It just got personal: PC supporters, Liberals roll out pre-election attack ads

A grassroots group supporting PC Leader Doug Ford takes a jab at Premier Kathleen Wynne and the governing Liberals hit back. Meanwhile, the NDP tries to stay above the fray.

It gets nasty with one month to go before the election campaign officially gets underway

One ad paid for by the Facebook group Ontario Proud criticizes the Liberal government for what it calls 15 years of mistakes and scandals. (Ontario Proud)

The writ has yet to drop, but it seems that the gloves already have.

Attack ads targeting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford are rolling out now, setting the tone for the battle for votes leading up to the June 7 election.

Two ads criticizing Wynne that started airing this week are being paid for by Ontario Proud, which started out as a Facebook campaign and has grown to more than 350,000 followers since it launched in February 2016.

Jeff Ballingall, founder of Ontario Proud, a grassroots Facebook group that has produced two negative television ads. (CBC)

"With the spending limits and the rules it's imperative that we do everything we can right now to spread our message," said Jeff Ballingall, founder of Ontario Proud.

"We still want to reach the one third who are not on Facebook, so people will see our message on their phones, they'll see it on their computers, they'll hear us on their car radios and they'll see us on TV."

The first of two ads airing on CP24, depicts an exclusive dinner party with Kathleen Wynne's so-called "insider friends."

The spot criticizes what it calls "cash for access" and accuses the government of giving tax breaks to Liberal Party corporate donors.

Another ad run by Ontario Proud says Liberal Party insiders who paid 'cash for access' have done well getting government contracts and corporate tax breaks. (Ontario Proud)

"It showcases how Liberal insiders have been getting rich. We've seen hydro executives making obscene amounts of money giving themselves million-dollar raises," Ballingall told CBC Toronto.

The second ad plays out like a fast-paced promo for a greatest hits album, listing off what it calls the "highlights" of years of Liberal mismanagement, including the gas plants cancellation, e-health failure and skyrocketing hydro bills.

"It's satire. It's parody. It's a review of those greatest hits albums [on] those great K-Tel ads. We thought it was a great way to add some humour into the mix," Ballingall said.

The Liberal Party 2014 campaign featured the party leader front and centre. This time around, polls indicate the premier is deeply unpopular. (Liberal Party of Ontario)

It's the first time in recent memory that anti-Liberal attack ads have been produced and airtime paid for by a third party. Ads attacking then-Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak were paid for by the Liberal-friendly Working Families coalition of unions during the 2014 campaign.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the Ontario Liberal Party is launching a pre-election attack ad campaign of its own called: "The Real Doug Ford."

Deb Matthews, Liberal campaign co-chair, says party researchers found that many Ontario voters were unfamiliar with former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford. (CBC)

It evokes the spectre of public sector workers layoffs of teachers and healthcare workers to pay for promised corporate tax cuts. The second ad uses statements made by Ford on topics, such as autistic children, abortion and race.

"It's really Doug Ford in his own words," said Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews, who denied the ads show the party is desperate because it lags in popularity in most recent polls.

A screen capture taken from a video ad for a new Liberal campaign aimed at showing Ontarians how a Ford government would affect Ontario. (Real Doug Ford/YouTube)

"We didn't start this," said Matthews. "At this moment he is winning. But we need to make sure people understand the consequences of that."

It's a big contrast to ads from the last election campaign, which featured Wynne prominently, such as the one that showed her on a long-distance run.

Matthews denies the shift to the attack is because the premier is personally unpopular. 

"The premier is out every day doing media availability, unlike Doug Ford," she said, adding the PC leader is trying to avoid public scrutiny.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath says Ontarians are feeling cynical about politics in this province. She called the Liberal's 'Real Doug' ad belies an angry, desperate campaign. (Ontario NDP)

In a statement, the Ontario NDP says leader Andrea Horwath's first campaign ad focuses on her positive vision for the province, and how she will replace the cynicism people are feeling about politics right now with hope.

"A lot of people have become cynical about politics and politicians," says Horwath in the 30-second Facebook spot. "It absolutely does not have to be this way."

The party says it will run its biggest campaign ever in Ontario, and that will include television advertisements.

Meanwhile a guerilla campaign called "Not Doug," which says it's run by a group of volunteers who live in Ontario and is paid for with their own personal funds, denies any association with any political party

The group says some its members have even supported the PCs in the past. "Not Doug" has yet to register as a third-party group with Elections Ontario.

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.