Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What's In a Name

When Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay agreed to their marriage of convenience nine years ago, they dropped the word "Progressive" from the party brand. It was a momentous omission and a harbinger of things to come -- particularly the roboscam scandal. It signalled that everyone outside the party's narrowly defined limits was prey -- either to be destroyed, neutralized or captured.

Linda McQuaig writes that it is hard to imagine the old Progressive Conservative Party engaging in the nasty, take no prisoners politics that the Harperites practice -- not just because the technology required was unavailable, but because of who led the old party:

Deliberate voter suppression would have seemed inconceivable in a Conservative party headed by Joe Clark or Robert Stanfield. But the gloves-off Harper partisans have shown such a taste for American-style electoral hardball — by, for example, misrepresenting Liberal Irwin Cotler in a phone-call campaign deemed “reprehensible” by the (Conservative) Speaker of the House — that voter suppression perhaps seemed to them like just one tiny step further over the foul line.

Certainly the use of call centres in political campaigns has been imported from the United States. The Conservatives have made use of such American firms as Front Porch Strategies to help them reach voters. But, the problem is, Andrew Coyne writes in today's National Postthat call centres treat voters as prey:

The party calling knows who you are, which party you support, and what sorts of issues people like you are concerned about, and in the intimacy of that phone call, can tell you exactly what you want to hear, without concern for how the same message might resonate with other voters. What the mass media of the 20th century largely took away from the parties — the ability to say one thing to one group of voters and another, sometimes contradictory thing to another — the micro-media of the 21st century has restored.

It's standard operating procedure at all call centres. And, therefore, they should be banned from the political process:

I get why the parties think this way. What I don’t get is why the rest of us should: why we should consent to being treated in this condescending, manipulative way — still less why we should help the parties do it. Yet the reality is that this sort of campaigning could not be conducted without the collusion of the state, of the government that belongs to us. It is time it stopped.

The parties could not conduct these massive phone campaigns, for starters, if Elections Canada did not make available to them its list of registered voters. It did not always do so. It should stop.

They could not do so, likewise, had they not arranged to exempt themselves from the “do not call” lists to which private telemarketers are subject. Neither could the parties maintain quite such sophisticated voter databases had they not also exempted themselves from the relevant privacy laws. Both of these privileges should be withdrawn.

The immediate problem is to find out who is responsible and to apply Canada's election laws as written. That means someone should go to jail. After all, the government says that its new crime bill -- which passed yesterday -- is all about protecting the public. Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, the Conservatives have no intention of protecting the public, least of all from them. It's in the name.

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