Let the good times poll

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages

Leave it to the govern­ment of Canada’s small­est prov­ince to fi­nally of­fer up the proof: At­lantic Cana­dian gov­ern­ments are will­ing to goose pub­lic opin­ion polls to make it seem that you like them.

To put it sim­ply, they think they can buy your love. And did I men­tion? They want to buy you with your own money.

It’s been tac­itly ob­vi­ous in New­found­land and Labrador for years. You can tell when poll­sters are out work­ing (es­pe­cially Cor­po­rate Re­search As­so­ci­ates’ reg­u­lar polls on voter in­ten­tions) by the sud­den spurt of govern­ment good-news an­nounce­ments.

For no ap­par­ent rea­son, the govern­ment’s news re­lease sys­tem jumps into over­drive, an­nounc­ing (and of­ten re-an­nounc­ing) fund­ing for ev­ery­thing from se­niors to re­cre­ation cen­tres.

Ask about it, and you’ll get the usual fluff re­sponses, about how “polls are only a snap­shot in time” and “we don’t gov­ern by pub­lic opin­ion poll” and the ever-pop­u­lar “the only poll that mat­ters is the one on elec­tion day.”

All of those things may be true — but that doesn’t mean poll-pump­ing isn’t a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence, just the way, in the weeks lead­ing up to the on­go­ing Nova Sco­tia pro­vin­cial elec­tion, a for­merly stingy cost-cut­ting govern­ment sud­denly grew a whole or­chard of money trees and started spread­ing the har­vest around.

The proof I was talk­ing about at the be­gin­ning?

Well, it’s a happy ac­ci­dent of the leg­isla­tive process, at least as far as truth and ac­cu­racy is con­cerned.

Last Tues­day, P.E.I. Family and Hu­man Ser­vices Min­is­ter Tina Mundy got to­gether a pack­age of spend­ing estimates and tabled them — the hum­drum of daily po­lit­i­cal life, and the sort of thing ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated by po­lit­i­cally nerdy leg­isla­tive jour­nal­ists.

Un­for­tu­nately for Mundy, the pack­age — ap­par­ently in­ad­ver­tently — in­cluded a print­out of an email chain in­volv­ing P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauch­lan’s chief of staff, Robert Vessey, Mundy her­self, along with her deputy min­is­ter, com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer and ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant.

Vessey’s email says, “Last week in cab­i­net, premier asked that each de­part­ment put to­gether good news an­nounce­ments dur­ing polling pe­riod. … Can you bring your an­nounce­ment sug­ges­tions to cab­i­net to­mor­row.”

The min­is­ter found a few ex­am­ples that, no doubt, would have ap­peared some­time while the poll­sters were hap­pily di­al­ing P.E.I. num­bers, but for the unhappy (for the govern­ment) re­lease of the email.

At this point, you might be tempted to say, “Well, big deal, ev­ery­body does it…”

They do. But that ex­cuse didn’t work for any teenager who ever came home drunk from a summer beach party.

Think about the ethics in­volved: they’re quite happy to baldly lie about it, time af­ter time, while at the same time hap­pily con­vert­ing tax­pay­ers’ money to per­sonal po­lit­i­cal gain.

It’s a mis­use of govern­ment re­sources de­signed to help a po­lit­i­cal party, a mis­use, by the way, that only gov­ern­ing par­ties can avail of.

There were, of course, the ex­pected ex­cuses.

“The re­quest was not to cre­ate new an­nounce­ments, but rather to send ex­ist­ing ones along for sched­ul­ing pur­poses — there is a lot of ac­tiv­ity as this govern­ment is hard at work,” a state­ment from the premier’s press sec­re­tary said. “The re­quest was sim­ply to en­able sched­ul­ing so that ev­ery­one could be in­formed of what was planned for the coming weeks.” The ex­cuse, frankly, is as va­pidly fake as the prac­tice it­self.

Be­lieve it, and I’ve got some fine swamp­land in Florida for sale. It was all sched­ul­ing by an es­pe­cially busy govern­ment WORK­ING FOR YOU!

Ask your­self this ques­tion: is jam­ming polls re­ally any dif­fer­ent, eth­i­cally, than sy­phon­ing money from a govern­ment ac­count to pay for the elec­tion signs you’ll need in an up­com­ing cam­paign?

And if you do think it’s dif­fer­ent, would you care to ex­plain to me how?

It’s a mis­use of govern­ment re­sources de­signed to help a po­lit­i­cal party, a mis­use, by the way, that only gov­ern­ing par­ties can avail of.

Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 29 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

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