Ontario Proud has effectively weaponized Facebook for the Conservatives with memes, videos and self-described "emotive" messaging. It also produces lawn signs, hands out leaflets, makes robocalls, sends text messages, and helps get out the vote.
And by collecting contact information via Nation Builder software, Ontario Proud is developing its capacity to mobilize in numerous other ways.
There are now 414,804 people that follow the Ontario Proud Facebook page. There is also Alberta Proud (with 146,659 Facebook followers), BC Proud (with 73,601 followers), Saskatchewan Proud (with 23,905 followers), and New Brunswick Proud (with 7,143 followers).
The Proud movement will be taking aim at the Liberals in the upcoming October 2019 federal election, but could also challenge the NDP -- as it did in Ontario in the last provincial election -- should they begin to rebound in opinion polls.
What is Ontario Proud?
Ontario Proud describes itself as "a people powered organization that stands up for working Ontarians. We're fighting for affordable government, holding our politicians accountable and working to defeat failed leaders like Justin Trudeau."
The registered not-for-profit group has highlighted, "More than 368,000 Ontarians have joined our cause, making us the largest digital advocacy group in Ontario politics." That number has grown dramatically since it made that statement and comparatively outweighs the 65,015 people who follow the Leadnow Facebook page.
What are its politics?
The founder of Ontario Proud, 32-year-old Jeff Ballingall, has worked for the Conservative Party of Canada caucus as a video specialist, Sun News Network, and the public strategy and communications firm Navigator Ltd.
Ballingall has told the Canadian Press, "Obviously, we have our own proclivity for smaller government, more responsible government, for stronger national defence. ...So obviously that aligns more with the Conservatives but it's not like we're rah-rah pro-Conservative; we're just mostly (saying), 'We need to stop Justin Trudeau because he's bad for Canada."'
Recent videos on its Facebook page also signal its opposition to the Trudeau government's carbon tax and "illegal immigration".
That latter video says "Trudeau has allowed over 32,000 people to illegally cross our border," "Instead of turning them away he's putting them up in expensive Toronto hotels," and "Trudeau is also giving them $2.9 billion in social assistance".
Ontario Proud also calls for a tougher criminal justice system, respect for the Remembrance Day poppy, more support for Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, as well as "more competition" and cheaper cell phone bills.
What does it do?
Ontario Proud has boasted that with the support of "over 1300 donors" it was able to make a significant intervention in the June provincial election in Ontario that brought right-wing populist Doug Ford to power.
Ontario Proud highlights it did so via: "63,644,903 Facebook impressions; 2,197,421 Twitter impressions; Over 9,400,000 video views on Facebook; Over 2,500,000 phone calls made; Over 1,000,000 text messages sent; 15,000 brochures distributed at transit stations."
Compared to the higher costs of TV, radio and newspaper ads, social media provides a relatively inexpensive platform for sharing messages if effectively and strategically used, as Ontario Proud has evidently achieved.
For example, its video on "illegal immigration" has been shared (for free) 5,060 times contributing to its 182,000 views in the span of two weeks.
How is it funded?
It's not clear how much money the third party/political advocacy group raised via its 1,300 donors in the Ontario provincial election or where its start-up funding came from.
Now, the Canadian Press reports, "[Federally, third parties] can spend just over $200,000 on advertising during a campaign but as much as they want before its official start."
That article adds, "Whereas political parties are banned from accepting donations from corporations or unions and face a strict $1,575-cap on individual donations, third parties face no restrictions on donors or the size of their contributions."
Ballingall has stated, "Justin Trudeau has failed Canadians. We will do everything in our power to ensure he is a one term prime minister."
And given how Ontario Proud targeted the provincial NDP once it started to surge in the Ontario election, it's likely that Ontario Proud would also turn its attention to the federal NDP should a similar dynamic emerge in the coming year.
Will left-wing populism be the response to Ontario Proud? Or will the hard-work of base-building and politicization be the strategic choice? Can they go hand in hand?
Will the NDP and Green Party take positions farther to the left or seek the perceived safety of centrist positions? How will the disaffection with Trudeau's neoliberal policies impact voter turnout and voter preferences, particularly among young people, in 2019?
The fundamental question also remains, how prepared are progressive social movements -- including grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and the labour movement -- to engage in an effective way in this coming federal election?
Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.
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