Ford government uses tax dollars to fund their own media operation - Ford Nation all over again

“Taxpayer money should never be used for partisan purposes….If politicians want to self-promote, go out and raise money. Don’t use money that could otherwise be spent improving hospitals or fixing bridges to tell voters how awesome you are.”

Christine Van Geyn, Canadian Taxpayers Foundation.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

August 3rd, 2018



Just this week Ontario’s new Conservative government kicked off its own news channel hidden in the tax-payer funded Caucus Services mine-field of bureaucracy. That allows the Ford crowd to skirt disclosure and advertising rules introduced by the McGuinty government, a decade and a half ago, specifically to prevent government from engaging in this kind of partisan advertising.

McGuinty’s regulation had been an election promise at the time to prohibit whatever political party was in power from using tax-payer money to produce, what is for them essentially, free political advertising – something the previous Harris/Eves government had been doing with gay abandon.

Ford PCs

They probably thought it was a good idea at the time.

Ontario News Now is a page out of former Conservative PM Harper’s attempt to control the sound bites which ultimately end up on social media, including Google, where so many people now get their information of what is going on. Except Harper, who apparently dreaded showing up before reporters, didn’t actually bill his 24/Seven YouTube show as news, but rather just another vehicle to get his political message out.

Still it was prepared by Harper’s staff at public expense and its purpose was to avoid Harper having to attend regular media briefings and answer reporters’ questions. The entire program was scrapped soon after Justin Trudeau took over as PM.

This latest attempt by Ford to control the message is, for him, a natural follow-through after the apparent success of Ford Nation Live. That election gimmick enabled him to get his message out to social mediawithout having to defend his positions.

Critical questioning is the time honoured procedure of holding politicians’ feet to the fire when they make claims and brag about their accomplishments, and especially when they are avoiding any mention of the downsides of their efforts.

And Ford used his North Korea styled broadcast to brag about a number of events he had attended in his brief time as premier, and the promises he has met. But he should have lost us all when he bragged about having already reduced gasoline pump prices by ten cents. We all know that is a baseless fib at best, easily verified by a quick glance at the pixel boards of any service station. So it may be a new news channel but it’s also got fake news content – those alternate facts.

His first audience was estimated to be in the thousands and delivered to all kinds of social media including twitter, the outlet of choice for the US president. Still @OntarioNewsNow had a following of over two thousand early into its first week of operations.

As expected much of the traditional media have panned this effort. They don’t like somebody else doing their jobs for them – or at least the easy part. And so references to Ford as our ‘Dear Leader’ are just starting to appear in the legitimate news media, and one Globe and Mail writer boldly summed it up as…” Hiding behind home videos and canned applause this early in his mandate suggests insecurity and fear, as if the Premier doesn’t actually have the courage of his convictions.”

Ontario New NowSadly, not all of our traditional media have yet woken up to what’s happening. Mr. Ford’s cheerleading journals, the Toronto Sun and the National Post must have hidden and/or buried the news of the unveiling of this Ford government initiative. But perhaps it’s just that these are early days. And besides, Ontario News Now isn’t really news, is it? It’s just another blatant attempt at political propaganda.

But taking the production of news away from our traditional news outlets, socializing and nationalizing the business of news is a dangerous step for a society committed to openness and democracy. After all, once we lose our independent media outlets can our other freedoms be far behind? And at what price do we take these freedoms for granted.

As a friend of mine once remarked… “It is amazing, in looking at the sweep of history, how much effort, blood and money has been devoted to liberating states from autocratic rule to democracies and how easily some of us who have enjoyed the benefits that our ancestors struggled to achieve are so willing to throw it away.”

Doug Ford with wife

Doug Ford with an admirer – his wife. Said to be a Hamilton girl.

Perhaps Ford was not actually trying to undercut and further diminish the role of our traditional media as honest brokers of the news. And perhaps he genuinely wanted his own TV show so Ontario taxpayers would see where their money is being spent.

But given Ontario’s massive debt load and Ford’s promise to cut waste and unnecessary spending, the creation of a provincially operated so-called news channel is an insult to all of the public and those folks who voted for him in particular. Or do they really believe this is how the new government for all the people puts your hard earned tax-dollars to work for you?

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers



Background links:   Korea Comes to Queens Park –    Ford Undermines Democracy

Ford’s Insecurity –    Tweet Away

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8 comments to Ford government uses tax dollars to fund their own media operation – Ford Nation all over again

  • Wow! A true throwback – a dyed in the wool Tory who wears roe coloured glasses and dreams in Technicolor as well. He wants us to give Dug Ford a full year th really mess things up – actually he wants to get us to where Mike Harris left off.
    There is no doubt that Wynne did go on that spending spree – $15 an hour as the minimum didn’t strike me as a spree and the OHIP+ was needed – it could have been slimmer.

    Every political party loses its bearings over time and they get pushed out of office to take the time to re-build- re-think and provide the service needed.

    The difference with the Ford version of PC is that we knew who he really was before we elected him – it was just 40% that gave him the nod.

    Hopefully the Gazette will keep the White comments in the archives – they will be useful in about a year.

  • Stephen White

    Attempts by politicians to control the media and “spin the message” are nothing new. When Kathleen Wynne was Premier she never missed an opportunity to extol her government’s achievements…including using taxpayer subsidized Ministry advertising to get her message across. Six months after increasing the minimum wage viewers were still being told about it. And let’s not forget all those nice “feel good” ads promoting travel and vacationing in Ontario.

    Ontario News will get an uptick for a while in viewers simply because it is a novelty, and then it will likely fade into oblivion, just like the Ford’s television show when Rob was Mayor of Toronto. Most informed viewers aren’t solely dependent upon one media source or outlet anymore for news coverage. Social media also provides far more options than in the past.

    Before we all “man the ramparts” and gather our pitchforks… let’s at least see what Ford’s legislative agenda brings about in the first year. In fairness, the man has barely been in office a month. At this stage no one is really sure of the state of Ontario’s finances. We suspect the deficit is somewhere between $6 billion (i.e. the former Treasurer’s estimate) and $12 billion (i.e. the Provincial Auditor’s estimate)..perhaps even more. During her last year in office including the election campaign Kathleen Wynne made promises and spent money like a drunken sailor on a 48 hour furlough. Many of Ford’s announcements and cutbacks are intended for shock value and to signal the need for constraint both in the halls of Queen’s Park and especially in the upper echelons of the public service. I suspect many programs will be reintroduced with varying levels of changes and adjustments, and re-branded with a distinctly PC flavour.

  • rob n

    Too bad Ontario News Now can’t easily be shut down. It is blatant propaganda.

    If this use of taxpayer money offends you, send an email, visit or call your MPP. Contact info is here:

  • Ray Rivers

    Hey KJ and Luke – thanks for your comments. You guys are pretty funny too.

  • KJ

    This Rivers guy is hilarious. I don’t remember any articles from you Ray when the Wynne government constantly used tax dollars to promote her government.

  • Luke

    You funny man Ray.
    I don’t recall any noise from your end while the former Premier traipsed around the province for months before the writ was dropped making “Government announcements” handing out wheelbarrows of taxpayer money all funded by taxpayers.
    Voters were smart enough to see through the thinly veiled pandering and appropriately dumped their government.

    What ford has done is not new or even unique for Ontario, The NDP published their own paper mimicking the look of the Toronto Star back during the Rae Government.
    It’s okay if you forget these things, don’t take it the wrong way but my Dad told me, “The years don’t come alone.”

  • I’m interested in your opinion on how and why there is an audience. Madeleine Albright’s new book: Fascism – a warning, goes into detail on the development of mass media as a State propaganda machine in a growing number of countries formerly quite open to free press. How is Canada changing in such a way that a propaganda machine is even viable?

  • R D Oliverr

    Ray. the media is basically, fake news. We all know it, including you. And as unearthed, publicly, by Trump, who now, wisely, circumvents it. At least when you read it from his tweets, you know it is from him and not some journalists interpretation of what he either said, thought he meant to say or means. You/we may not always like it, but he called it out as it is. Most often, fake news. All of your readers know you neither like Ford nor the PCs, but can you at least give the guy some time without continuing to crap on everything he does and at least try to be objective.