Essex MPP Taras Natyshak wants the Elections Commissioner to investigate who placed ads in three national papers over the weekend attacking job actions by teachers.
The group is called Vaughn Working Families, but beyond that, nobody knows who they are. The full-page, full-colour ads also parrot government talking points, and they might be illegal.
"It looks like there is a clear violation of the Elections Act," said Natyshak, who is also the NDP ethics critic. "What it looks like is, a shadow organization that's seemingly popped up out of nowhere, was able to place three full-page, full-coloured ads in three national newspapers that would clearly exceed the $4,000 threshold for third-party advertising."
Inquiries to the Toronto Star revealed such ads could cost in the ballpark of $15,600 per day, although Natyshak said some ads could cost upwards of $100,000.
Under the Elections Act, organizations not registered as a third-party are not allowed to place advertisements in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. There are two byelections underway in the Ottawa area, in the ridings of Ottawa-Vanier and Orleans.
"We're talking about dark money. Money that isn't identified. We don't know where it comes from. We don't know the intent or the motives are of the group," he explained.
A google search for Vaughn Working Families -- which spells the name of the City of Vaughan incorrectly -- turns up a long list of news articles, but no website for the group. Likewise, a search on Facebook is fruitless.
As of Tuesday morning, the Twitter account only follows four other accounts, Education Minister Stephen Lecce's, Premier Doug Ford's, the PC Party of Ontario, and the Conservative Party. The profile said it could not accept messages. The only hint to the group's identity on the Twitter profile is an admission the organization is not connected to Ontario Working Families.
Although the Ontario government denies any involvement, it makes Natyshak suspicious.
"I don't think we can rule anything out about who these people are," he admitted. "It is really, deeply concerning and frankly, hits at the heart of our democracy. If we allow these dark entities to come into our elections and try to spin and use fake news to try and change the outcome of an election, then we have a serious problem on our hands."
On Tuesday, English Catholic school teachers across the province are taking part in a second one-day strike. Teachers represented by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario have a province-wide strike scheduled on Thursday, and another in Windsor-Essex on Friday. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and the union that represents the province's French-language teachers, l'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens or AEFO, are also participating in job actions.
Contract talks between the province and the English Catholic teachers' union continued Monday, and negotiations with the union that represents public elementary school teachers broke off last weekend.