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EDITORIAL: Robocalls raising ire during Newfoundland and Labrador election campaign

Political robocalls are unregulated in this province, giving people or groups with an axe to grind or an agenda to push free rein. —
Political robocalls are unregulated in this province, giving people or groups with an axe to grind or an agenda to push free rein. — 123RF Stock Photo

“Irritation calling on Line 1.”

As we head into the last few days of the provincial election, voters, non-voters and just about anyone else with a telephone seems to be getting robocalls from NL Strong, a non-profit group that says this about itself on Facebook: “NL Strong is working for people, not politicians. Join our movement to restore common-sense government to Newfoundland and Labrador. … We are a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting causes that are important to Newfoundlanders & Labradorians, and returning government that we can proud of.”

It’s worth pointing out, however, that NL Strong has only made posts opposing Dwight Ball and the Liberal Party, while supporting Ches Crosbie and the Progressive Conservatives.

Also of interest is the fact that one of the directors of NL Strong is Devin Drover, a former communications director for Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie.

It’s a great way to try and influence an election in ways that might benefit you, your business or your political opinions — later on, after supporting a politician who gets elected, you might just sidle up to them and quietly point out the favour you feel you might be owed.

When it comes to the robocalls, Drover said in a statement to the CBC: “We are currently conducting phone surveys to better understand issues important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and aid in meeting our organization goal of restoring stronger government to the province.”

Right. Nothing to see here.

And also nothing to do about it. Right now, this province doesn’t have rules about third party involvement in elections, rules that could require disclosure of financing and donations to third party groups, along with reasonable limits on what they are allowed to spend during election campaigns.

If a company donates to a political party, that company’s name will eventually be made public. Donate to a third-party group supporting a candidate you like — or even set up a third-party shadow group of your own — and you can do what you want. You can masquerade as anything you like, while standing back behind a curtain of anonymity. Who you are, what you spend and how you spend it can be comfortably out of sight.

It’s a great way to try and influence an election in ways that might benefit you, your business or your political opinions — later on, after supporting a politician who gets elected, you might just sidle up to them and quietly point out the favour you feel you might be owed.

The fact is, this could have been dealt with by meaningful electoral reform. It’s not like you couldn’t see it coming; American elections have been dogged by straw man political action committees for years. The governing Liberals promised to undertake that kind of reform, but instead chose to back burner it for their entire administration, only announcing a committee to look at reforms mere days before calling an election.

The only saving grace in this case? The method. Robocalls tend to outrage more people than they convince. Heck, even Amber Alert instant messages for kidnapped children generate outrage from people who feel their day-to-day lives have been disturbed.

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