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.
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 email@example.com.