Leaked exchanges prove government pads web polls, phone-in shows
© — Telegram file photo
Don't kid yourself the next time you hear a provincial politician say, "the only poll that matters is on election day."
Because the daily informal polls on media websites mean an awful lot to MHAs.
That's obvious from a series of BlackBerry messages, or PINs, obtained by The Telegram.
"This is an IMPORTANT question and we are WAY BEHIND. We need a BIG effort here from EVERYBODY," reads a PIN from a number a source identifies as being Mount Pearl South MHA Paul Lane's.
"Please go to the CBC question at www.cbc.ca/nl and choose the second option."
In late December, The Telegram published a story detailing the Tories' controlled effort to manipulate online media polls and to win the Dunderdale government favour by commenting on news stories using aliases and by prescheduling calls to radio phone-in shows.
The information came from an unnamed Tory insider, who also said the price of not taking part has been spelled out to MHAs.
The source said caucus members have been warned they won't be considered for promotions and that political staffers who fail to participate are expendable.
Lane was one of a few vocal government MHAs on the story.
On Twitter the day it ran, he was involved in numerous conversations about the article, and at one point referred to some of it as "hearsay by some anonymous source."
He also called "VOCM BackTalk" on the subject later that week.
During the call, he noted the source was unsubstantiated and said part of his responsibility as an MHA is letting people know where he stands.
Lane said to the host that the party's talk radio calls are co-ordinated - to allow MHAs a chance to get on air.
And he admitted he votes on web polls, whether the topic is provincial, municipal or federal.
"I generally like to participate in the process and I'll personally make a vote. I'll make one vote," he said. "In terms of manipulating stuff on a computer, I don't even know how to manipulate on a computer. As far as I know you can only vote one time."
But while saying he only votes once, Lane has instructed others to vote numerous times and has also expressed a desire to circumvent automated limits on web polls.
In one of the PINs, he writes, "We are falling way behind on the CBC question. The computer is only allowing us to vote once. Obviously the opposition has found a way around this and we are also working on this."
Lane goes on to request that members vote, over and over if they have access to multiple computers, BlackBerrys or iPhones.
He also encourages them to get loyal supporters, volunteers and district association members to vote.
"This is a very important poll and we require nothing less than 100 per cent effort," he stresses. "Let's get it done."
While Lane also told "BackTalk" he doesn't know how to manipulate a computer, he has been informed how to do so - at least a couple of times in the PINs.
"If you clear the history and cookies each time and start the internet again, you can vote multiple times," reads a response to a message encouraging people to vote.
The dates on all the PINs have been redacted, and the messages are only a sampling of the exchanges between caucus members.
Asked for comment Friday, Lane replied by email, saying, "I am not prepared to respond to any unseen documentation from anonymous sources but if you could please forward the information and source, I will review and respond accordingly."
The Telegram would have shown the PINs to Lane if he had agreed to a live interview. The newspaper does not reveal the identity of confidential sources.
The PINs were sent to a long list of MHAs, political staffers and party supporters.
Most are from Lane or, a source indicates, Tess Burke, communications manager with the Government Members office.
Many of the messages are regarding polls, including one with the subject, "NTV Question."
"Answer: NO," Lane spells out for them.
"We need everyone to vote on this, it's very important," Burke writes in another.
A couple of PINs focus on radio call-in shows.
"Another awesome week on open line. Thanks to everyone who participated," Lane writes. "Will be in touch with some of you in the next day or so to arrange a schedule for next week. ... I realize that this has been constant and I'm sure many of you are probably sick of these PINS, however this is very necessary in order to counter the political spin put forward by the Libs and particularly the THIRD party. These guys are hungry. We must be hungrier."
Advises Burke on a different one: "To follow up on the caucus meeting last week, if you are to speak on a radio show, and you wish to speak about Muskrat Falls, then we will provide messaging ..."
The opposition Liberals did not respond to an email asking for comment on whether or not the party is involved in such efforts.
A spokeswoman for the provincial New Democrats says if there is a poll of interest to their supporters, a link might be emailed to supporters or posted to social media sites.
She said the party has co-ordinated radio phone-in calls in the past, but to ensure MHAs got in the habit of calling, not to have them read talking points.
"I think people are aware of how false it sounds when people are saying the same thing, so we don't do it," the spokeswoman said.
She said what the Tories are said to be doing seems unfair.
"It's underhanded. They're attempting to manipulate public opinion, if what you say is true. They shouldn't be."
The Progressive Conservative approach is not met with open arms by everyone who receives the call-to-action PINs.
One reply was from a member of the public not engaged in the Tory machine.
"Folks," the recipient writes. "Delete this PIN from your (BlackBerry) please. I'm not involved with this."
email@example.com Twitter: @TelegramSteve
Read a related editorial.