Ontario News Now promos several companies whose execs donated to PC Party

By Allison Smith July 29, 2019

Ontario News Now, the Ford government’s promotional arm, has churned out several videos promoting companies run by executives who have donated to the PC Party.

Most recently that includes ONN’s spotlight on Pelee Island Winery, in which Premier Doug Ford and local PC MPP Rick Nicholls tour the vineyard and production facility.

Nicholls boasts about its job creation potential and calls Pelee Island’s product “some of the finest wine people in the province will ever find, even worldwide.” Ford tells Ontarians to “go out and buy a bottle of Pelee Island wine” and promises the brand will be “coming to a convenience store close to you.”

It aired July 28, two weeks after Pelee’s president Walter Schmoranz made a $1,000 donation to the PC Party on July 12, according to Elections Ontario’s database. Schmoranz also appears in the video.

The vintner issued an apology on Twitter Monday after #BoycottPeleeWinery started trending, saying it met with Ford to talk about the future of the industry and tax policy. “We apologize that this goal is not being focused on.”

Schmoranz has been vocal about his hopes for wine retail expansion in the past. In 2015, he called the province’s current system “completely messed up” in an interview with the Windsor Star. Pelee Island Winery is also a member of Ontario Craft Wineries, a registered lobbying group that is pushing for the “growth and profitability” of Ontario’s wine sector “through strategic partnership and authoritative trusted advocacy.”

The premier’s office said Ford was not aware of any donation made by Schmoranz.

Since October, ONN has shone the spotlight on four other businesses run by contributors to the PC Party, based on an analysis by Queen’s Park Today.

  • Jim Kranendonk, president of Curtainsider Inc., a trailer manufacturer headquartered in Paris, Ontario, and Mike Scharringa, president of Dutch Mill Gardens, a family-operated flower farm in Lynden, make cameos in a July 26 video about the government’s efforts to reduce regulatory red tape.

    • Kranendonk donated $500 to the PC Party in 2018 and $500 to the Brantford—Brant PC riding association in 2017, Elections Ontario records show.

    • Edward Scharringa, founder of Dutch Mill Gardens, gave the PCs $300 in 2018 and $115 in 2015.

  • Patriot Forge, a Brantford-based metal supply firm, got the ONN treatment on April 1 after Ford toured the factory and pressed the flesh with workers.

    • The company’s founder, John M. Dimitrieff, donated $1,200 to the PCs in 2018 and $500 in 2017. His son Robert now runs the company.

  • Automatic Coating Ltd. was one of the companies featured in a video published on October 24 that was filmed at a press conference where three of Ford’s ministers touted plans to repeal segments of Bill 148, the ex-Liberal government’s sweeping labour law. Critics said the Ford government’s changes tipped the scales in favour of businesses and away from workers.

    • The coating shop is run by Brad Bamford, who contributed $1,050 to the party this year and $864 to now-Finance Minister Rod Phillips’ general election bid in 2018.

    • His partner Jocelyn Bamford — who appears in the video saying the PC’s favourite line, “promises made, promises kept” — has so far given the party $1,050 in 2019. She also contributed to Phillips’ campaign last year to the tune of $1,222.

    • Numerous business owners were invited to the event, not all of whom made contributions to the Ontario PC Party.

The first two videos feature friendly tours of the companies’ facilities and were not part of any official government news announcements. No media advisories were issued about these tours, even though both feature the premier (Ford’s itinerary is not made public).

ONN does not disclose that any of the companies’ owners or founders are PC donors.

Ontario News Now is bankrolled by taxpayers through the quasi-partisan caucus services bureau, which isn’t subject to freedom-of-information requests and certain public disclosure requirements. (Limited financial info, such as third-party contracts over $50,000, may be released in the annual public accounts.)

The revelation comes as the Ford government takes flak on questionable lobbying and public appointments.

“As the Premier has always said, no one can buy Doug Ford,” Ford’s press secretary Ivana Yelich reiterated in an email to Queen’s Park Today.

“The Premier meets with small business owners from across the province on a regular basis and promotes small businesses in Ontario at every opportunity,” and will continue to do so, Yelich added.

This story has been corrected to clarify that Ontario News Now did not tour Automatic Coating Ltd. The October 24 ONN video was actually filmed at a press conference the government held in a separate location to promote changes it made to the Liberal-era Bill 148, and was not a promo for Bill 148.