After fighting to get the Ontario Liberals decimated in the provincial election last week, an online group that has mastered modern messaging is turning its fire power on Justin Trudeau.
“We were pivotal,” Ontario Proud founder Jeff Ballingall said about his group’s role in ousting the Ontario Liberals after 15 years in government.
Ontario Proud’s Facebook presence is unrivalled by the political parties and other third party groups registered with Elections Ontario.
Up and running for less than three years, the third party has a bigger following on Facebook than all of the provincial parties and leaders combined. That translated to more engagement online than any other group during the writ period from May 9 to June 7, Ballingall said.
In that time he said Ontario Proud clocked in 63.6 million Facebook impressions and people watched 3.7 million minutes of Ontario Proud videos.
Pushing what he calls an “aggressively centre-right moderate” perspective, Ballingall said. The memes and videos focus on affordability issues and responsible and accountable government. They also include unflattering pictures of Wynne and other politicians and sometimes veer into the personal attacks that political parties usually won’t risk.
Digital strategist at Hill and Knowlton Lindsay Finneran-Gingras crunched the numbers throughout the election and said the group’s role in promoting a Conservative message isn’t overstated.
“Ontario Proud dominated every single social and digital channel and conversation during the election and, looking at the data, also before the election,” she said.
The group has already taken aim at Trudeau on issues like changes to small business taxes and his controversial India trip. But since Doug Ford’s dramatic election win last week much more of Ontario Proud’s posts on social media have been directed at Trudeau.
Over the weekend, it posted a photo on its Instagram page that read “Wynne down, Trudeau to go.”
Ballingall’s message to the federal Liberals: “Watch out.”
“Social media is allowing people to fight back, we’re able to tap into growing resentment about affordability issues, about government waste, about corruption and scandal,” he said. “There’s no longer a monopoly on the political discourse, we’re able to reach people and mobilize them.”
So far Ontario Proud has used its platform to a powerful effect. For example, Finneran-Gingras said while it didn’t create Wynne’s low popularity ratings, Ontario Proud helped them sink lower.
Their posts called Wynne politically corrupt, focused on her low polling numbers and directly tied her to controversies like cutting power in the dead of winter.
In the lead up to next year’s federal election Ballingall said he’ll put “a heavy focus” on the Trudeau government.
“We want to defeat them,” he said. Adding that his goal is a government that will “lower taxes, that will make life more affordable for Canadians.”
Ballingall said donations from more than 1,300 people allowed the group to spend to the $100,000 limit for third party advertising during the Ontario election and spend more than $300,000 in the lead up. Other donations were used to mobilize their followers. As part of its get out the vote campaign, Ballingall said Ontario Proud sent over a million text messages and made over 2.5 million phone calls.
Unlike political parties, who are more restricted in what they can post to their pages, Ontario Proud has been able to grow its following with a-political posts and by testing the boundaries of personal attacks. Another luxury the group has is that it doesn’t have to play by the same rules when it comes to personal attacks.
Calling Kathleen Wynne “phony,” “heartless” and a “scumbag” and depicting her as the Grinch or a zombie (via the Toronto Sun) are all fair game according to Ballingall.
“I don’t think we go too, too far,” he said. “We use a mix of different content to get our message across.”