Poilievre’s campaign hires team behind Canada Proud to bolster its messages online

Pierre Poilievre may be known for his social media savvy, but his campaign is getting help from a conservative meme machine.

Jeff Ballingall’s company Mobilize Media has been picked up by Poilievre’s Conservative leadership campaign, sources familiar with the recruitment told CBC News.

CBC News does not reveal the identity of the sources because they are not authorized to speak about them publicly. The Poilievre campaign declined to comment.

Ballingall specializes in shareable and anti-liberal posts that often take on a mocking or indignant tone. His Canada Proud and Ontario Proud accounts have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and tens of thousands more on Twitter and Instagram.

Mobilize Media markets itself as offering digital strategies, energizing online communities to support a campaign, and helping clients harvest “treasures of data” to guide a campaign “and measure its impact.”

Poilievre alone has already created social media content that has been shared hundreds of thousands of times. But seeing his messages amplified online by Ballingall’s assets undoubtedly helps the candidate.

A recent Canada Proud article, for example, featured a news story about Poilievre’s energy policy with the comment: “Money to Canadians, not dirty dictatorships. Do you agree with Pierre Poilievre?

Another compared footage of a Pierre Poilievre rally with hundreds in attendance to a photo of rival candidate Jean Charest holding a meeting in what is allegedly the same room with fewer than two dozen supporters visible. The caption read: “Yuck and a half.” It has been shared over 800 times.

Then-Conservative leader Erin O’Toole speaks to supporters at a rally in Richmond Hill, Ont., August 17, 2021. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

During the last leadership campaign, eventual winner Erin O’Toole also worked with Ballingall. At the time, Ballingall told the National Post that the Proud pages would remain neutral – even though they both regularly featured content flattering O’Toole.

Ballingall was a shareholder in the conservative-leaning news site The Post Millennial but has since sold his shares, according to a media representative.

Controversial post

Ballingall’s pages, which are funded by donations, fire off some eyebrow-raising verbal jabs coming straight from a politician.

One example is an article that said that even though inflation made Canadian money “worth less”, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “worthless”.

While Ballingall’s services can boost a campaign, Proud Pages have come in for considerable criticism.

Jeff Ballingall says “the bread and butter of his communications company are women 55 and older.” (Radio Canada)

In the run-up to the 2018 Ontario provincial election, CBC News reported that comments insulting the appearance and sexual orientation of then-Premier Kathleen Wynne were visible on the Ontario Proud Facebook page. Some of the comments used profanity and one reader said he wondered why no one shot Wynne.

“We are not going to comment on a website that supports profane, hateful, and abusive comments,” Wynne’s office said at the time.

Critics such as Press Progress, a media outlet founded by the Broadbent Institute in 2013, have denounced some of Canada Proud’s posts as racist – including a March 2021 post that suggested the Trudeau government was pushing skin color before age and medical history to decide who should be vaccinated.

In fact, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has stated that racialized communities are disproportionately affected by COVID and are among at-risk groups that should be prioritized.

Ballingall’s pages also regularly criticize the CBC, which Poilievre said he would cut if he became prime minister.

Although Ballingall’s techniques have been scrutinized and criticized, his ability to reach Conservative supporters remains clearly attractive to campaigns.

In a 2019 interview with Toronto Life magazine, Ballingall was asked to identify Ontario Proud’s biggest fans.

Our bread and butter are women aged 55 and over. They’re the most active on Facebook and members of that demographic also vote in higher numbers, so it’s important to reach those people,” he told the publication.

“I tell my team, ‘How would you explain this political issue to your aunt? Simplify it, explain why it matters, don’t condescend.'”