This post has been inspired by Labradore, an excellent, highly entertaining blog written by Wallace McLean that is essential reading for anyone with an interest in provincial politics. McLean is a well-known Liberal, but that in itself is not a crime. What I like is his crisp writing style and refreshing obsession with facts. McLean writes things that are critical of the provincial government, but backs up every statement or opinion with supporting information.
I'm not kidding. McLean will roll out a news clipping, press release, Hansard transcript, historical event or legislative detail to support everything he writes. You can take his Liberal credentials with a grain of salt if you like, but his facts are more difficult to refute.
Just a few days ago, for example, Premier Williams attacked former premier Brian Peckford for offering some pointed opinions on the state of the province's resource sectors. He suggested to Telegram reporters Rob Antle and Moira Baird that former premiers should "shut up and go away."
"I find it sad when former premiers comment on current administrations," Williams said.
Well, McLean dug up some things that Williams said whilst in Opposition, such as, "How dare this Premier, of all people, impute the motives of someone like Brian Peckford, a passionate Newfoundlander!" and then this: "The least you could do is show some respect for two former premiers of this Province."
Yesterday, McLean directed my attention to the VOCM Poll of the Day, a straw poll that draws in anywhere from 1,400 to 2,000 votes per day on most days. Sometimes, however, when the question relates to an issue involving Premier Williams, the numbers spike ridiculously high; so high that you know something unnatural is going on.
In other words, the premier's supporters are voting repeatedly, in an attempt to distort the outcome in the premier's favour. And it is clearly an orchestrated campaign that probably originates from within the party.
Why? Because if these votes happened independently, the numbers wouldn't skew so high on certain days. Obviously, a team of organized infantry is being mobilized on specific days and not in response to all political questions only when someone in charge deems it necessary.
For example, on September 13, the question was Do you like the province's Energy Plan?' The party decided not to unleash the operatives for this question, as it only drew 1,600 responses.
However, it would seem they were much more sensitive prior to the election. As McLean points out, there were more than 16,000 responses to this question: The provincial election is less than one month away. If it was held today, what party would you vote for?'
That contrasts with a later question, Are you pleased with the election results?', which only had 1,800 responses. It is clear that the higher response rate was triggered by a third party, and there is no mystery about who that was. The only question is, why do they mobilize online clickers' in some cases, but not in others?
Here's another example. On April 23, VOCM asked if we supported plans for a massive rally on Confederation Hill to support the premier in the equalization fight?' A massive 26,000 voted, of which 80 per cent said yes. That would make sense, except the rally was a massive failure, with only about 1,500 attending, by my estimation. Then, on May 15, we were asked if we considered the trust and confidence rally a "success". Only 1,979 voted, and 60 per cent of them said yes.
So here's what happens. In theory, the Question of the Day only allows you to vote once. However, you can override this by deleting cookies in your preferences folder, which erases the fact that you've voted already. You can keep repeating the process over and over voting all day long if you like but the process takes several seconds each time. In order to reach voting numbers of 25,000 and higher, there would have to be a lot of trained monkeys out there, clicking on command.
I know it works, because I tried it. I found and erased the VOCM cookie, and was able to vote three times in a row. However, by the third click I began to feel guilty and had to stop. This is not something trivial, like voting repeatedly for Rex or Tara on Canadian Idol. This is a rough and tumble exercise in democracy. Those who abuse it are slimebags.
This is not necessarily - or at least exclusively - a criticsm of the Williams Government. It is obvious that there are Liberals who manipulate the poll too. On those days when the numbers leap above 2,000 and the voting is fairly close, you can be sure that there are Liberal monkeys at work as well. In most cases, the Conservative monkeys will click only as often as necessary to ensure a comfortable win. But make no mistake, they will definitely click as often as it takes.
For example, check out this pre-election question, from April 13: Do you support the Labrador Metis Nation's ad campaign aimed at Premier Danny Williams?'
This one pulled in an astounding 21,530 votes, and it was a close race, ending with 53 per cent saying no and 46 per cent yes. Obviously there were operatives on both sides, monitoring the situation closely and clicking diligently.
Here's another question that mission control' deemed too sensitive to lose, even though the result makes the majority of us look rather stunned. The question, on August 28, was Do you think government should release all the information it has on the Hebron deal?' This was the most common criticism heard from those who otherwise supported the deal, so it's amazing that 63 per cent said no they were happy to be left in the dark.
Do you really think that result is legitimate? Do you still need proof?
How about this In yesterday's poll, the question was Do you agree with Premier Danny Williams that it is not the place of former premiers to comment on how the current government operates?'
Of the 8,527 who voted, an overwhelming 76 per cent agreed with Williams, that former premiers should be quiet. However, there is also a comments section on the web site. It is much more difficult to manipulate this result because you have to write your answers, which takes a lot more time than it does to erase a cookie.
Of the 73 written comments from yesterday, 46 of them disagreed. That means that 63 per cent of respondents a solid majority are not siding with the premier on this.
Here's a typical comment:
"The Williams government has used a tactic of viciously attacking any person who dares to criticize or question his government or its tactics. They been employing a tactic of the minute someone dares to question or criticize the policies of government, the cabinet ministers and government MHA's and strategically placed callers immediately bombard the public airways through talk shows, etc to destroy the critics of their regime."
Interestingly, this person zeroes in on the strategically placed callers'. As government continues this tactic of stacking open lines and flooding the online polls, people will eventually get wise. Or, to put it another way, how stupid do they think we are?
I'd really like to learn more about this practice. Would someone out there, who is closely connected to this voting network, please send me a note? I have so many questions for you Do you receive a batch email or a phone call? Is the email a blind copy or is it sent to a group? (I'd love to see the group list!) Can you send me a sample of one of your talking points' bulletins? Do you get paid for what you do? Above all, do you feel compromised by it?
Update: I received an email pointing out that McLean is a paid political staffer with a federal Liberal MP, and is thus "not a bastion of credibility or integrity". I did say McLean was a well-known Liberal and you should read his blog with that in mind. When Tories offer their points of view on issues, I take their political stripe into account too. What I consider most carefully though are the facts, and this is McLean's strength - he likes to put facts on the table and debate them. We need more like him.