Ontario Proud — same as it ever was

Nora Loreto
5 min readDec 13, 2018
One of the hundreds of threats I received, featuring Ontario Proud.

Years ago (just about 10), Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen and I got our hands on recordings through a new website called Wikileaks. The article we wrote for the Ryerson Free Press won us awards and was honestly, pretty fun to write.

The article centred on organizing meetings that were set up by Conservative operatives, working to undermine both the Canadian Federation of Students and Ontario Public Research Interest Groups on university campuses. One of the ways to do this, the recordings argued, was to set up front groups.

Front groups are great. With few resources, you can spread out your influence and find multiple revenue streams that wouldn’t otherwise be there. You can ditch the stench of partisanry, pretend you’re “for the many” and confuse people who might otherwise say they hate politics. Since 2009, the notion of astroturfing has become much more mainstream. The Right has used this tactic over and over, with great success.

Not much exists of our old exposé. It fell off the website of the Ryerson Free Press when the website was redesigned. It was preserved in amber at a rabble.ca forum.

And that old paper, brought into modernity from a newsletter called Nightviews by Granovsky-Larsen, and that I lead for two years, is gone. The story of the lawsuit that killed it is long and sad, and is here.

The most famous front group in Canada has just been exposed — Ontario Proud. Here we are; history repeating itself as farce. Go through our article and you’ll see a few names you’ll recognize from that era.

One is Ryan O’Connor, who got so good at drawing front groups on campus that he put his skills to work in the real world. And bless him because don’t we all wish we could be as effective as adults as we were as kids in undergrad? But he, and others, turned their campus organizing into organizing that has paid off handsomely: for developers, for anti-union corporations and lobbyists, and others. Time will tell what kind of anti-ice cream measures the Yogen Fruz family will get for their donation.

In the National Observer, Carl Meyer digs into O’Connor’s appearance at the House of Commons’ ethics committee. Ontario Proud received a lot of money from groups who will benefit handsomely from Doug Ford’s policies. Far from the days of campus politics, where the stakes are low and the amount of power one can grasp is limited, here we see big money being poured into a digital front organization, paid for by corporations who want Ford to do their bidding. The predictable end to their successful campaign? Ford is gleefully doing their bidding.

(Aside: Peter Kent makes an appearance in Meyer’s article, pleading for people to understand “context,” which is funny to me, as, also a decade ago, Kent was directly interfering in a student union election to try and block a progressive team from taking office. He was a member of Cabinet at the time. The old campus-power nexus exists in more forms than one).

The largest donors were: Mattamy Homes and Nashville Development (who can now develop tf out of the Greenbelt), Merit Canada (who have already won with Ford’s two, sweeping anti-worker and anti-labour bills), and dozens of others to give them half a million in operating funds. Canadaland posted redacted filings.

There’s a lot to go through in these filings, but this post isn’t for that. I’ll just mention one group, Triple M Metal Corp., who gave $10,000. They’ve been fined twice since 2011 in workplace health and safety violations that lead to workers’ injuries both times. Maybe a journalist will think about locating those workers and seeing what life post-injury has been like.

Ontario Proud has been very successful in whipping up Internet fury, and part of this fury is at the personal expense of people who oppose their politics. Like me. Ontario Proud helped marshal a lot of heat my way by selectively and maliciously torquing my comments about the tragic bus accident that took so many young lives in April. They, like others (Jason Kenney, Ezra Levant, etc.) saw a moment to seize on tragedy and an uncomfortable truth to boost their reach, electrify their base and silence a critic. And the harassment has, mostly, worked: I’ve been blacklisted by Maclean’s and have been unsuccessful with getting anything placed in Canadian mainstream media since April.

It’s not a coincidence that someone who’s been onto this shit for so long is the one to have their heels driven into my neck.

During the week where I became Canada’s Most Despised Human, there were hundreds of messages that referenced Ontario Proud directly. Consequence-free harassment. It must have felt great to watch your audience of frothing anger come after someone who’s been (an extremely minor) thorn in your side, or to have her become so radioactive that she can’t reach people who you’re also trying to reach.

The forces that seek to grind average people into the ground are sophisticated, well-funded and practiced. Their tentacles reach far throughout every power apparatus there is: from corporations to police to Cabinet ministers to mayors; everywhere that the fictitious “Free Hand of the Market” apparently and magically operates. They know what they’re doing because they’ve fine-tuned their efforts over years of political organizing. And we’re collectively stuck in the dust, wondering … what is happening here … over and over until we realize that rent controls are gone, the Greenbelt is gone, that we’re stuck in traffic longer, working longer, more sick thanks to more dangerous work, paid less, with fewer benefits and services, less time with our families, in more desperation and fear than we ever thought we would be in.

We are in the place between desperate times and desperate measures. The times are desperate but we collectively have no idea: no tools, no strategies, no leadership, no power, to develop those desperate measures that are required to get us out of this mess. The second something innovative, reasonable and workable emerges, it’s crushed, coopted or dismantled.

We need to rush to the barricades, but we don’t even know what a barricade looks like any more. This isn’t Paris 1832 and we’ve cosplayed revolution enough. We have to be actually radical again: taking on these forces head-on with an authentic and real mobilization that comes from average people.

Pay attention to what they do to those of us who refuse to back down.

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Nora Loreto

Writer and activist in Quebec City. Happy socialist but angry soccer player. Canadian Freelance Union — Unifor executive member.