We've got their number, too

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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I was at the front door on Saturday morning talking to two young and sincere Siobhan Coady supporters — “She’s just a couple of streets away!” — when I found out that, sadly, our front-step discussion had cost me the delightful opportunity to hear Siobhan herself.

Or at least a recorded message from Coady, auto-dialled in on the telephone.

What a shame. I so would have enjoyed being involved in the political process by keeping absolutely quiet during the tele-lecture.

There’s been a lot of that in the last few weeks — parties trying reach out and touch someone in all the wrong ways.

Michael Ignatieff calling to announce he was in town. Lorraine Michael calling to stump for Ryan Cleary. Auto-dials for polling companies — “If Conservative, press one.” And I’ve missed virtually every one.

While I haven’t had the pleasure of the auto-dial yet, I can’t help but wonder if the federal politicians who use the approach aren’t idiots.

Here’s why: one of the biggest problems you hear from those who don’t vote is that they don’t matter, and in particular, that their vote doesn’t matter.

What better way to prove that than to use an auto-dialler that simply dictates a message, doesn’t allow input, and demands your rapt attention?

The only way to make your point known is to opt out of the call entirely — and the auto-dialler doesn’t even care about that.

The message is a simple one: your questions and concerns are neither wanted nor needed. Just vote, and shut up.

It’s not just the auto-diallers that have been unintentionally damaging — a call asking for support for Conservative Loyola Sullivan was hampered by three separate failings.

One? That the call came from an earnest party worker in Alberta. Two? That the earnest worker had to be coached on how to pronounce Loyola’s first name. And three, that when asked about Conservative policy, including the pricetag for new fighter jets, he blustered into, “Don’t you want to defend this country?” and then lost his temper. Hardly a way to find voter support — but enlightening, just the same.

(At least a crowd of Conservative supporters weren’t there on the line to shout down the questions with staged cheers, they way they were when the media tried to ask Stephen Harper pointed questions over the weekend.)

Politicians seem to be forgetting something fundamental when it comes to the idea of having some kind of machine deliver their message, whether or not the machine is the nuts-and-bolts kind or a flesh-and-blood Conservative automaton from another province.

Wrong number

The country has a “do-not-call” registry that over 9.5 million people have added their names to — think about that.

Now, political parties are specifically exempted from the registry, so the calls they are making are legal. (Hooray for praying at the altar of divine self-service — deciding not to include themselves in the registry is something akin to the long-standing Parliamentary mantra that federal politicians are immune to having an auditor general review the way they spend or misspend their expense allowances.)

But that hardly means the calls will be welcomed by anyone who has gone to the trouble to put their name on the list. These are people who have specifically said they don’t want anyone phoning to try to sell them something, let alone wasting their time with a disembodied recorded voice warbling on about some political candidate.

Those 9.5 million people are the ones who have actually taken the time and effort to add themselves to the list — there are easily four times as many who hate automatic phone calls (“Weeee-ooowww. This is your captain speaking ...”) but haven’t gotten around to actually putting themselves on the list.

Any politician who thinks auto-diallers have a place in a modern campaign is sorely out to lunch. For every voter they might help to convince, they alienate scores more.

Any questions, politicians? Sorry — I’ve decided I’m not taking any questions.

How does that feel? Click.

I just hung up.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Alberta

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Recent comments

  • MBC
    April 28, 2011 - 06:20

    Why would anyone vote for Harper? Remember when he called all Atlantic Canadians a bunch of lazy no goods who were happy to rely on government payouts; or word to that effect. I remember very well. Danny Williams knows Harper very well as do the NL MHAs, and now they are on Harpers bandwagon.

  • Vic
    April 26, 2011 - 14:19

    Any charity or politician who uses this autodial and tape message stuff loses my support. Period. Political parties should not be excluded from Canada's Do Not Call list. It is abuse of privilige for them to do so.

  • Scott Free
    April 26, 2011 - 11:01

    Not only an excellent editorial, but equally intelligent comments by both Mark and Red. While we're on the topic of campaign propaganda, interesting that the printed literature circulated in both Avalon and St. John's West by the Con-candidates does not mention the name Stephen Harper once! There was a time that federal and provincial hopefuls ranted on about party leadership.

  • Mark D.
    April 26, 2011 - 10:43

    An excellent editorial which outlines the problem with our politicians: they do not want to engage with their electorate. Regrettably, in this age of multi- mass media and social media, politics is more about public relations and giving impressions rather than actually doing good work for the electors who put our parliamentarians in Ottawa. For all she boasts about being a business person, Siobhan Coady's training is in public relations and she treats even the rarest encounter as a PR exercise. Auto-dialling is a technique to reach out to the electorate without actually having to engage with them. You can complain to the politicians pre-recorded message but the politician cannot here you and that is the way she wants it. I ask you Mr. Wangursky, as a fellow resident of South John's South-Mount Pearl, were you disappointed that not one of the candidates in our riding campaigned on local issues? They all campaigned on the national script: Stephen Harper is bad but we are not. Obviously there are no health, employment, environmental or economic concerns in our riding. And they wonder why voter turnout hovers at 60 percent. It is because they have not earned our trust as represented by our vote.

  • Red
    April 26, 2011 - 10:30

    Any strange numbers that call my house around election time won't find me answering and listening to their bull. I just pick up the phone and hang it up immeadiately just to stop it from ringing. It is funny how if you try to call and talk to them you get an answering machine.