Transcript: What Do the Meme Wars Mean for the Election? | Sep 09, 2019

♪
JUSTIN:
They are a fly-by-night sort of
partisan for hire
sort of operation,
and you know,
their opinions are almost
entirely dictated by
Jeff Ballingall and
a handful of others.
So, I think that's really giving
one man, or a handful of people,
and awful lot of power in
an election.
JEFF:
People either think I'm some
Koch brother funded devil,
or I live in my
parent's basement
and it's, you know,
neither are true.

STEVE:
Welcome everybody to a brand new
season of #onpoli podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
John Michael, we are back.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Whoo-hoo!
STEVE:
Our summer break is over,
time to roll up our sleeves and
get back to work.
Now, let's put something on
the table
I'm sure our listeners are
dying to know:
how much--
how much did you miss me?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Words cannot express how much
I missed you, Steve,
and I'm a writer,
that's hard to say.
STEVE:
Really? It was that deep?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I have missed this cramped
windowless room
more than I can say.
STEVE:
I can see the profundity oozing
from your pores.
Can I just say, I'll be peaches,
you be herb,
and reunited and
it feels so good.
(John Michael laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL:
It's been a few months, Steve.
How was your vacation?
STEVE:
You really want to know?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I do.
STEVE:
You really want to know?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, you were in nicer
surroundings than I was
for most of the summer, so.
STEVE:
I've got a feeling you're just
asking me to be polite,
I don't get the sense that you
really want to know.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Steve.
STEVE:
Yeah.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Look at me.
STEVE:
I'm looking.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Tell me, how was your vacation?
STEVE:
Now that was sincere.
Okay. I go to a little
tiny place
outside a village of 100 people
on Manitoulin Island
to get away from it all.
It's eight hours north of here.
And the village is 100 people,
we're in the suburbs of
the village,
so it's really remote.
You can go days without seeing
another soul.
And, you know,
you've got to unplug, right?
You've got to unplug.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I've got to say, I have a hard
time picturing you
actually in vacation mode.
Like, did you not write any
books this summer?
STEVE:
That is true, I did not write
a book this summer.
JOHN MICHAEL: Slacker.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
That's probably the second
summer of the last,
I don't know, 10,
that I haven't written a book,
but anyway.
I guess I read 10 books for
work,
does that count as work?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I mean, reading books is--
you would have read 10 books
anyway.
STEVE:
I probably would have, yeah.
And you know,
when you're reading on
the north channel of
Lake Huron, it's kind of sweet.
Now, should we let our audience
know that this seasons podcast
will be devoted entirely to
covering the federal election?
JOHN MICHAEL:
We should.
This seasons podcast will be
devoted entirely
to covering
the federal election.
STEVE:
Really? Didn't know that.
Okay. Sounds like a
very good idea.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Now, at the end of
the last season,
you said to keep an eye on
the relationship between
Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer.
What are you seeing now?
STEVE:
Well, one thing I'm not hearing
is either one of them
saying the other guy's name,
right?
I mean, they have both had
numerous events in public
and I don't think you can get
Andrew Scheer to say
the word "Doug Ford",
and you certainly can't get
Doug Ford to say
that he's, um,
that he's even hoping for
a Conservative victory.
I saw him do an event the other
day and he said,
"You know, we'll hear from all
the parties
and may the best one win."
That's not exactly what you
expect the leader of
the Progressive Conservative
Party of Ontario
to say about an upcoming
federal election.
JOHN MICHAEL:
No, I mean,
the opposite of that though
I think applies to
the federal Liberals,
where they are excited and eager
to use Doug Ford's name
in any sentence that is about
Andrew Scheer.
STEVE:
And have been.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Steve, you have said before on
this podcast
one of the--
it may not be an iron law
but certainly one of the trends
we've seen in past elections
is that voters in Ontario have
tended to
put one party in power at
Queen's Park
and a different party in power
in Ottawa.
What do you think about the
chances of that this year?
STEVE:
I don't even know that it's
an Ontario thing.
You know, I look in
the United States
and very frequently they do
what's called ticket splitting.
You know, they'll put one party
in power in the White House
and they'll out a different
party in power in Congress.
And it's, you know,
every now and then,
like Obama's first two years,
like Trump's first two years,
you might get one part monopoly
on the executive end
on the legislative,
but most of the time it's not
that way and you know--
I can recall a conversation with
a very senior Liberal back in,
oh, gosh, when was it?
2011, when Dalton McGuinty
looked like he was
absolutely a dead man walking,
and then Stephen Harper won
a majority government
in February of that year,
and the Ontario election was
going to happen later that year.
And this Liberal said to me,
"As soon as Harper won that
majority
I thought we had reborn life."
They thought they had a chance
because of this
very historic trend tendency by
many Ontarians
to put a different party in
power in Ottawa
and at Queen's Park.
And we have seen that when
the same party's in power,
it's tricky sometimes, right?
Kathleen Wynne and
Justin Trudeau
were in power at the same time,
next time people in Ontario went
to the polls
they put the Conservatives in.
This happens frequently and
you have to think
that when Doug Ford won the
majority government last year,
people in Ottawa for
the Liberal party were saying,
"You know, this might not be
a terrible thing."
"That's a guy we can
run against."
And sure enough, I think we're
seeing that happen.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah. I mean, you have to be
careful with that though
'cause I think there were also
people--
there were also Liberals
provincially
who thought the moment that
Doug Ford won
the PC party leadership,
they must have-- I spoke to
Liberals who said
they had that same thought of,
"Oh, great, the guy we can most
run against,
the guy we have a binder full of
attack ads ready to go on."
But sometimes the guy you think
you can run hard against
turns out to be the guy who's
going to win.
STEVE:
Abso-- and it did happen
last time. Yup.
You just never know in this
business
which is why we show up and
talk about it.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Okay. Let's get to today's
episode, Steve.
STEVE:
Sure. 'Tis the season of
political attack ads.
JOHN MICHAEL:
It is, so we're going to focus
on negative TV ads
and if course in our discourse,
right?
STEVE:
That's just what they'll be
expecting John Michael.
No, no, no. We've been there,
done that.
That happens every election.
Today we want to focus on
the new kids on the block.
John Michael,
welcome to the meme wars.
They are social media savvy
organisations,
they deploy these so-called
super sharable memes and videos,
they are on both the left and
the right,
they describe themselves as
third party
advocacy media groups,
and they've got a massive online
footprint.
There may be no better example
than Ontario Proud,
and now the newly minted
Canada Proud,
founded by Conservative,
Jeff Ballingall,
whom I interview in this
episode.
Check this, according to an
analysis by BuzzFeed,
between June of 2018 and
June of this year
Ontario Proud generated more
engagement on its Facebook page
than some of Canada's largest
media outlets.
John Michael, I'm talk Global
News, National Post,
Toronto Start, Globe and Mail.
More than all of them.
An example of
a Canada Proud post,
Justin Trudeau's face
photoshopped onto
the scarecrow from
The Wizard of Oz,
and the caption reads,
"If I only had a brain."
You've seen
The Wizard of Oz,
you know that's a lyric from the
song that the Scarecrow sings.
Another back from 2016,
a post that calls then premier
Kathleen Wynne a scumbag
and that she belongs in jail and
not a Queen's Park.
Not nice stuff.
Some don't exactly see
Ballingall as
a positive political force.
One such guy,
journalist Justin Ling.
JUSTIN:
These guys are just weakening
the discourse by
delving into the nastiest,
most basest,
unpleasant sort of electoral,
you know,
advertising as political speech.
STEVE:
Ballingall of course
doesn't see it that way.
JEFF:
I think what's
more dangerous is apathy.
I think that's way worse.
I'd rather people fighting and
coming to conclusions
and having ideas and caring,
then not.
STEVE:
We will hear more from
Jeff Ballingall,
but first we want to understand
this new territory we're in
when it comes to social media
and third party groups such as
Ontario Proud and Canada Proud.
For some context on the matter
we met with Kaleigh Rogers,
senior reporter at CBC
covering disinformation.

I have been reading your stuff
and you have said that
this upcoming election campaign
could get,
and I think the work you used
was "muddled".
What'd you mean by muddled?
KALEIGH:
Well, there is a number of new
players this year.
A lot of them sort of came up in
the provincial election
so they're not brand new,
but from a federal point of view
they are new
and I think that people have not
really experienced this kind of
action online from these
third parties.
So, I'm specifically talking
about new third party groups
that have come up and are very
based on social media,
are a little edgy,
they're really good at memes
and sort of online conversations
in that way,
and they're different from some
third parties that
we saw in the past that sort of,
you know, moonlit as third
parties during election times
but had, I like to say,
day jobs,
whether they were unions or they
were groups representing
taxpayers or
things like that.
They had things that they did
during the rest of the time,
whereas these new groups are
only here 'til election.
STEVE:
So this is different from say
Working Families
or National Citizen Coalition
or the Taxpayers Federation?
KALEIGH:
I think so.
Those groups are still
players of course,
but these new groups seem to be
only focused on the campaign
and may in fact not even
continue to run after
the campaigns are over.
STEVE:
Want to name names?
KALEIGH:
North99, Canada Proud, those are
the big ones of course.
Press Progress is getting some
attention.
There's some smaller groups that
have sort of cropped up
and gotten some attention.
So there's a group called
Canada Strong and Proud,
and they are a sort of network
of provincial groups,
they've actually also worked
with Jeff Ballingall
from Canada Proud,
and they did a series of
robotech.
So they got some attention from
that 'cause people were like,
"Who the heck is this that's got
my phone number?"
STEVE:
I'm going to try not to sound
like too much of an old fogy
when I ask this question
but how is it possible that
these third party groups,
which as you point out,
is a fairly new phenomenon in
the way they do what they do,
how is it possible that they
already have more engagement
than some of the longstanding,
you know,
50, 100, 150 year old members of
the media
who've been doing this kind of
thing for a long time?
KALEIGH:
Right. I mean, a lot of these
newer groups are run by
young digitally savvy people who
grew up with social media
and just sort of
intrinsically get it.
It's intuitive to them so they
know how to get
people's attention, they know
how to get them sharing
and clicking on links in a way
that can be elusive
to some people that aren't as
comfortable with social media.
STEVE:
So, let's meet one of those
voices who are,
as Kaleigh Rogers says,
very comfortable with
social media,
in fact, critics say he
weaponised social media.
Here's our conversation with
Jeff Ballingall,
founder of Ontario Proud and
Canada Proud.
Where did the idea for
Ontario Proud come from?
JEFF:
Um, really it was modelled after
moveon.org in the States.
Growing up, I witnessed how the
democrats were really good at
defending President Clinton
during the Lewinsky scandal
and how moveon.org
was able to, um,
defend democrats when they
needed to
and then also push them to be
more progressive.
Now obviously my politics don't
align necessarily
with moveon.org's,
but I always felt that was
needed in small 'c'
conservative movement in Canada.
STEVE:
Nobody doing this before you
came along?
JEFF:
Not-- conservative--
well, on the left wing,
certainly,
there was Working Families,
they were devastating against,
you know,
the PCs for a number of
elections, but no conservatives.
There was a few ones that had
tried but none were
really successful,
and we were able to do it
without spending a lot of money.
Certainly at the beginning we
spent no money,
but then we were able to
professionalise
and then really fundraise and
hustle
and really modernise our
approach.
STEVE:
What's your mission?
JEFF:
Our mission is to modernise
Canadian politics.
I think there's a lot of people
who aren't in the discourse
and I think whether it's
the Conservative party
or the Liberal party or the NDP,
there's issues
that aren't being reflected
and we want to speak to people
who I think are left out of
the discourse and help change
and swing elections.
STEVE:
Can you give me
an example of that?
What was an issue that wasn't
getting the kind of attention
or traction that you
thought it ought to
that you were able to
help move forward?
JEFF:
I think hydro was a big issues.
It was talked about a lot but
with the way medias going,
unfortunately--
before, like,
the London Free Press
would have a bureau at
Queen's Park
and Parliament Hill,
that doesn't happen anymore.
So I think the media bias is
getting worse
because it's getting more urban.
So if you're a Globe and Mail
writer
you might have a condo and your
hydro bill,
you don't really notice if it's
$30 or $40,
but what's happening for widows
in Sudbury,
their hydro bill was 700.
So I think the level of outrage
that was being felt
in the rest of Ontario wasn't
necessarily reflected
in the media coverage.
STEVE:
Hmm. It's interesting you say
that because my mother-in-law
actually is a widow who lives in
Sudbury,
so I can tell you for a fact
that I was well aware
of what hydro rates in Sudbury
were doing,
but you think that that's--
that wasn't being reflected in
the media coverage?
JEFF:
No. Or I think the level of
outrage or--
I think too often Canadian
politics are too polite,
maybe a little too patrician,
a little bit paternalistic in
the sense that we're,
"Oh, this is going on.
Okay. That's okay."
And we just settle because
that's the way things are.
And that can be reflected in
the fact that Toronto
doesn't have proper subways,
you know,
Union station is years delayed.
It's not a left or right thing.
I think it's good if people are
a little bit outraged,
that people care.
I think apathy is the worst
thing that prevails in
Canadian politics.
STEVE:
Let me follow up on that
'cause you do love to stoke
outrage, right?
That's where you're at.
JEFF:
Well, I like to draw attention
to things
and bring emotion into issues,
and try to get people involved
in politics
and make politic interesting to
people.
STEVE:
Now, why have you taken that
approach as appose to
the approach that, you know,
most of the mainstream media
take which are--
I'm not talking about
the columnists now,
I'm talking about straight ahead
reporting which, you know,
its mission is supposed to be
straight ahead reporting
of the facts and you know,
"We let you decide."
You're really taking a very
different approach. How come?
JEFF:
Well, I think you need a
multitude of voices and roles
in political discourse.
You need straight up
news reporting,
I think there's amazing
journalists doing great work
across Canada,
but what we don't have in
Canada, I think,
is people who are a little bit
harder,
who are going to hold
politicians to account,
who are going to do--
say and do things to get people
a little bit defensive
and make people think
differently.
Another thing I think we don't
have in Canada is
good political satire.
We do not have the comedy that
the United States
or Britain does,
and I think that is a massive
opportunity
and we exploit that to
a certain degree.
STEVE:
Well, since you brought that up,
can I show you one of your
pieces here
and you tell me whether this is
good political satire?
JEFF:
Yeah.
STEVE:
I'm going to obviously,
'cause this is a podcast,
I'm going to describe this.
But the copy says,
"Share if you're not voting for
her next election,"
and this about the former
premier, Kathleen Wynne.
"Kathleen Wynne bails out union
bosses and corporations
but cuts funding to the
provinces most needy.
She belongs in jail,
not Queen's Park."
And the picture is Wynne,
I guess in sort of
prison stripes and the headline
on the top says,
"Scumbag Kathleen Wynne--"
JEFF:
Did we say jail?
Is this from us?
STEVE:
Yeah.
Well here, take a look.
That's it.
JEFF:
All right, well, I don't know if
I wrote this or not,
or if one of my staffers did,
but I--
when I comes to what was going
on at the time,
the amount of greed and the
amount of political corruption,
I think that was fair to say.
STEVE:
You think it's fair to say,
"Scumbag, Kathleen Wynne
belong in jail"?
JEFF:
Uh, I might--
I might change that language now
but I think at the time there
was a lot of outrage in Ontario
and our stuff at the beginning
was a bit more heavy-hitting,
and we've since moderated our
approach a bit.
I won't apologise for saying
scumbag.
When she's putting out people,
like, people were literally
dying
because they couldn't afford
their hydro bills.
People, like, were using their
ovens to heat their homes.
I think that's fair.
I don't apologize.
STEVE:
People died because they
couldn't pay their hydro bills?
JEFF:
There are
news stories about that,
I can send them to your staff
afterwards.
There-- people died, people lost
their businesses,
people lost their livelihoods,
people certainly lost sleep,
people certainly, you know,
lost their jobs.
So yeah, a politician getting
called a scumbag,
I think it's pretty light.
I think you're in public life,
you should be able to take it.
STEVE:
Were you, in your judgement,
reflecting that outrage or
causing it?
JEFF:
Reflecting it.
STEVE:
How do you know?
JEFF:
'Cause I think our work wouldn't
resonate otherwise, right?
People were sharing it,
people were buying into it.
If you put out a message now
that doesn't work,
it doesn't go anywhere, right?
STEVE;
So how do you--
I presume that you've got
metrics that can figure out
what kind of reach your
work has.
You know, what's the reach in
other words?
JEFF:
We reach, typically,
two to 10 million users a week
will-- unique users will see out
content at least once.
STEVE:
On all platforms?
JEFF:
Well, with Ontario Proud and
Canada Proud, unique. Yeah.
STEVE:
Is that Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram, everything?
JEFF:
No. Sorry, sorry.
That's just Facebook.
STEVE:
That's Facebook only, okay.
JEFF:
You can tell
impressions with Twitter,
you can't really tell reach.
And I also really don't care
about Twitter,
Facebook's the only thing
that really matters.
STEVE:
Really? How come?
JEFF:
Normal people
don't have Twitter.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Okay. Who's on Twitter then if
not normal people?
JEFF:
Well, we're on Twitter because
we're trying to in--
like, we're trying to influence
the media, political staff,
and hard-core partisans.
STEVE:
And they're on Twitter.
JEFF:
And they're on Twitter, so it's
important for that regard,
but when it comes down to
reaching your aunt
that lives in Oshawa, your aunt
in Oshawa doesn't have Twitter.
My mom does not have Twitter.
My mom basically doesn't know
what Twitter is.
STEVE:
But she's got Facebook.
JEFF:
But she's got Facebook.
STEVE:
How would you describe
your politics?
JEFF:
Aggressively center,
aggressively moderate.
STEVE:
Aggressively moderate?
JEFF:
Yeah. I mean, I'm pro same-sex
marriage, I'm pro choice.
We don't talk about any
social issues.
I just want freer markets and
freer people.
I certainly don't...
...associate myself or see
myself reflected
in Trump style politics
and the way the Republican party
has moved in recent years.
I certainly don't see myself
becoming--
we don't talk about race,
we don't talk about any of
these issues, so no.
I just view myself-- I think
it's just a matter of being
unapologetically center right
moderate.
STEVE:
You know, there's a great debate
about whether folks who
do what you do make--
I mean, you clearly are
contributing to
the political debate that's
going on in the province
and the country right now,
but whether you are making a
constructive contribution
is another question.
How would you answer that?
JEFF:
I certainly think we are.
We're getting people involved in
politics who may not, um,
get involved.
We're talking to people
in a way that
no one else is talking to them.
There's a reason that populist
movements across
the western world are working
and that's because
too often, uhh...
the elites,
for lack of a better term,
are often ignoring people,
and so if-- we need bring people
into the conversation
because if we don't, um,
then people can-- bad actors
will exploit that.
So it's better that if we--
inclusive populism or
inclusive conservatism
tries to bring these people into
the discourse 'cause otherwise
they're going to be ripe for
exploitation from bad actors.
STEVE:
I'm a little confused
'cause a moment ago you said you
were not taking a play out of
the Trumpian playbook,
but what you've just described
is very much
the Trumpian playbook.
JEFF;
No, but, in the sense that, um,
Trump would be the bad actor in
that point of view, right?
He is someone that-- there was
an undercurrent of populism
that was going on in
the United States
and he exploited it in a
negative light
in my point of view.
He's race-baiting.
But there's other things that
the Trump has done
that I think is an outlet for
people who are ignored,
you know: the white working
class in Pennsylvania
or Wisconsin, these were
the people that were ignored
and he's given them a voice.
Unfortunately, he's odious,
but I think there's elements to
that that need to be explored.
Stephen Harper wrote a whole
book about it
that was very well done.
STEVE:
Mm-hmm. I think it's fair to say
that in the last few years,
Canadians and Ontarians have
become, I mean,
there's always of course been
political divisions
in the province,
but when I was your age for
example,
there were a lot more people
sort of gathering in the middle,
and now people have sort of
retreated to
their respective corners and
there's a lot less,
there's a lot less civilised
dialogue
among the different sides in our
political debates.
I regret that and I, um,
I'm not sure it's a positive
development
and I wonder how much you think
you have contributed
to that state of affairs?
JEFF:
Again, I think what's more
dangerous is apathy.
I think that's way worse.
I'd rather people fighting and
coming to conclusions
and having ideas and caring,
then not.
I think apathy is the worst part
about politics.
Apathy's how we get cost
overruns,
we get, you know,
street cars in Toronto
that aren't functioning,
how we get billions of dollars
in deficit spending in Ottawa
that is not going to give us
fiscal cushion
if there's a recession.
We need people paying attention
to politics.
STEVE:
Well, okay--
JEFF:
And so if--
and if we're a bit shocking
and if we're a bit abrasive
and if we're a little bit loud,
so be it,
but we're a part of the
political dialogue
and I think we're reflecting--
we're reflecting a wider
discourse that needs to occur.
STEVE:
There's no question you're part
of the political dialogue.
Let me throw a fact your way
and you tell me whether this
makes any sense or not.
Again, when I was a kid more
people hung out in the middle
and anywhere from 80 to 90% of
the people used to show up
and vote in elections,
and now people have sort of
retreated to their
respective corners in this
boxing ring
and you know, half to 60% of
the people are showing up
for elections.
Um, you could make the argument
that people are
a lot more apathetic today
because people like you
have poisoned the well so much.
I'm not saying it, I'm saying
that argument is there.
Respond if you would.
JEFF:
Um, yeah, that's interesting.
But I don't-- listen,
Ontario voter rates were going
down well before
we were on the scene.
Voter rates aren't the only
reflection of
what a healthy democracy is.
I think we want to make sure
that--
STEVE:
It's a pretty good indication.
JEFF:
It's an indicator certainly,
but when people are--
listen, when--
important elections,
voter rates tend to go up,
when things matter,
and right now it's a lot of
small ball and it's not--
the political discourse again,
is not reflecting real life.
And so when things matter,
whether it's
the free trade election,
voter rates go up,
but when, you know,
when the media coverage is about
silly issues,
I tend to believe that
voter rates go down.
STEVE:
You know Justin Ling?
JEFF:
Yeah.
STEVE:
He is the co-host of
the OPPO podcast,
and we asked him about your work
and this is what he had to say.
JEFF:
Oh no.
JUSTIN:
These guys are just weakening
the discourse
by delving into the nastiest,
most basest unpleasant
sort electoral stew,
you know, advertising as
political speech.
I think they lie. I don't think
they're tremendously concerned
with the truth,
you know, they don't have
standards of practices,
they don't have an ethics guide.
Have they been willing to use
nuggets of truth
to spin a sort of wild
conclusion?
Absolutely. Quite often.
STEVE:
Your reaction to that?
JEFF:
Oh, Justin's going to be Justin.
Listen, um...
we have our take,
we have certainly our
perspective,
we do not lie,
we source our material.
And nothing we do is
certainly false
or anything that Justin says.
Justin-- Justin is, you know,
a very smart journalist,
but he's one of these guys that
thinks--
he does not like that old style
traditional media
has lost their monopoly on
truth.
They would much prefer if we
went back to the days
where only people that
controlled news rooms in
downtown Toronto could dictate
what Canadians
saw and heard and read.
STEVE:
You're talking about
the Laurentian consensus,
sort of a Montreal, Toronto,
Ottawa triangle.
JEFF:
For a-- and Justin's from
Cape Breton,
and he grew up working class
like I did,
and it's bizarre that's he's
such a snob when it comes to
what people can say and hear.
So he's much rather dictate to
the masses
then hear what the masses
actually have to say.
STEVE:
Well, he may have been thinking
about one of your recent posts
which says, "Prime Minister
Trudeau said
returning ISIS fighters
can be a" quote,
"powerful voice for Canada."
What in fact he said is that,
"Someone who has engaged and
turned away from
that hateful ideology can be an
extraordinarily
powerful voice for preventing
radicalisation
in future generations and
younger people
within the community."
You kind of misquoted him,
so I wonder if that is an
example of a little
fast and loose with the facts?
JEFF:
I think we were concise but
I think that's actually what--
how Justin Trudeau feels.
I think he does not care about
how ISIS fighters were turning.
I think it's gross that these
people engaged in, uh,
in genocide and he shrugs his
shoulders.
I don't understand how Justin--
sorry, how Justin Trudeau
can march in a gay pride parade
and then allow people who,
you know,
threw gay people off buildings,
back into Canada.
I think that's-- I'm more
concerned about that then--
then a quote we might have
spun a bit.
STEVE:
Okay.
Do you feel any obligation to be
accurate in what you way?
JEFF:
Of course.
STEVE:
Well, because I've given a
couple of examples
during our conversation here
where accuracy
was not your calling card.
JEFF:
Listen, we post
hundreds of things,
we're not always going to
get it right, we're not always--
we're happy to discuss and
refute things,
and I'm glad you
brought that up.
I'll look at it
and talk to my editor who might
have posted that.
I was unfamiliar with that post.
But, I think--
to snipe at it or pull it apart,
it takes away from the bigger
issue which is
the Prime Minister's being a
massive hypocrite
on human rights
and he's putting Canadians in
danger by allowing
returning ISIS terrorists into
our country.
STEVE: You take
political donations, yes?
JEFF:
Oh course.
STEVE:
And can you tell us how much you
take in every year
in contributions?
JEFF:
Uh, that's all with
Elections Ontario,
so with Elections Ontario we've
spent upwards of
$600,000 on advertising.
Obviously we raised a lot more
than that because
there's other expenses that
we incur.
And with Elections Canada,
we have our first filing with
them in September,
and so you'll see what we've
been spending
in our regulated period that
began on June 30th.
STEVE:
How much credit do you take for
Doug Ford's victory a little
over a year ago?
JEFF:
I think we helped
set the table.
We were pounding on the Ontario
Liberals for two years,
we were reaching millions of
people every week for two years
prior to the election,
and when the NDP started--
this is I think what's not
talked about in the election
is how close we were to
an NDP government.
They were on the rise, they were
going to win the election
and we were able to pivot.
STEVE:
I don't know if
they were going to win,
but they were in first place
for a while.
JEFF:
They were first place for a
while, they were surging.
I don't think, um...
you know, I think most
Conservative leaders
could have won that election
but helped set that table
and we helped--
we really hurt the NDP in
the last weeks of the election.
STEVE:
Do you know Taylor Scollon?
JEFF:
Yeah, he's a friend of mine.
STEVE:
He is, is he?
JEFF:
Yeah.
STEVE: Okay. Well,
for those who don't know--
JEFF:
He might not want to say that
publicly but we're friends.
STEVE:
He's your left wing equivalent,
if I can put it that way,
and a co-founder of North99
and we ask him if he considered
you to be his arch nemesis.
TAYLOR:
No. I wouldn't say he's
our arch nemesis.
I think our arch nemesis are,
you know,
the people who fund these right
wing third party organisations.
STEVE:
What do you say about that?
JEFF (Laughing):
I think our funders--
people either think I some
Koch brother funded devil
or I live in my
parent's basement,
and it's, you know,
neither are true.
STEVE:
Neither is true?
JEFF:
No.
Listen, everyone--
our funding is pretty--
the finding that we've disclosed
is pretty reflective of our
overall funding.
STEVE:
Well, for example,
Mattamy Homes...
JEFF:
Yeah, Mattamy Homes--
STEVE:
Gave you 100 grand.
That's a good chunk of change.
JEFF: That was a good amount
of money, yeah.
STEVE: Did they get their value
for that much money?
JEFF:
Well, Kathleen Wynne is no long
the Premier
and Andrea Horwath isn't
Premier,
so I think that was a good
investment on their part.
STEVE:
Do you ever, and I want to use
the right word here,
do you ever consult with,
or talk to,
or organise with,
or, um, strategize with
Conservative parties
or elements within Conservative
parties in the country?
JEFF:
Our relation with the
Conservative party,
federally and provincially,
would be much like a columnist
or a talk show host,
so we'll talk to them as
media influencers
but there's no master plan.
I know a lot of these guys
socially,
I worked with a lot of people,
you know,
in the Premier's office,
or in Andrew Scheer's office,
but it just--
I don't need to--
it wouldn't make sense for us
to do it,
I don't need to be told,
and frankly,
I wouldn't want to be told.
I've worked on enough
political campaigns
to not want to be micro managed.
This is one of the reasons
I started Canada Proud
and Ontario Proud,
because I didn't want to be told
what to do anymore.
(Steve chuckling)
STEVE:
It's pretty clear from
the numbers that
the online third party groups
that try to influence
the political debate are,
I think, much more and
much more effective
on the right than on the left.
Why do you think that is?
JEFF:
'Cause our message resonates and
theirs doesn't.
STEVE:
Why doesn't theirs?
JEFF:
Well, because I think they're
obsessed with race
and they're obsessed with all
these social issues
that Canadians don't
care about anymore,
and we're talking about
meat and potatoes, jobs,
we're trying to bring people
together
and they're obsessed with
slicing and dicing people
based on how they look or
how they worship.
We don't talk about anything
like that.
STEVE:
Well, is that 'cause you're a
white, 33-year-old,
middle class guy?
You don't really-- I mean,
you haven't had the experience
of being a black person
growing up in a particularly
tough neighbourhood in Toronto.
JEFF:
No, but my staff are--
my staff are like--
my staff has always been
diverse.
Listen, I grew up in--
sorry, I live in Toronto
in 2019,
there's no way that you
can't live
a diverse and modern life
nowadays.
I just think-- I don't think the
Korean grocery store owner
in Richmond Hill,
or the plumber in Sarnia
wants to talk about racial
politics all the time,
they want to hear a politician
that's going to help them
get a job and make sure that
their kid's life is better.
STEVE:
During that last
Ontario election
you hired a plane to fly a
banner over our provincial skies
that read, "Anybody but Wynne."
You sat in that plane,
you also had ground teams put
out lawn signs
and sent out more than a million
text messages
in an effort to defeat
the Liberals
and the Liberals, in fact,
were defeated.
What plan do you have for
the federal liberals
in this upcoming election
campaign?
JEFF:
Well, we've been working hard
since January.
We've had a number of
viral hits,
we did very well during
SNC-Lavalin,
we're continuing to do well
on that.
And it's funny that, you know,
we like to be--
you pull up a couple of posts
that we did,
but the ones that go--
you know,
and they might not be very
popular,
the ones that do best for us are
humorous ones,
where we're making fun of
Justin Trudeau.
STEVE:
For example?
JEFF: Oh, we he couldn't answer
a basic question
about plastic water bottles.
STEVE: I saw that one.
That was very effective.
He had a lot of trouble
answering that question
and you guys--
JEFF: Listen, there's stuff that
the media ignores and it's--
like, it's insane.
This is an example that I talk
to people about.
A few months ago Justin Trudeau
was meeting with
the Prime Minister of Japan,
and there's a couple times in
that discussion
that he conflated China and
Japan.
And as a learned man, Steve,
I'm sure you understand how
deeply offensive that would be
to any Japanese political
leader,
or to China for that matter.
And it was a deeply
embarrassing moment
and I hazard a guess that if it
was Donald Trump
or a Conservative politician it
would have been,
"Oh, my God!
This guy's an idiot."
"Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
Outrage machine and
it would have been,
"How embarrassing."
"How embarrassing it is
to Canada."
The CBC headline was:
"China top of mind
at Japan visit."
And they completely buried it
and no one else reported it.
And so what did we do?
We pulled the clip,
we made fun of him,
and then we made memes about it.
So I found a picture of
Justin Trudeau
eating sushi and I said,
"Mm, sushi,
my favourite Chinese food."
And that is-- I think that is
Canada Proud or Ontario Proud,
that's where we're at our best,
when we can pierce through
the B.S.
and make fun of Justin Trudeau
and make politics entertaining.
STEVE:
Let me ask you
a very direct question:
who would you like to see win
the next federal election?
JEFF:
Oh. Andrew Scheer.
STEVE:
Not Maxime Bernier's party?
JEFF:
Oh, absolutely not.
No. No, no, no.
I have nothing in common with
Maxime Bernier.
The guy's a moron.
STEVE:
Don't hold back, just tell me
exactly what you think.
JEFF:
I'm for immigration,
I want smart immigration
into Canada.
My business partners, uh,
are both-- one's a child of
immigrants,
the other one is an immigrant.
Like, it's just not what I want
for Canada
and I think that's what--
I think average Canadians don't
want that either.
STEVE:
And just finally,
in your online world right now,
what issue in particular is
resonating
that you are really diving into.
JEFF:
I think it's just
Justin Trudeau's perception
about how people just feel, um,
really alienated from him.
The guy has proven himself to be
a complete fake.
He promised electoral reform,
that was a lie.
He promised to balance budgets,
that was a lie.
He's embarrassed ourselves on
the world stage.
He's not-- China takes him as
a joke.
You know, certainly in Alberta,
in the west,
they feel deeply dissatisfied.
And I think he actually is
a threat to national unity,
and so we're talking about that.
But it's mostly just
a perceptional thing
and I think politics is
very emotive,
and so this election is going to
come down to
how do people feel about their
politicians in their gut?
And if people are just
grossed out
and have a bad perception of
Justin Trudeau,
I think that's very good news
for the Conservatives,
but if the election is about
Andrew Scheer
then that's very good news for
the Liberals.
STEVE:
Jeff, we appreciate you making
the trip from
wherever the bunker is that
you do your thing
to Yonge and Eglinton in
mid-town Toronto
for this conversation.
Thanks so much.
JEFF:
Thanks.

JOHN MICHAEL:
So I've got some thoughts about
what I heard.
STEVE:
Whoa, whoa. Hold off for
a second John Michael
and let's hear again from
Kaleigh Rogers,
senior reporter at CBC
covering disinformation.
If you did a truth in
advertising study
of what these groups put out,
their memes,
their online offerings,
how would they do?
KALEIGH:
I mean, political advertising,
my understanding is,
doesn't have to technically be
100% true.
The issue with these groups is
more so that everything is
through a particular lens,
a particular slant,
so it's rare that any of these
groups would, you know,
make up a fact or completely
misrepresent something.
STEVE:
They don't do that?
KALEIGH:
No. The difference is that
they'll take a fact
but then put a lot of layers of
opinion and emotion on it
so that your perception of it is
a bit skewed,
versus if you were reading just
a news story
and just read the fact,
you would just get the fact.
STEVE:
How would you rate
the value to our democracy
of the contribution these
groups make?
KALEIGH:
I don't know that's
for me to say.
I think more involvement and
more voices in political
discourse
is a good thing
and I think people being able to
find groups that
they align with,
associate with,
feel comfortable with,
can be beneficial.
My only concern with these
groups from
a disinformation perspective
is that
it might not always be clear to
people who are on social media,
who are using Facebook and
Twitter as
a kind of news aggregation
service,
who these groups are and what
their agenda is.
So they see a post from one of
these groups
and they might think that this
is a news organisation
or something that it's not,
and be a bit confused as to how
much of it is fact
and how much is opinion,
and how much of it is just
the way they framed it.
It can be confusing.
STEVE:
I totally get when you say,
"Let's let 1,000 voices bloom,"
and we'd certainly like to have
a lot more people participating
in democracy.
But if the effect of that in
this case,
and I don't know that this is
that case, you'll tell me,
if the effect is to get more and
more people so angry
about what they see in politics
that it turns them off
and they end up not voting,
is that a useful contribution to
democracy at the end of the day?
KALEIGH:
I mean,
we want more people voting,
but I think the goal of most of
these groups would be
to get people out to the polls,
I don't think they're hoping
that people will
get so angry that they could
become disengaged.
A lot of it is so wrapped up in
these provocative
and emotionally charged frames
where it's kind of impossible to
ignore if it is
scrolling through your timeline
and it's hard to compete from
a straight news perspective
because, intentionally,
we don't put those layers of
emotion and opinion
on top of our stories,
so which one is going to draw
your attention more?
The one that makes you feel
really angry or really scared
or really upset,
or the one that's just kind of
neutral?
STEVE:
Okay. Here's a clip from
Taylor Scollon
who is the co-founder of one of
the groups you mentioned earlier
called North99,
they're on the left side of
the political spectrum.
And we asked him about the
criticism that
his group has faced and here's
what he told us.
TAYLOR:
There's two versions of
critique, right?
And one of them is that,
you know, we, North99,
are sowing division by having
a certain perspective
and I think that's
just sort of ridiculous
on the basis that, I mean,
every media outlet has a
perspective and a point of view,
we're very upfront about ours
and I think that's just how the
media has functioned forever.
There's also the critique that
social media platforms like
Facebook and Twitter increase
polarisation in society
by putting people in these
filter bubbles
where they are only exposed to
ideas with which
they already agree,
they're never exposed to
different viewpoints.
And I am sympathetic to that for
sure, but I mean,
that's a problem to take up with
Facebook and Twitter.
STEVE:
What's your response to that?
KALEIGH:
I would agree with
the point that
the way that these social media
sites are designed
does tend to put people into
these bubbles and,
almost more so now as more
traditional media is becoming
more interested in paying
attention to social media,
it's pushing people into more
private spaces,
private groups,
private chatrooms,
where they're even more
isolated.
Yeah. I don't know that you can
blame one particular group
for taking advantage of that
ecosystem that as he said,
has been designed already by
these platforms.
STEVE:
The Elections Modernisation Act,
Bill C-76.
What is that all about?
KALEIGH:
Well, it made a couple of
changes but one of
the most notable I would say is
the creation of this sort of
pre-writ period which in
Canadian lexicon
kind of always existed
in our minds
but wasn't officially
established,
and now, any kind of
third party advertiser
who spends more than $500 on
a political ad
after June 30th,
up until the writ drops,
has to resister as
a third party,
has to be accountable for who's
giving them money,
where they're spending that
money.
Whereas before they could kind
of get away with
doing whatever that wanted up
until the writ drops.
STEVE:
Now, would a five second 'jif'
or gif--
however you pronounce that--
on Twitter count as political
advertising?
KALEIGH:
It depends.
That's another issue is we
haven't quite updated
the advertising rules to meet
with social media.
So if you're spending more than
$500
that's easy to understand,
you know?
But if you're just setting up
a Facebook page,
I mean, that's free,
that doesn't cost you anything.
If you're personally making
those gifs yourself,
you're not hiring a team to make
them or something,
that's not spending any money,
so are you still a third party
advertiser
if you haven't spent, you know,
more than a couple--
maybe 20 bucks?
STEVE:
Hmm.
Okay, since you are the reporter
with an eye out for
disinformation, I'd like to know
whether so far
you are more concerned about
what you see made in Canada
or coming at us from foreign
sources?
KALEIGH:
I've seen more evidence of
efforts within Canada,
but I think that a foreign
interference
would be a bigger concern.
It's something that we're
looking out for,
I know that obviously CSIS is
looking out for out,
and there is concern--
you know, there's certain actors
that it would make sense
to see some interference.
So for example, China,
there's a very large Chinese
diaspora in Canada,
many of which are using
platforms that are
much more isolated and harder to
track and harder to see into,
like WeChat for example.
And so that would be an area
where it could be sort of
primed for the Chinese
government to go in
and spread disinformation
to try to get a certain outcome
in this election that
they would prefer.
STEVE:
Do we know which outcome
they would prefer?
KALEIGH: Not personally.
(Both laughing)
But that would be
interesting to see.
STEVE:
'Cause I guess there's two
schools of thought on this.
One is that given what Russia
attempted with
the last American election,
presidential election,
what they successful prosecuted
I think we can say,
you know, a lot of people are on
the lookout here for
similar kind of foreign
interference here.
There are other people I've
talked to who say,
"Boy, is that every overblown
for Canada."
"There's very little evidence so
far that anybody offshore
is trying to influence our
elections
and we really ought to keep an
eye on what's going on
within our own borders."
Have you come to a conclusion
about that yet?
KALEIGH:
I would say-- I don't think
there's anything wrong with
keeping an eye out for
foreign interference,
and we have seen in previous
elections, you know,
like Twitter did a release of
trolls, bots,
from 2015 that we looked into
and there was a very clear
effort from Iran
to try to influence Canadians
to try to sow decent and
have people arguing
and more aggressive to
one another
on particularly contentious
issues like pipelines.
So it's not like this hasn't
happened or could not happen.
That said, I also wouldn't want
to overblow it
or have people freaked out and
assuming that
Russia's trying to meddle in
our election because I agree,
we haven't seen any evidence
that that is happening.
STEVE:
Kaleigh, thanks for making some
time for us here
on the #onpoli podcast
and good luck covering
the election.
KALEIGH:
Thank you so much.

STEVE:
John Michael,
I appreciate your patience.
you have sat there patiently
and now I'm ready to hear what
you have to say.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I came away from the interview
with Jeff Ballingall
with two main thoughts.
The first one,
a very general point,
that I really wonder in this
election whether
Ontario Proud or Canada Proud
will be as effective in this
election as they were last year.
One of the things that I think
people don't appreciate is
just for how long Ontario Proud
basically had
the battlefield to itself.
There was just nobody who was
doing the things they do
as well,
as much as any other sort of
left leaning/progressive group.
You've now got groups like
North99
really trying to compete on
the same ground,
and so we'll see, right?
Maybe they were as influential
as they were because
they were the only ones playing
and we'll see what that means.
Um, there was a more specific
thing that kind of got to me
which was when Jeff was saying
he wanted nothing to do with
Maxime Bernier and he said,
you know,
he believes in immigration,
he had also talked about how his
real achievement,
or Ontario Proud's real
achievement of the 2018 election
was keeping Andrea Horvath from
being Premier,
but the specific way they did
that was, in part,
by flooding Facebook with all
sorts of ads about how
the NDP were going to make
Ontario a sanctuary province
that was going to fill Ontario's
hospitals with
illegal immigrants who were
going to get
all of the healthcare that
rightly belonged to
Ontario residents.
I'm just one guy, I couldn't
tell you mathematically
how important those ads were,
but I saw them everywhere
and a whole bunch of other
people I know
saw them everywhere on Facebook.
And so for him to say on the one
hand he's extremely proud of
the fact that Andrea Horvath is
not the Premier
and he believes in, you know,
more immigration for Canada,
but, "Oh, hey. Also this part of
my record where I was
incredibly alarmist about
immigration."
I just have a hard time
taking it.
STEVE:
But that's what he does, right?
That is the game that these guys
play which is to take an issue,
take a, you know,
everyday issue,
and torque it for a purpose.
And he did that, presumably,
successfully in that last
Ontario election.
Okay. Nowhere actually in the
course of our conversation yet
has either you or I indicated
whether we like this turn in our
political discourse
and you know, half of me is sort
of reluctant to wade in here
but half of me is a bit
old school
and finds some of this stuff
a bit concerning.
Contrast ads have been around
forever,
negative political advertising
has been around forever,
we shouldn't pretend that this
is somehow the first time
that anybody threw a real tough
punch in, you know,
in a political campaign.
Having said that, this does feel
like it takes the demonization
of ones opponent
to another level
and I do wonder,
I won't say worry yet,
but I do wonder whether or not
the further demonization
of those who practice politics
is good
if you're trying to get more
people kind of
turned on to politics,
or does this just convince more
of us that everybody in politics
is reprehensible and,
you know,
we shouldn't bother with it.
JOHN MICHAEL:
No, I have the exact same
concern
that we are seeing so much
energy
and money and time
being put into
making everybody angry.
There's a real danger with
these groups.
And I understand why they do it
because, you know,
it is this sort of
anarchical system
and everybody's out to,
you know,
you're biting and scratching
for, you know,
a five percent change in
the polls
and you will do whatever you can
to win,
and like, winning is important,
elections are important,
winning government is important,
but yeah, it scares me
some days.
And it's a huge change from
where I though
the internet was going to go,
I would say even 10 years ago.
STEVE:
Well, the fact is I don't know
too many times in politics
where the toothpaste gets put
back in the tube,
so we are where we are.
It's hard to imagine that we're
going to revert to a time
when we were more civil to
each other
and where the campaigns
didn't get
uglier and uglier and uglier,
which they seem to each time out
of the gate.
I don't mind clever.
You know, some of this stuff is
very clever,
and you'll look at a meme or
you'll look at
a short five second whatever and
you'll say,
"Oh, you know, that's a good
shot. That's pretty good."
"Well played."
But too much of it,
in my little opinion,
too much of it is ugly,
and vicious, and aims to hurt,
and is personal,
and probably contributes to
the conclusion of many people
that they don't want to have
anything to do with democracy.
But you know,
at the end of the day,
I think you and I do what we do
and I think frankly,
most people in politics do what
they do because
they believe in the good
judgement of the public.
You know, we do what we do,
we put it out there and then we
let the public decide
whether it makes any
sense or not.
And I have to,
if I'm being consistent,
I have to put all of this in
the hands of the public and say,
"All right,
you're looking at it."
"Does it affect you?"
"You bring your good judgement
to bare
and you can decide yourself
whether this is toxic,
ugly, useless stuff,
or whether it actually makes you
think twice about and issue
and twice about a candidate."
And if it does that latter,
well then it's got some
constructive value.
If it just does the former,
I don't like it.

All right, dear listeners.
Tell us what you thought of
the show you just heard,
email us at onpolitics@tvo.org,
or Tweet at us.
I'm @spaikin.
That's s-p-a-i-k-i-n.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm @jm_mcgrath.
STEVE:
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or even if you didn't like it
for that matter,
rate and review us on
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JOHN MICHAEL:
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And share it with your friends.
STEVE:
Today's episode was produced by
Harrison B. Lowman.
The series producer is
Eric Bombicino.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Audio and editing from
Matthew O'Mara.
The rest of the team includes
Daniel Kits,
Cara Stern, and Katy O'Conner.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Hannah Sung is the manager of
digital video and podcasts
here at TVO.
STEVE:
Thanks for listening everybody.

Watch: What Do the Meme Wars Mean for the Election?