Mocking the vote

Pam Frampton
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Poll-padding shows contempt for the public

Last week's revelation that political parties stack phone-in radio shows with their supporters and pad online opinion polls to skew results was probably not a shock to anyone in the news business.

Pay attention to the talk-radio circuit and you will hear various government MHAs speaking from the same message track, just as they all parroted the same handful of derisive phrases when MHA Tom Osborne left the Tory fold.

And it's not that the Progressive Conservatives are the only ones doing it - no doubt all three mainstream provincial parties try to control the message to a certain extent, a practice that has its origins at least as far back as the Liberal era under Brian Tobin.

But it's the Tories, by virtue of their sheer number, who have the biggest propaganda machine, and Steve Bartlett's story in The Telegram revealed the kind of activities that are involved, in stark black and white.

"We are falling way behind on the CBC question," Mount Pearl South Tory MHA Paul Lane writes in one BlackBerry message sent to a raft of Tory foot soldiers.

"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."

This type of unethical behaviour carried out at the behest of elected politicians is repugnant on several levels.

First, MHAs and their operatives use BlackBerry PIN or peer-to-peer messaging to intentionally avoid the more tangible trails left by email. PINs are beyond the scope of access to information requests and offer politicos more security to communicate freely.

By using PIN messages to send directives about poll padding and other practices unworthy of people who call themselves "honourable," your elected politicians are hoping you won't find out what they're up to.

This whole thing shows a complete disregard for openness and transparency.

When Bartlett first reported about the government's message-managing campaign in The Telegram in January, Lane was quick to take to the VOCM airwaves to deny that any chicanery was afoot and to insist that Tory MHAs are only trying to communicate with the public about the government's activities and objectives.

"If you're on the government side and you think you're doing good things, it's important to let people know the good things you're doing," he told "Backtalk" host Paddy Daly.

Despite his protestation that he doesn't even know "how to manipulate on a computer," it's obvious from Lane's PIN cited earlier that he was doing his darndest to learn. (And it's not rocket science, folks.)

Of course, Lane should not be the scapegoat here, even if his enthusiasm for spin distinguishes him from his fellows - not that MHAs Steve Kent and Vaughn Granter are far behind.

What's absurd is elected officials' determination to pad polls in order to swing the results in favour of their party's policy, when the results have no scientific weight at all.

Media outlets use online polls and questions of the day to attract readers to their websites. We also use them in an attempt to get some general sense of how the public feels about an issue.

When it comes to participating in those polls, most folks abide by the honour system and vote just once - just as they only take one copy of a newspaper when they buy one from a vending box.

By voting multiple times to skew poll results, politicians and their staffers are thumbing their noses at members of the public who play by the rules, and are stripping away any shred of value that the polls might have had.

By rigging a poll's outcome, they're essentially putting their words in the mouths of the public.

They're carrying out campaigns of blatant deception, which is completely disrespectful to the people who put their trust in them.

Vote often. Call radio shows to repeat the party line. Shape the message. Try to fool the people.

That's what's happening, but don't expect to read that slogan on a campaign sign come the next election.

When the NDP was asked if it asks its members and supporters to call radio shows to repeat scripted messages, a spokeswoman told The Telegram, "I think people are aware of how false it sounds when people are saying the same thing, so we don't do it."

Apparently the governing party thinks we're all too stupid to notice.

"If you are to speak on a radio show, and you wish to speak about Muskrat Falls, then we will provide messaging ...," a government staffer wrote in a BlackBerry message to her fellow Tories.

And that's all just hunky-dory with the premier, who protested just a tad too much that "There's no story here" when asked about the issue in Corner Brook Wednesday.

"So, do we participate?" she said. "... You betcha. ... Anybody who has a political point of view that's important to them ... you find a way to express that."

Well, the last time I checked, politicians had many legitimate ways of expressing their points of view to the public - websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook, news releases, news conferences and media scrums.

There's absolutely no need to resort to this sort of ham-fisted skulduggery.

Do we expect better from our elected officials?

You betcha.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Tory, Progressive Conservatives, CBC NDP

Geographic location: Corner Brook

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Recent comments

  • anne
    February 28, 2013 - 13:28

    As long as voters remember all of the discusting stuff this group has done since they have been elected. I hope someone is keeping a list.

  • Wondering
    February 25, 2013 - 18:41

    And you wonder politicans have a bad name. But of course so do journalists. A statesman is a politican who can lie with ease. It is the journalists job to make public the skullduggery of politicans. Keep it up Pam.

    • Mr.U
      February 26, 2013 - 00:48

      Haters as they say will always hate.Conplainers the same.Chin up Paul,some so called legit journalism may happen yet ...naw ;)

  • Beth
    February 25, 2013 - 10:20

    Well-said, Pam! You're absolutely right that the politicians have discredited the very polls they seek to manipulate. From now on, any thinking person will view these polls with more than the usual degree of skepticism. So really, why bother having them at all? If we feel strongly about an issue, we should write our political representatives directly.

  • hua mulan
    February 23, 2013 - 19:28

    excellent article Pam... isn't it a sad polity when the only voice the commoner in the greatest degree of certainty doesnt have is the elected politician who is supposed to be representing us ?

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 23, 2013 - 09:29

    Funny thing is, the only people they fooled was themselves. I can't believe Paul Lane tanked his career over something so stupid.

  • Grow up
    February 23, 2013 - 09:06

    I fully agree and we should expect better from our polticians. Polls should be one way that the public provides input into government policies and actions. And real polls can do that. Instead we get politicians using these media polls to put words in our mouth. Another problem with these media polls is that they are not real polls and never have been. The Telegram admits that their polls are not based on science. At best these polls are limited to only reflecting the opinions of online readers of the Telegram and not the public. And, thanks to the deceitful behaviour of our government, it has been made clear that these polls are a source of misinformation.

  • guess paul
    February 23, 2013 - 08:58

    I'll give paul lane, steve kent and THEIR government one thing. They're Unaccountable to the bitter end.

    • Kev
      February 23, 2013 - 10:22

      And they will be bitter, in the end. Come on, 2015!!!

  • W Bagg
    February 23, 2013 - 08:26

    As Pam wrote: We are falling way behind on the CBC question," Mount Pearl South Tory MHA Paul Lane writes in one BlackBerry message sent to a raft of Tory foot soldiers. "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. did it ever occur to Paul Lame that maybe teh voters have a different opinion than the govt.