Let the good times poll
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 costcutting 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?