Liberals call for Elections Ontario probe of PCs 'Ford Nation Live' video ads

The Ontario Liberals say the Progressive Conservatives use of "fake news" videos as advertisements may violate campaign finance law and are calling for an investigation into the allegations by Elections Ontario.

'Ford Nation Live' videos ads may breach election finance law, Liberals allege

Videos featuring Doug Ford being interviewed by a staffer have also been used as online advertisements. (Facebook)

The Ontario Liberals say the Progressive Conservatives use of "fake news" videos as advertisements may violate campaign finance law and are calling for Elections Ontario to investigate the allegations.

"The Ford campaign may be using their fake news channel to skirt the Elections Finances Act by passing off their advertising as journalism," the Liberals said in a news release on Sunday, referring to PC Leader Doug Ford's campaign team. 

"In trying to pass off political advertising as media coverage the Conservative campaign is not just misleading Ontarians, it may be running afoul of election laws," it continues. 

Ahead of the June 7 spring election, Ford's staff has been producing TV-news style videos under the banner of "Ford Nation Live." The videos feature a staffer narrating partisan messages, and include interview-style clips with Ford commenting on various provincial issues. 

The videos, which have collected hundreds of thousands of views, are shared on the PC party's Facebook page. They have also been re-purposed as online advertisements. 

It is their use as advertisements that has drawn allegations from the Liberals, who say the video ads violate the Election Finances Act. A review of the "Ford Nation Live" videos on Sunday morning shows that only one, posted in the morning on May 5, includes an image of the official PC party logo and a message underneath it that reads, "Authorized by the CFO for the Ontario PC Party."

Political ads must include name of sponsor

The videos posted before May 5 do not display the official logo or the disclaimer. The only reference to the party includes a number of frames that display the words "Ontario PC" — written in font that is used in all "Ford Nation Live" videos — overlaid atop a graphic of the map of Ontario. 

The Election Finances Act states that any political ads must include information about who paid for them to be broadcast. 

The relevant section of the Election Finances Act reads as follows:

"(5) No person, registered party or registered constituency association shall cause a political advertisement to appear without providing the following information to the broadcaster or publisher, in writing:

  • 1. The name of the person, registered party or registered constituency association who is causing the political advertisement to appear.
  • 2. The name, business address and telephone number of the individual who deals with the broadcaster or publisher on behalf of the person or entity mentioned in paragraph 1.
  • 3. The name of any other person, registered party or registered constituency association who is sponsoring or paying for the political advertisement. 2016, c. 22, s. 16 (2)."

Jack Siegel, a Toronto lawyer who acts as general counsel for the Liberal party, said he also wants Elections Ontario to ensure that the costs of producing any videos used as ads are included in the PCs accounting of pre-campaign spending. 

The Election Finances Act limits the amount any one party can spend in the six weeks before a campaign to $1 million. 

"These ads have been made to look like news reports, they are not news reports. They're just ads. But if they are trying to pass them off as news and not including them in the spending limit, then they are evading the effecting purpose of the law," Siegel said on a telephone interview. 

In a brief statement, Elections Ontario said it "does not comment on whether or not it has received a complaint, or whether or not it is investigating a matter.

"When Elections Ontario receives a complaint about a violation of the Election Act or Election Finances Act, the complaint is reviewed and may be investigated," it continued. 

PCs deny breach of elections finance laws

The investigation process can be lengthy and rather complex, but in his letter to Elections Ontario, Siegel requested that the matter be assessed before the June 7 election.

"We are asking that they address it rapidly, because it does have the potential to create confusion among voters today. But it remains to be seen what Elections Ontario will choose to do with it," he said. 

In a response to a request for comment from CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for Ford's campaign said that, "unlike Kathleen Wynne, who is campaigning on the taxpayer's dime, we are following the Elections Ontario rules.

"The Doug Ford campaign will be using online videos throughout the campaign to deliver our message of change," said Melissa Lantsman. 

She did not immediately respond to follow up questions. 

Last month, the PCs called for Elections Ontario to investigate the Liberals alleged use of government funds to pay for campaign events. In a conference call with reporters, former Tory MPP Frank Klees alleged that the Liberals have improperly used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the months leading up to the campaign. 

Elections Ontario would not say whether or not it will investigate the allegations.