Ontario Proud election ad campaign bankrolled by big corporations

By Sabrina Nanji December 12, 2018

Ontario Proud’s biggest donors are real estate developers and construction companies.

The anti-Wynne small-c conservative political advocacy group’s filings with Elections Ontario — which were made public for the first time Friday — show home builder Mattamy Homes contributed $100,000 to organization. The second-biggest donors were Merit Ontario, a construction contractor association, and Vaughan-based developer Nashville Developments, which each gave $50,000. Another development firm, Opportunities Asia, forked out $30,000. A bunch of real estate firms and construction companies donated $10,000 apiece.

In the six months leading up to the writ, Ontario Proud spent $375,248 on ads; during the month-long campaign it spent a little more than $72,000, for a total of over $447,400. The meme machine spent $127,902 to advertise on Facebook, which showed Ontarians political ads as part of a pilot project aimed at boosting transparency at a time when the social media giant was facing mounting flak over election meddling.

Of the total $512,298 Ontario Proud received in contributions, $53,198 came from individuals and $459,100 was from corporations. Donations under $100 aren’t recorded.

A third party can spend $610,800 in the six months before the writ and $101,800 during the campaign. There are no limits on the amount of money a third party can receive for the purpose of political advertising.

The numbers call into question Ontario Proud founder Jeff Ballingall’s previous claims that the majority of the organization’s revenues came from small donors.

In media interviews, Ballingall has repeatedly said the majority of Ontario Proud’s funding came from small donations. In 2017, he told Canadaland the money came from “Small businesses, a lot of people giving $100 or $200, $300, that kind of thing,” adding there were “no massive donors.”

Ballingall said Tuesday the largest donations came in toward the end of the campaign and maintains a majority of donors are small scale. Most five-figure donations came in May, with a couple in March.

“We were able to talk about issues in a fun way, a different way, a way that’s never really been done before in Ontario politics before,” Ballingal told Global News Tuesday, a reference to the group’s knack for driving social media engagement using memes — some of which were deemed offensive.

Some of Ontario Proud’s other corporate donors that forked over at least $2,000 include Ballantry Homes, real estate developer Braylea Investments, construction company Shiplake Properties, Basecrete, Davie Real Estate, Denford Estates, investment firms Callian Capital and Fulcrum, Lakeview Homes, Riva Plumbing, public relations firm Grosso McCarthy and Triple M Metal Corp., to name a few.

That the big spenders are mostly in the housing development industry raised eyebrows on social media, with some drawing parallels to the changes proposed in Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, that advocates warn will open up the protected Greenbelt to builders.

Ontario Proud massively out-financed and out-spent the only competing social media third-party group on the left side of the political spectrum, North 99. North 99 spent $3,645 on all its election advertising and brought in $5,532 in donations.

Here are some of the big third-party spenders (including pre- and post-writ spending):

  • The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario spent $693,686.

  • The Ontario Medical Association spent $596,652.

  • Working Families spent $282,500.

  • Unifor spent $211,644.

  • The Ontario Nurses Association spent $75,645.

  • The Ontario Federation of Labour spent just under $40,000.

  • Jim Karahalios spent about $16,000.

  • The Ontario Real Estate Association spent $202,228 (OREA’s initial statement showed more than $173,000 spent during the campaign period, but the group said an error was made during the auditing process and it has re-filed updated receipts with Elections Ontario.)

Political parties spent big bucks on advertising too

The Tories spent the least, $4.6 million on its advertising campaign, with the New Democrats forking out about $5.3 million and the Liberals spending over $5.6 million.

High-profile PC donors who gave the maximum $1,200 include Gavin Tighe, the Ford family lawyer who was recently appointed chair of the Public Accountants Council; Peter Van Loan, now-retired MP who has signed up to lobby the provincial government; Fredrik Eaton, businessman and diplomat of the famed Eaton family, and members of Canada’s frozen yogurt family, the Serruyas.

Many of the top Ontario PC Party donors are also real estate developers and prominent capital firms. Real estate heavyweights Brad LambRichard Cornblum, members of the Taggart family (which owns development company the Taggart Group of Companies), and embattled developer Vince Petrozza were also feeling generous toward the Tories and donated at least $1,000. One Randy Ford donated $200.

Parties had to deal with $1,200 donation caps for the first time this election cycle, but the Tories have already moved to raise the limit an individual can contribute to $1,600.

The Liberals did not file campaign contributions. The party will include those earnings in its annual report, which isn’t due until May — the Liberals have done this in previous years, and there is nothing in the law that requires campaign contributions to be reported earlier.

The Greens have not yet filed their statements. The deadline was December 7, but the party says it’s been assured by Elections Ontario that the only consequence will be a warning letter if they file this week, which is the plan.

“The delay is owed to some new staff coming onboard and some unanticipated technical challenges that held us up from filing with EO before the deadline. However, our report was submitted to the auditor before the deadline,” a Green Party spokesperson said.