Corrigan Holowitz wrote. Sharon Vos chimed in: “My tax dollars are paying for this propaganda? I’m outraged. This must stop!”

Others defended Ford’s PC government and their messaging methods.

“Time for Ontarians to pay for this production so we as Ontarians can hear another voice and see another side without the left wing bias,” Michael Muzzin wrote on Facebook. “Finally someone who cares about hard working Canadians,” Teresa Giannatiempo added. “Continue what you were elected to do by the majority of Ontarians,” Charles Ramroop posted. 

The made-for-TV reports appear to be a continuation of what the PCs were doing during the spring election campaign. The Ford team had been running their own website under the “Ford Nation” banner that included their own text, photo and video content.

The PC content came after the Tories made the unusual move of banning journalists from Ford’s tour bus during the campaign, prompting members of the media to raise red flags over a perceived lack of access to the party.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, seen here on July 27, 2018, is being featured in exclusive videos posted on “Ontario News Now,” which calls itself “timely exclusive content on the PC government’s priorities for the people of Ontario.”

In 2004, the Ontario Liberals introduced legislation called the Government Advertising Act, which aimed to get rid of partisan ads funded by taxpayers. Under the law, the auditor general has the authority to reject ads or request changes if they are seen as partisan.

However, this legislation hasn’t stopped the previous Liberal government from spending millions of dollars on partisan ads, as reported by The Canadian Press.

It’s not yet clear whether the auditor general considers this new campaign to be in violation of Ontario legislation. But with a majority government mandate, Ford’s PC party has the ability to change or remove the law, if they so choose.