Was the Conservative government behind it?
Was it perpetrated by a third party to discredit the ruling Conservatives?
Were riding's that were in a tight battle for votes specifically targeted?
Is this a plot to destabilize Canada?
Could extraterrestrials (ET's) be involved? (I threw this one in myself for fun)
Now before I go any further with this, just in case any of you are wondering what I am referring to, here it is in a nutshell. It has come to light that during the last election thousands of automated pre-recorded calls (thus the name "robocalls") were made that allegedly misdirected Guelph-area voters to non-existent polling stations. On top of this allegations have been made that all kinds of telephonic dirty tricks were used, including everything from live callers who made harassing phone calls to Jewish voters on the Sabbath, and others who promised to drive voters to polling stations, and then never showed up.
How serious is the issue? Well, within just the last couple of days Elections Canada has reported a steady stream of complaints from Canadians since the robocall scandal first broke, so far 31,000 and counting. This will almost certainly grow as the opposition parties keep this as their focus and plead with Canadians to report any such calls they may have received to Elections Canada.
Now while the media is busing running this as their lead story every day (I assume due to the lack of any other news that might be important to Canadians?), parliament is also embroiled in the scandal. Virtually every day accusations are flying across the floor of the house with one party blaming the other, with suggestions being made that this may have changed the outcome of the last election (I imagine that's a lot easier for the Liberals to accept than the real reason they got skunked), and so on and so forth. It inspires me with confidence to see our elected officials focusing on the most critical issues of the day.....sheeeh! Shouldn't this investigation be the responsibility of Elections Canada, or maybe the RCMP? Once the facts are determined then parliament can spend time debating it, until that point they are simply wasting time (and taxpayers money) discussing innuendo and rumors (oops , what am I thinking based on that alone, it is business as usual for parliament).
Now trust me, I don't have any inside information as to who is responsible for all of this and as a Canadian I can only hope that the guilty party is determined and brought to justice. After all as Canadians we are proud of the fact that we are a democracy that holds honest elections, not some third world banana republic where the election outcome is announced before the votes are counted. However I do have a solution to prevent this from ever taking place again, and in fact it is very simple.
Lets just step back from this scandal, forget the political implications for a moment and look at this from a Canadian voter and consumers point of view. Now that we have our "Average Joe" ( not "Frustrated Joe, thats me!) coloured glasses on what do we see? We see ourselves and other Canadian being subjected to harassing telemarketer calls (political or otherwise). Well, that's better, from this point of view there is some good news and a easy solution to the whole issue. Canada currently has a "Do Not Call List" (DNCL) Federal Registry operated by the Canadian Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) designed specifically to prevent individuals from receiving harassing calls. In theory it is very simple to use, you just have to register, more information is available Here. Unfortunately there is a slight problem.....
There are certain kinds of telemarketing calls that are exempted from the National DNCL Rules including, but not limited to.......wait for it...."Political parties, riding associations and candidates" Surprise!
In reading the rules surrounding the DNCL it becomes very apparent that every effort has been made by the politicians crafting the legislation to exempt themselves in every way, shape, or form from falling under the rules that they have applied to other harassing telemarketers. Funny how that works....
Along with directly exempting themselves they also have slipped in a couple of loopholes so they can verbally assault you from all sides, here are two paragraphs directly from the DNCL webpage (I have underlined the passages of interest).
What can you do to reduce telemarketing calls that are exempt from the National DNCL Rules?
If you do not want to be called by a telemarketer making an exempt call, you can ask to be put on the telemarketer’s internal do not call list. Every Canadian telemarketer is required to maintain such a list and respect your wishes not to be called. Organizations conducting market research, surveys, or public opinion polls are not required to keep their own specific do not call lists.
What about calls from market research or polling firms?
Calls from organizations conducting market research, surveys, or public opinion polls are also exempt from the National Do Not Call List Rules and are not required to keep an internal do not call list. These types of calls are not telemarketing calls because the caller is not asking you to purchase, lease or rent products or services.
So, first the legislation directly exempts politicians, and then it covers off polls and surveys, just to be on the safe side. The reality is, who uses polls and surveys more than political parties? What we end up with is that when it comes to politicians there are no rules to prevent them from calling Canadians.
Again...Funny how that works.
So my solution is simple to prevent a future political incidents such as the "robocall" one we are currently suffering through I suggest the following
1) Immediately remove the exception for "Political parties, riding associations and candidates".
After all, why should they be exempt? Do they actually believe that any Canadian voter wants to be bothered at home during their leisure hours by an annoying political advertisement requesting support or funding. Surely, even a politician has more common sense than to believe that? Or possibly it is simply one more example that they truly believe they are above following the same rules they lay down for the "common man".
2) Require ALL organizations and anyone making unsolicited calls into private residences to maintain and adhere to an internal DNCL.
No exceptions! This includes pollsters, surveyors, and charities. This would act to close a loophole before it was used by political parties who could no longer call direct (see Suggestion #1 above) as I suspect they would find a way to do so under the guise of a survey or poll.
How many times do I have to tell a polling organization that I do not want to answer their questions?
Apparently at every election!
3) Ban the use of automated dialing and "robocalls" all together.
First off, 99% of the time I receive an automated call I hang up before there is time to transfer to a live operator, as I imagine many individuals do. Secondly, hiring live operators requires a larger investment in time and money, costs that will be passed on to those that contract the calls to be made. Higher costs will on their own discourage many of the junk calls from ever being made. Just a quick fact here, a "robocall" costs the client about $0.019 (1.9 cents) so they can contract 10,000 calls for $190.00, or 12.4 Million calls (the number of households in Canada in 2006) for $235,600.
4) Make it mandatory for the agent making the call to identify the party who is paying for the call.
This measure alone would have meant that the children in parliament would have no reason to bicker over the origination of the robocalls currently being discussed.
5) Last but not least, increase the penalties to the point that no sane individual or company would take a chance of breaking the rules. Along with this make the telemarketing company and those that hired them for a particular call campaign equally responsible for any violations of the rules and paying the resulting fines. Making the telemarketing company equally responsible would ensure they performed their due diligence in qualifying clients ( and I suspect the message itself).
Now lets face it, none of the above suggestions require much change to current legislation, so lets see if our politicians actually wish to prevent problems in the future or are simply paying lip service to the Canadian public.
My guess? There is little if any chance that our elected officials will do the right thing and in doing so derive themselves of a method of raising funds or bashing their opponents, but time will tell. As an added bonus for any government willing to make this move, they will have the undying gratitude of the Canadian public who like me are sick of receiving robocalls.