OTTAWA — Canada Proud has spent more than $110,000 this campaign season boosting its online anti-Trudeau message, with financing coming from thousands of Canadians as well as several key big-ticket donors, Elections Canada documents show.
The third-party advertising group, which functions mostly as a popular Facebook page sharing memes and political content, is the federal outgrowth of a similar group focused on Ontario provincial politics.
Canada Proud's expenses are almost exclusively for amplifying its content on Facebook and Instagram.
"That's where Canadians are primarily getting their news these days, and that's where we want to be," Jeff Ballingall, the group's founder, said in an interview Thursday.
He said the group has expanded during the writ period to some advertising in ethnic media outlets and would continue to diversify, if possible. But most of the money would continue to go to the group's "bread and butter" — social media.
Third-party groups must start filing interim returns with Elections Canada once they spend or receive more than $10,000 for regulated political activity. The Canada Proud report uploaded to the Elections Canada website includes contributions received since the group was created and expenses incurred from the beginning of the pre-writ period on June 30.
Canada Proud is funding its spending through almost $250,000 in donations from nearly 2,100 Canadians. About $65,000 of that total came from donors who gave $200 or less.
Much of the remainder — about 60 per cent of the total contributions reported so far — comes from just three entities: a Calgary-based multi-industry company called Coril Holdings Ltd. and its founder Ron Mannix; and a group called Merit Contractors Association of Canada.
Mannix and Coril Holdings Ltd. both donated $50,000, while Merit gave $45,000.
"We've received thousands of donations from thousands of people. Some of them are larger, some of them are smaller, and we're happy to represent a lot of Canadians," Ballingall said.
"We represent Canadians who are sick of Justin Trudeau's corruption and incompetence."
Coril Holdings did not immediately respond to messages left on Thursday.
A director of Merit Contractors Association of Canada, a group representing non-unionized construction companies, said the donation to Canada Proud was their way of getting involved in the democratic process against a Liberal government they feel has not been receptive to their needs.
"I think we may actually have an opportunity if the Conservatives are elected," said Heather Cruickshanks, who is also the president of Merit's Nova Scotia division.
"This is an opportunity for us to hopefully support someone who will actually listen," she said.
Cruickshanks said her group was not "anti-Liberal," preferring to say there was a "difference of opinion" on policy relating to non-unionized construction companies.
On the choice of donating to Canada Proud, Cruickshanks said her organization looked at other options, but chose the third-party group because of its extensive reach on social media.
"I feel that people should at least allow organizations to support whom they choose to support, and in this case we've used Canada Proud as the venue to do so," she said.
Canada Proud and its sister organization, Ontario Proud, have been criticized in the past for the tone of some of its memes and controversial pieces of content.
Ballingall said Thursday "Our message is resonating because people like it. We're doing something different, we're shaking things up."
He said people were tired of some traditional media and that his group was "allowing people from across Canada who aren't necessarily represented in dinosaur media to have a voice."
The founder of the group said the goal was to spend the maximum amount possible in the campaign period — $511,700.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2019.