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Corporations fuelled Ontario Proud's pro-PC election spending

Ontario Proud, a group credited with helping Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives win the provincial election, received more than $400,000 in corporate donations to fund its campaign efforts, new documents reveal.

After corporate donations to parties were banned, companies shifted donations to anti-Wynne group

Ontario Proud mainly focused on online activism in its efforts to unseat Kathleen Wynne's Liberals but also used the old-fashioned lawn sign. (Twitter)

Ontario Proud, a group credited with helping Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives win the provincial election, received nearly $460,000 in corporate donations to fund its campaign efforts, new documents reveal. 

Development companies and construction firms contributed the bulk of Ontario Proud's election campaign funding, according to the group's newly submitted report to Elections Ontario.

Ontario Proud rose to prominence online in 2017 with Facebook posts targeting then-premier Kathleen Wynne. During the campaign, once the polls showed the New Democrats to be the biggest threat to the PCs, the group shifted its focus to attacking Andrea Horwath's party. Ontario Proud's Facebook page attracted more than 360,000 followers by the June 7 election.  

The 2018 campaign was the first in which Ontario's political parties were banned from receiving donations from corporations or unions. However, corporate and union donations to political action groups such as Ontario Proud and Working Families are still permitted. 

Corporations gave Ontario Proud $459,000 for political advertising, while individuals donated $53,198, says the group's report to Elections Ontario. 

The document shows some of Ontario Proud's top donors previously contributed to the Ontario PC Party. With no limits on donations to political action groups, several companies gave Ontario Proud more money for its 2018 campaign than they gave to the PCs over a three-year period that included the 2014 election. 

Mattamy Homes, one of the biggest developers in the province, topped Ontario Proud's list, donating $100,000 in May. The company gave $61,394 to the PC party and candidates from 2014 to 2016, according to Elections Ontario data.

The company also donated $32,351 to the Liberals in those years.

Nashville Developments, a home builder headquartered in Vaughan, gave $50,000 to Ontario Proud in March. The company donated $36,350 to the PCs from 2014-16. 

Merit Ontario, representing non-union construction companies, also gave Ontario Proud $50,000. The group was one of the biggest donors to the PCs before corporate donations were banned. Previously known as Merit Open Shop Contractors Association, the group and its national affiliate gave $90,000 to the PC party and candidates from 2014 to 2016. 

Ontario Proud's fundraisers used the publicly available list of PC donors to recruit donors to its cause, said the group's founder Jeff Ballingall. 

"We looked up donor records and we saw who was giving previously and we contacted them. We wanted to make sure we were reaching and talking to the right people," Ballingall said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News. 

"They were quite tired of the anti-business climate in Ontario and they were more fearful of Andrea Horwath and so a lot of people put their money where their mouth was and got involved," Ballingall said.

Jeff Ballingall is founder of Ontario Proud. (CBC)

Ontario Proud spent $447,411 on political advertising in the period covered by the report (the six months leading to the campaign and the month-long campaign itself). That included more than $154,000 on Google AdWords and nearly $98,000 on television ads. 

Ballingall said the group raised other funds and spent money on operational activities that do not have to be disclosed under Ontario's election campaign finance laws. He declined to provided any figures.   

Ontario Proud's top corporate donors

Mattamy Homes $100,000

Nashville Developments $50,000

Merit Ontario $50,000

Opportunities Asia Ltd. $30,000

Shiplake Properties Ltd. $25,000

The following 17 firms contributed $10,000 each: Basecrete Inc., Ballantry Homes, Callian Capital Partners, Corrado Carpenter Contractor Ltd., Davie Real Estate Inc., Giampaolo Investments Inc., Lakeview Homes Inc., Maple Drywall Inc., Matalco Inc., Michael Bros. Excavating, Primo Mechanical Inc., Res Precast Inc., Riva Plumbing Inc., Solmar Development Corp., Speedy Contractors Ltd., Triple M Metal Corp., Verdi Inc.,     

All groups that engaged in political advertising ahead of and during the election campaign were obligated to submit a financial report on their fundraising and ad spending by last Friday. The reports of some of the 59 groups registered as non-party advertisers, including Lead Now, were not on file at Elections Ontario's office when CBC News examined the documents Tuesday. 

According to the reports reviewed by CBC News, the biggest non-party spender in the run-up to the election campaign was the Ontario Medical Association. The doctors' negotiating body spent a total of $596,652 in the campaign and pre-campaign period. The OMA spent about $248,000 of that on radio ads. 

Ontario Proud was the second biggest spender, followed by the Ontario Real Estate Association. Its report shows it spent $344,452 on advertising, predominantly for digital and radio ads.  

Working Families, whose anti-PC ad campaigns were credited with helping the Liberals win successive elections from 2007 onward, was the biggest spender among labour groups who have filed statements with Elections Ontario. However, its advertising outlay of $282,500 was a fraction of what it spent in previous campaigns, because of limits on spending ​the Wynne government imposed on such political action groups. 

Unifor was next among labour groups, spending $211,644, followed by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which spent $113,000.  

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.

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