Updated: Jan 21
Ontario Premiere Doug Ford and his government are drawing heavy criticisms from political opposition and media pundits after it came to light that Ontario News Now is paid for through the Conservative caucus budget.
Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed that the Conservative caucus budget, which is funded by tax revenue, is used to pay for Ontario News Now, a new media platform that has released two videos supportive of Doug Ford's campaign. The Ontario Advertising Act blocks governments from producing propaganda, however experts believe people can argue the caucus does not technically operate as a government office and therefore is exempt.
The rules of the Ontario Advertising Act initially were limited to traditional media including newspapers, radio, and TV, and were expanded by Dalton McGuinty's Liberals to include partisan advertising "displayed digitally in a prescribed form or manner". In 2015 the Liberals pushed through changes to the oversight rules - drastically watering down the auditor general's power to veto ads deemed partisan.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath described Ontario News Now as inappropriate and disrespectful and calls the platform a "partisan propaganda machine".
The Globe and Mail is reporting that the Tory's have also not denied that political stagers and others on the government payroll have been brought into official news conferences to offer seemingly spontaneous applause, which has been used to prevent reporters from asking follow-up questions.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and a University of Ottawa professor of law and politics told the media that there is a distinction between controlling a political message and deliberately using taxpayer money to produce items that look like news stories but have not been subjected to any standards of independent journalism.