Ontario PC leader Doug Ford’s ‘news’ videos echo ones used by Liberals in 2007

Image taken from Ford Nation Live, a website which which produces TV-news style videos. (Ford Nation Live/Facebook)

Ontario’s Liberals have asked Elections Ontario to investigate PC leader Doug Ford over campaign videos they say violate election finance rules, but the governing party itself previously used similar videos styled after news reports to pass off campaign talking points.

In 2007, videos created by Ben Chin, a former aide for Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty, showed Chin appearing to deliver TV-style reports called the “Liberal News,” which included a series of attacks against McGuinty’s PC opponent at the time, John Tory.

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The Liberals said Sunday they asked the chief electoral officer to look into Ford Nation Live, which produces broadcast news videos. In the videos, staffers like Lyndsey Vanstone, Ford’s executive assistant and former press secretary, take on the role of reporters and speak into the camera and interview supporters using microphones with the Ford Nation logos.

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At the bottom of the Ford Nation Live website there is a disclaimer saying the CFO for the Ontario Progressive Conservative party authorized the videos.

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Ontario election 2018: Doug Ford takes direct approach to communicating with voters – May 4, 2018

The Liberals have accused the Ford campaign of attempting to deceive voters by passing off “political advertising” as media coverage.

“The Conservative campaign is not just misleading Ontarians, it may be running afoul of election laws,” the party said in a statement. “Nowhere on the Ford’s Fake News videos does the Conservative Party identify itself as having created it — a requirement in the Elections Financing Act.”

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Drew Davidson, a spokesperson for the Ontario Liberal Party, said the complaint is about transparency and proper identification of campaign advertising.

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“Until we launched our complaint, these paid promotions were appearing on Facebook without being identified properly,” Davidson said. “We needed to act to correct what is a clear contradiction of the Ontario Election Finances Act and attempt to mislead Facebook users.

Davidson said the videos created by Chin “were not advertisements, nor were they disseminated as such.”

“It’s my understanding that the Ben Chin videos were from more than 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s also pretty clear that they were satirical.”

The Ford Nation Live pieces underscore Ford’s attempt at bypassing traditional journalists, with whom he has a fractious history and whom he has repeatedly accused of being biased against him.

“The media isn’t going to give us a fair shake,” Ford told supporters earlier this year during the contentious PC leadership race.

The Liberals announcement Sunday follows the Tories, who last month called for Elections Ontario to investigate the Wynne government for spending public funds on campaign-style events ahead of the campaign’s official launch.

*With files from the Canadian Press