Nfld. & Labrador

Former Crosbie staffer behind anti-Liberal Facebook ads, robocalls

NL Strong is the Newfoundland and Labrador equivalent to Ontario Proud, a right-wing Facebook-based group said to be instrumental in Doug Ford's victory.

Drover is also a director of Nova Scotia Proud and Proudly New Brunswick

Devin Drover says NL Strong does not work with any particular party or candidate. (Devin Drover/Twitter)

Have you received a robocall about the May 16 election?

It may have been from NL Strong, a group linked to Ontario Proud, a right-wing Facebook-based organization said to be instrumental in Doug Ford's victory, run by Ches Crosbie's former communications director.

"We are currently conducting phone surveys to better understand issues important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and aid in meeting our organization goal of restoring stronger government to the province," Devin Drover told CBC News in an emailed statement Friday morning, after declining an interview on Thursday.

He said the group was formed to raise awareness about "bad governance" in the province and that it is not affiliated with any political party.

Drover was Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie's communications director during his run in the Windsor Lake byelection and was communications director for the Office of the Official Opposition after Crosbie was elected.

He is listed as one of three directors in NL Strong's federal non-profit incorporation information.

The group has also been paying for Facebook ads promoting Crosbie — and attacking Liberal Leader Dwight Ball — in his bid to become premier of the province.

NL Strong is paying for a number of ads supporting Crosbie and against Liberal Leader Dwight Ball. (Facebook)

Drover says the group fundraises to pay for its activities.

Ches Crosbie said he knows "virtually nothing" about NL Strong and that there is no money from his campaign going toward the group.

Ontario Proud founder advises Drover-led Proudly New Brunswick

Drover is also a director of Nova Scotia Proud and Proudly New Brunswick, both behind recent anti-Liberal robocalls in their respective provinces.

Another director of Proudly New Brunswick told CBC News the group's advisor was Ontario Proud's founder, Jeff Ballingall, a former Harper-era Conservative staffer and employee of the short-lived Sun News Network.

The NL Strong Facebook group shares stories from local media outlets with messages like "Dwight Ball has got to go," as well as shareable memes and posts from Ontario Proud and its equivalents in other provinces like Alberta Proud and Nova Scotia Proud and the national Canada Proud group.

The Proud groups often share the same content with the same or similar phrasing. (Facebook)

"NL Strong is a separate organization with its own focus on Newfoundland and Labrador," Drover said. "However, we will share content on our pages from other groups if or when our goals align."

Drover said he originally named the Facebook page NL Proud but changed it to NL Strong after he found another group called NL Proud was already operating. That group shares memes, videos and stories criticizing all parties.

Zack Best, a founder of NL Proud, said his group was set up in an effort to block the spread of groups like Ontario Proud to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Canada Proud formed to 'defeat Liberals'

Ontario Proud raised nearly $460,000 in corporate donations and unabashedly promoted Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives in last spring's Ontario election, posting a steady stream of viral videos and memes mocking Ford's opponents to its Facebook page.

Ballingall launched Canada Proud after Ford's victory, telling ipolitics.ca the group was formed with the express purpose of taking down Justin Trudeau's Liberals, adding, "We want to defeat Liberals all over the country."

The national and provincial Proud groups often make the same posts, sharing the same memes and stories — many from right-wing site the Post Millennial — with the same teasers.

Drover is listed as a director of both NL Strong and Nova Scotia Proud. (Facebook)

No third-party advertising rules in N.L.

As per the province's regulations, Ontario Proud was a registered third-party advertiser in the Ontario election — the first since the province introduced legislation forbidding political parties from taking donations from corporations or unions.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there are no Elections NL rules requiring third-party advertisers to register, nor are there limits on what they can spend.

Third-party spending may be attributed to a candidate if the candidate knew about it and approved.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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