Politics

Poilievre's campaign hires team behind Canada Proud to boost his messages online

Pierre Poilievre may be known for his social media savvy, but his campaign is getting some help from a conservative meme machine.

Jeff Ballingall’s company specializes in crafting popular, shareable anti-Liberal content

Conservative Party of Canada MP Pierre Poilievre, who is running for the party leadership, speaks at a rally in Toronto on April 19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Pierre Poilievre may be known for his social media savvy, but his campaign is getting some help from a conservative meme machine.

Jeff Ballingall's company, Mobilize Media, has been retained by the Poilievre Conservative leadership campaign, sources familiar with the hiring told CBC News.

CBC News is not revealing the sources' identities because they are not authorized to speak publicly about it. The Poilievre campaign declined to comment.

Ballingall specializes in shareable, anti-Liberal messaging that often takes on a mocking or outraged tone. His Canada Proud and Ontario Proud accounts have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and tens of thousands more on Twitter and Instagram.

Mobilize Media bills itself as offering digital strategies, boosting online communities to support a campaign and helping clients harvest "troves of data" to guide a campaign "and measure its impact."

On his own, Poilievre already has made social media content that has been shared hundreds of thousands of times. But having his messages amplified online by Ballingall's assets is undoubtedly helping the candidate.

One recent Canada Proud post, for example, featured a news article about Poilievre's energy policy along with the comment, "Money to Canadians, not to dirty dictatorships. Do you agree with Pierre Poilievre?"

Another compared pictures of a Pierre Poilievre rally with hundreds in attendance to a shot of rival candidate Jean Charest holding a meeting in what is purportedly the same room with fewer than two dozen supporters visible. The caption read, "Yikes and a half." It has been shared over 800 times.

Then-Conservative leader Erin O’Toole speaks to supporters at a rally in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Aug. 17, 2021. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

In the last leadership campaign, eventual winner Erin O'Toole also worked with Ballingall. At the time, Ballingall told The National Post the Proud pages would remain neutral — though they both regularly featured content flattering O'Toole.

Ballingall was a shareholder at the conservative-leaning news site The Post Millennial but has since sold his shares, according to a representative of the media outlet.

Controversial messaging

Ballingall's pages, which are funded by donations, throw some verbal blows that might raise eyebrows coming directly from a politician.

One example is a post that said while inflation made Canadian money "worth less," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is "worthless."

While Ballingall's services can boost a campaign, the Proud pages have come in for considerable criticism.

Jeff Ballingall says his communications company's 'bread and butter is women 55 and older.' (CBC)

In the lead-up to Ontario's provincial election in 2018, CBC News reported that user comments insulting then-premier Kathleen Wynne's appearance and sexual orientation were visible on the Ontario Proud Facebook page. Some of the comments employed profanity and one reader said they wondered why no one had shot Wynne.

"We're not going to comment on a website that supports profane, hateful and abusive comments," Wynne's office said at the time.

Critics such as Press Progress, a news outlet founded by the Broadbent Institute in 2013, have denounced some of Canada Proud's postings as racist — including one post in March 2021 which suggested the Trudeau government was putting skin colour before age and medical history when deciding who should be vaccinated.

In fact, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said that racialized communities were disproportionately affected by COVID and were among the at-risk groups that should be prioritized.

Ballingall's pages also regularly criticize the CBC, which Poilievre has said he would defund if he becomes prime minister.

While Ballingall's techniques have been scrutinized and criticized, his ability to reach out to those sympathetic to the Conservatives clearly remains appealing to campaigns.

In a 2019 interview with Toronto Life magazine, Ballingall was asked to identify Ontario Proud's biggest fans.

"Our bread and butter is women 55 and older. They're the most active on Facebook and members of that demographic also vote in the highest numbers, so it's important to reach those people," he told the publication.

"I tell my team: 'How would you explain this political issue to your aunt? Simplify it, explain why it matters, don't patronize.'"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Cullen

Senior reporter

Catherine Cullen covers Parliament Hill for CBC News in Ottawa. She writes frequently about the Conservative Party. She has also worked in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

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