TORONTO — Ontario's Liberals have asked Elections Ontario to investigate Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford's use of campaign videos that the governing party says might flout election finance rules.
In a statement released Sunday, the Liberals say they've asked the chief electoral officer to look into Ford Nation Live, which produces TV-news style videos.
The website features news about Ford's campaign, with staffers speaking directly to the camera and interviewing supporters using Ford Nation-branded microphones.
The people have spoken - we will maintain the Greenbelt in its entirety.
The people have spoken - we will maintain the Greenbelt in its entirety.Posted by FordNation on Tuesday, 1 May 2018
There's a note at the bottom of the website saying it has been authorized by the CFO for the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.
But the Liberals allege Ford is trying to pass off "political advertising" as media coverage, noting that the videos aren't identified as having been created by Ford's party.
"The Conservative campaign is not just misleading Ontarians, it may be running afoul of election laws," a statement from the party says. "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."
Jack Siegel, a lawyer for the Liberal Party, says the party is concerned that people will see the videos on Facebook or other social media sites where the connection to Ford's campaign may not be as clear.
"There's an effort to pass (the videos) off as news, and people who see them casually — maybe not paying close attention, or looking at them with a questioning eye — might not pick up on the fact that these are just Tory ads," he says.
A spokeswoman for Ford says his campaign is not worried about the investigation request.
"Unlike Kathleen Wynne who is (campaigning) on the taxpayer's dime, we are following the Elections Ontario rules," said Melissa Lantsman.
At an event on Friday, Ford mentioned Ford Nation Live, saying that it would provide people at home with an opportunity to follow him on the campaign trail.
Presenting campaign information in the style of a news report is not an entirely new strategy. During the 2007 provincial campaign, Ben Chin, who has worked as an aide for former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty, made several similar videos using the phrases "Liberal News" and "Liberal TV." Sitting at a desk like a news anchor, Chin read campaign talking points about McGuinty's PC opponent John Tory in the style of a news broadcast.
Siegel says he doesn't remember those videos, but he believes they must have been identified as Liberal ads when they were initially distributed.
Last month, the Tories asked Elections Ontario to investigate after accusing Wynne's government of spending public funds on campaign-style events ahead of the campaign's official launch.
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Elections Ontario has said the organization does not comment on complaints they receive or investigations they undertake.
Ford, Wynne and NDP leader Andrea Horwath will hold their first debate on Monday, and the provincial election is set for June 7.