Ford faces calls to dismantle 'Ontario News Now'
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is facing calls to dismantle ‘Ontario News Now’ — the taxpayer-funded Progressive Conservative communication video service — after PC party donors were featured in recent promotional videos.
On Sunday, 'Ontario News Now' posted a video featuring Pelee Island Winery, located south of Chatham-Kent, in which Ford is seen touring the winery before telling viewers to “go buy a bottle of Pelee Island Wine.”
The video triggered online backlash after it was discovered that Walter Schmoranz, the president of the winery, donated money to the PC party twice in 2019 according to public filings with Elections Ontario — just weeks before his company was featured in a video.
New Democratic MPP Marit Stiles says the situation “sends up all kinds of red flags” because it can easily constitute cash-for-access.
“I think a lot of other wine producers and other business in Ontario would wonder, does that mean that we have to donate to the party in order to get the same kind of attention for our products,” Stiles told CTV News Toronto in an interview.
An analysis of additional 'Ontario News Now' videos shows at least five other businesses whose owners or presidents donated to the party have benefitted from a personal visit from the premier or a promotional video.
However, several other businesses featured in other 'Ontario News Now' videos have no financial links to any registered Ontario party, according to Elections Ontario data.
In a statement the Premier’s Office says “no one can buy Doug Ford.”
“The Premier will continue to support and promote small businesses and the incredible contribution they make in communities across Ontario,” a statement from the Premier’s Office reads.
PC party stalwart Rick Nicholls, featured in the Pelee Island Winery video alongside Ford, fired back on social media defending the party’s use of the videos.
“So it’s not “cool” for a local business to donate to a political party because of the good things the Ford government is doing for Ontario?” Nichols tweeted.
Another PC party insider, however, calls it another “unscripted moment” and is calling on Ford to tweak Ontario News Now to make other conservative MPPs “feel comfortable” with the medium.
“A majority of caucus would like to see it modified,” the high-level MPP told CTV News Toronto, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We want to see content we feel comfortable using on our own social media feeds.”
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner says the government is “knee-deep” in cash-for-access, which is “eating away” at democratic values.
“Elected officials should not use their positions to sell favours for friends, donors, insiders or lobbyists,” Schreiner said in a statement.