Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Nice try Carl it's not going to happen!"

Jennifer Ditchburn
Good Day Readers:

Canadian Press Senior Parliamentary Correspondent Jennifer Ditchburn has effectively captured the essence of those annoying taxpayer financed political mailers that with the country already in pre-election mode seem to be increasingly raining down on you with no way of stopping them. Try as one Winnipeger recently did by contacting his Member of Parliament (Conservative) 3-4 times only to be told, "Sorry they're mass distributed."

Everyone knows, or at least should, the Conservatives have a massive voter data collecting machine with a voracious appetite not that the other parties don't but nothing like this. Ditto for its fund raising apparatus. And don't you like the motherhood and apple pie way politicians of all stripes wrap themselves in the Canadian flag to feed their data collecting preoccupation.

Why oh why in the digital age can't MPs embed their Pablum-laced, puffery laden flyers in their webpages or Facebook pages which many have? Instead voters are burdened with their junk mail that has been relegated to the status of those fast food flyers you regularly receive. At least the latter come with coupons attached.

A Self-Perpetuating Catch-22

Didn't you love the way the Conservatives introduced legislation to significantly re-shape Canada Post which taxpayers built over the years, then recessed Parliament. Where was the public debate? Harper government style democracy. But it just gets better. It's not bloody likely Canada Post is fully reimbursed, if at all, for the cost of distributing your MPs junk mail then the Conservatives have the cojones to tell you, "Oh, BTW Canada Post is running too large a deficit, sorry folks we've going to have to cut service to you."

"Carl" Got It Right

When was the last time you got a mailer from your Member saying, "Jeesus, did I and my Party ever totally screw up in the last session!" Carl got it right, "It's not going to happen."

"Carl" is the sneaky mountain lion in those hilarious MTS commercials with which Manitobans will be familar. He's always skulking around in the background representing competitors' hidden internet charges. Kind of sounds like politicians no? Problem is, the other animals always see "Carl" coming. For those unfamiliar with those commercials here's an example. Unfortunately, CyberSmokeBlog couldn't find the one to which it's referring but this will give you an appreciation..



Trashing the People's Network

While CSB is still ranting, you have to love the way the Harper government has been trashing, systematically dismantling another Canadian institution financed over the years by taxpayers. Could it possibly be the Harper government it totally ....ed off because it has the best political investigative reporters who are very good at revealing the governments salacious and financial scandals?
Thank God for CBC Television's daily program Power & Politics, as well as, Thursday night's At Issue political panel discussion embedded in The National News hosted by creamy-voiced Peter Mansbridge. Ms Ditchburn often guests on both these programs.

And let us not forget Shelly Glover as Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is presiding over the dismemberment. Or as CyberSmokeBlog likes to affectionately refer to her as, "The Shelly" or simply "Auntie Shelly."
Shelly Glover before her makeover

.....and now

But the classic political makeover belongs to this lad. Recognize him? Come on Stephen Harper show voters that big honkin, mother of all tattoos of the Conservative Party logo on your chest. Dare you! Bet you won't!
Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

Conservatives hunt for data with patriotic mail-out Canpaign

By Jennifer Ditchburn
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

OTTAWA - Strawberries aren't the only crop being harvested around Canada Day — Conservative MPs have been collecting data for years about their constituents through a taxpayer-paid, mail-in contest focused on patriotism.

It's just one of the novel ways federal parties are using to connect with voters and take a riding's temperature on key issues, in an age where identifying potential supporters is a path to electoral gain.

In the Conservative case, MPs send out a full-colour flyer with a double-sided Canadian flag to post a window. Constituents are asked to send back a postage-free reply card that includes a series of questions and a space for their name and return address.

"Please let me know that you have done this so I can include you in the count of participants," Manitoba MP Shelly Glover wrote in her constituency report this summer.

"The riding that displays the most flags ... will earn the title of 'Most Patriotic Riding in Canada'," she adds. Recipients are not told that the title is bestowed only on a Conservative-held riding.

The flyers were conceived by the House of Commons-funded Conservative Research Group several years ago. Each MP can modify the form to their liking.

Ontario MP Stephen Woodworth's letter this year asks constituents to check off whether he is on the "right track when it comes to the issues that matter most to you?" The recipient is then asked to check off whether they are a senior, homeowner, parent of a child under 18, veteran or student.

Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott asked in his flyer last year: "Which party represents your views on today's most important issues?," with boxes to check off.

The patriotism contest sometimes gets coverage in local newspapers. But not all constituents are enthusiastic.

Clare Pieuk, a Winnipeg-based blogger, has complained to Glover's office about the flag mail-outs and their cost to taxpayers. He has dubbed the 40x30 cm unfolded pamphlet the "mother of all flyers."

"It rubs me the wrong way that she's saying we're trying to promote patriotism in Canada and her riding, and yet when you look closely, she's mining a fair bit of data. But that's not how most people would see it," said Pieuk.

Guy Lauzon has helped his eastern Ontario riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry win the "most patriotic" title six times, at one point getting 11,000 people to put up the flag by going door-to-door.

Lauzon says the attached questionnaire is a valuable tool for getting a handle on the needs of his constituents, and not just the ones who vote for him.

"People are pretty negative about these (flyers) but boy, that's a wonderful way to reach thousands of people and to get their feedback," said Lauzon. He adds that he has used collected data to help deliver services to constituents with disabilities.

But independent MP Brent Rathgeber, who left the Conservative caucus last year, said he is certain information collected is sometimes funnelled into Conservative party databases for electoral purposes. He participated in the "Proud to be Canadian" campaign in 2009 and 2010.

"In my view, it would be inappropriate to harvest that for partisan purposes because that's harvested through taxpayer resources, but I'm not so naive to know that doesn't happen," said Rathgeber.

"I will tell you unequivocally on the record that people do it."

The Conservatives are hardly alone.

All parties in the House of Commons use such mail to reach constituents, and ask similar questions.

There are no laws that cover the sharing of parliamentary information with party databases, nor does Canada's privacy commissioner have any oversight over politicians.

The appropriateness of certain mail campaigns sent with parliamentary resources is the topic of hot debate, with the NDP facing a $1.17-million bill for mail-outs that were determined to cross the line into partisanship. The NDP is now asking the Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision by the Commons Board of Internal Economy.

The letters in question include a postage-free reply card that asks which of the federal leaders the constituent trusts, with boxes to tick beside each person's name. The person's name, address and email address are also requested.

A flyer sent by former interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae into New Democrat MP Craig Scott's riding last year asked six pointed multiple choice questions on the New Democrats, and then asked "Who do you think best represents your values and priorities?"

David Coletto, chief executive officer of research firm Abacus Data, said organizations collecting data are always seeking ways to persuade people to respond — a contest such as the Conservative campaign is one such incentive. It also sends the message that the Conservatives are a patriotic party.

House of Commons-paid mail is a way to collect data that doesn't cost parties any money, but Coletto said it isn't necessarily the most effective way. The information would have to be layered with other research.

"It does show more evidence that the parties are very much in a marketing frame, they are doing everything they can to understand the voters," said Coletto, who teaches political marketing at Carleton University.

"We know from other accounts the Tories have traditionally done the best at this."

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