Premier's office involved in poll padding

Steve Bartlett sbartlett@thetelegram.com
Published on March 24, 2013
Premier Kathy Dunderdale
— Telegram file photo

Staff in the premier’s office as well as cabinet minister Clyde Jackman have urged others to manipulate online media polls, according to new BlackBerry messages leaked to The Telegram.

One thread is dated Aug. 12, 2011, and starts at 8 a.m. with premier’s office staffer Milly Brown telling colleagues Glenda Power, Denise Payne and Derrick Rideout that VOCM’s Question of the Day was “Do you think Clyde Jackman should be removed from his position?”

At the time, Power was Kathy Dunderdale’s director of communications and Brown was press secretary. The four now work with executive council. All, except Power, remain with the premier’s office.

Thirty-four minutes after the first message, Payne sent another to a long list of cabinet ministers, backbenchers, political staff and supporters. The subject was “VOCM question of the day.”

At 10:53 a.m., a numbered BlackBerry user sent a missive out to the list — “Vote results so far is 73 per cent yes and 25 per cent no … make your vote.”

A numbered person named Anita replied to that at 11:19 with, “I’ve been voting multiple times — everyone needs to do this so we can catch up.”

A minute later, someone named Pat Bruce responded with, “On

it too.”

At 2:10 p.m., Mount Pearl North MHA Steve Kent chimes in with, “Still losing 55 to 44 … Please vote!”

 

“Please do,” echoes Jackman a minute later.

The last post to the thread comes from a numbered user at 2:18. “This question will remain open for voting through the weekend, as well!” it reads. “There won’t be a new question until Monday.”

Since late December, The Telegram has published a series of articles on provincial politicians and their attempts to boost their party’s profile by goosing online media polls.

The consensus is that all parties are doing it to a certain extent, but the stories have focused on the governing Tories based on a series of leaked BlackBerry messages.

No similar correspondence from the Liberals or NDP has surfaced, although sources say it exists.

The first series of leaked messages revealed the extent PC backbenchers, such as caucus chair Paul Lane, were involved in poll padding.

The new messages show the involvement of the premier’s office.

Dunderdale declined a request to be interviewed about it.

In an email, acting director of communications Jennifer Tulk said, “The premier has addressed this issue previously. She has nothing further to add.”

During a Feb. 20 media scrum in Corner Brook, Dunderdale made no apologies for her party’s participation in polls.

“Oh, please, there’s no story here,” she said. “Do we participate in polls? You betcha. Who in Newfoundland doesn’t, whether it comes to ‘Canadian Idol’ or something that affects us?”

Pressed on whether or not it was a good use of political resources, the premier told reporters, “You know something, we don’t spend our whole day sat around pressing redial, redial, redial, redial. But you know we’re politicians, we have a perspective. We have to relay what that perspective is and talk about that perspective to the people of the province.”

The latest messages are also different because they show a cabinet minister’s involvement.

At the time they were sent — weeks before a provincial election campaign — Jackman was a fisheries minister under fire.

The Seafood Processors of Newfoundland and Labrador wanted him removed from his position for offering to have an independent audit carried out on the since-shuttered Marystown fish plant, which was in his district.

“The minister should not be doing something right now for a plant that’s in his district just before an election that he would not do for the whole industry,” George Joyce, the Seafood Processor’s executive director, charged.

Jackman, now education minister, declined an interview for this article.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she gets more and more disappointed in government every time she hears about the effort put into these “inconsequental polls.”

“This kind of thing for me is beneath the government, and it’s beneath any party in the House. I just think that it’s not dignified … and that really bothers me,” she said.

With that, Conservative supporters might be quick to point out that the NDP has admitted to participating in daily media surveys.

However, Michael said her party’s approach is simply to inform supporters when there is a poll of interest.

“All we do is let them know,” she said. “If the government were only doing that, too, I’d be happy with it. But it’s this deliberate use of staff — staff paid with public funds — and then even an involvement of a minister himself, it’s not dignified. To me, it’s really beneath the dignity of us sitting in the House of Assembly. It’s not the kind of behaviour we should be involved in.”

 

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramSteve