Doug Ford government launches ‘Ontario News Now’ while limiting questions from reporters

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Doug Ford government launches ‘Ontario News Now’
WATCH: Premier Doug Ford's government has launched a new social media account to promote its agenda – Jul 31, 2018

Premier Doug Ford‘s government has launched a new social media account to promote its agenda.

The Twitter account @ontarionewsnow was created on July 12, and its first content was published on Monday night. A minute-long video, captioned “Premier Ford takes a look back at his first month in office,” features a montage of Ford in various situations including a visit to Woodbine Racetrack, meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and participating in the First Ministers meeting.

Lyndsey Vanstone, a former broadcaster and Ford campaign staffer, is the on-air presenter in the video. In a voice-over, Vanstone said, “Premier Ford attended dozens of events in 30 days and he managed to keep a few campaign promises, too.”

The Ford government confirmed to Global News that production of the content is being paid for with taxpayer dollars.

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While they did not respond to a requests for specifics on Tuesday and Wednesday about how much the project would cost, Jeff Silverstein, director of communications for PC Caucus Services, told Global News in an e-mail, “We’re using technologies available to us to communicate with the people. Platforms such as Facebook provide us with the opportunity to communicate directly with people from all corners of Ontario.”

Ontario Deputy Premier Christine Elliott initially said the video production costs weren’t funded by taxpayers. When told by a reporter the costs are funded out of the PC Party caucus budget, she referred questions to MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy, who also serves as the provincial treasury board president.

During the campaign, Ford’s team, of which Silverstein was a part, produced news-style videos complimentary to then-candidate Doug Ford. The party promoted the videos on social media, a tactic former campaign staff say was key to their success in getting their message out.

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

The profile of the new Twitter account, which only follows Ford, said the account provides “timely exclusive content on the PC Government’s priorities for the people of Ontario”.

An interview with Ford is featured in the 60-second video on the account.

“We said we are going to get rid of cap and trade and the carbon tax, reduce gas prices by 10 cents, we did it,” Ford said.

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“We said we are going to get rid of the CEO and the board of Hydro (One), we did it. We said we were going to get the kids back in school at York University, we did it.

“And we are going to continue getting what we said we were going to do done.”

At Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the Twitter account “completely inappropriate.”

“Not a single penny of public dollars, not a single tax dollar, should be utilized in the partisan advertising and partisan promotion of a political party here at Queen’s Park, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” she said.

“The media also has that role to hold the government to account, (to) hold the opposition to account, to hold all elected people to account, and to gerrymander with that or to manipulate that by pretending that what you’re putting forward is actually news when it’s really just partisan propaganda is an insult to the people of Ontario.”

Horwath said the NDP only does videos to recognize residents, religious observances, or other major events.

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The launch of the social media account came on the same day journalists questioned Ford government communications staff over behaviour during news conferences. On Tuesday, during a media availability with Lisa Macleod, Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services, PC staff began clapping in unison to drown out reporters after only a few had put their questions to the minister.

When asked about the incident on Wednesday, Macleod she said she wanted to “apologize if that offended anybody.”

The behaviour, which appears to be designed to limit questions, was something journalists observed throughout the Ford campaign. It has also been apparent at press conferences since the premier took office last month.

Ford’s team denied coordination of the clapping, saying they were unaware it was a concern for media. Queen’s Park press gallery members, however, have raised the concern numerous times.

— With files from Nick Westoll

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