Q&A: Jeff Ballingall, founder of Ontario Proud, on his right-wing meme machine
He helped take down Kathleen Wynne, and now he’s targeting Justin Trudeau
You started Ontario Proud, a right-wing advocacy group, in 2016. How come?
Big third-party union groups had been funding anti-conservative attacks in Ontario for years. They were very successful—they beat John Tory and Tim Hudak in successive elections. Then Kathleen Wynne lowered spending limits and banned corporate and union donations to parties. The ecosystem was changing. I was a consultant for the crisis management and PR firm Navigator, and I realized that small-c conservatives had a big opportunity. The Progressive Conservatives hadn’t won since I was in Grade 8.
In Grade 8, you were living in Sarnia. What did your parents do there?
They owned a small lawn care business.
Did you work for them?
Yeah, as a teenager. I also worked at a Walmart and in a grocery store. My first job was delivering the Sarnia Observer. That’s when I fell in love with politics.
Were your parents politically active?
Not really. I was the weird one. I was fascinated by the theatre of American politics. I came of age during the U.S. bombing of Iraq and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Politics is like sport, except the stakes really matter.
Was that when you formed your political point of view?
I was in school during the teachers’ strikes. I didn’t like the way teachers lectured us about how evil Mike Harris was. Nobody told us about the good stuff the Tories were doing or the mess Bob Rae created. I wanted to know the opposite side, to be countercultural.
You’ve worked for Sun News and for the Conservative Research Group. So are you a dyed-in-the-wool conservative?
I’m aggressively moderate.
I believe in smarter, leaner, responsible government. Personal liberty above all.
And you think the Conservative party best aligns with your values?
It’s the least-worst option.
How would you describe the digital content you and your staff create?
Short, punchy social-media videos that delve into policy issues and news. We created a video about the rising cost of gas and one about the 10 stupidest things Justin Trudeau has ever done. Some of the videos use humour, some use outrage, some are educational.
Who are Ontario Proud’s biggest fans?
Our bread and butter is women 55 and older. They’re the most active on Facebook, and members of that demographic also vote in the highest numbers, so it’s important to reach those people. I tell my team: “How would you explain this political issue to your aunt? Simplify it, explain why it matters, don’t patronize.”
Some say Ontario Proud helped elect Doug Ford. Do you take credit for that?
We had a big impact. We were more engaged on Facebook than all the parties combined. We were hammering Wynne two years prior to the election. Millions of people saw our content every week.
What do you think of the job Ford’s doing?
There’s a lot of room for improvement.
They’re making policies then walking them back. That needs to stop.
You also run BC Proud and last year launched Canada Proud to oust Trudeau. What’s wrong with the Trudeau government?
The corruption. Look at how the political establishment helped SNC-Lavalin. If Stephen Harper was helping a corrupt Alberta oil company, imagine what people would be doing right now.
Ontario Proud has received about half a million dollars in donations, mostly from developers like Peter Gilgan’s Mattamy Homes. Who’s bankrolling Canada Proud?
We’re doing really well with $25, $50, $100 micro-donations.
Some people say you’re profiting from political polarization.
People are not used to hearing the opposite point of view. You meet a liberal or a leftist at a barbecue, and it’s like they’ve never met a conservative. They stereotype us—they think we’re all bigoted, racist rednecks. We’re not.
Any political ambitions for yourself?
I would never run for office. I’ve met enough politicians to know I don’t want to be like them.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.