It’s all in the name

Did you ever notice that when the media wants to amp up the attention given to a story they start applying new names to it. The favourite tactic is to add the word “gate” to the end of anything that smacks of a scandal. The amended nicknaming of anything that is even slightly scandalous is tagged with the add-on “gate” The term hearkens back to the U.S President Nixon era when there was cover-up of political espionage that happened around and about the Watergate Hotel. So the scandal was titled “Watergate”.
Our latest run at federal political scandals has attracted the relatively new moniker “robo”, in that anything that is automated immediately becomes “robo” as in automated phone calls or automated phone messages. In this case, alleged calls to people asking them to vote at a different voting station were put out through an automated calling system and have now been dubbed robo-calls. Somehow the term “automated phone calls” just doesn’t have the sinister ring to it that robo-calls does.
On Monday, protestors organized a rally at Parliament Hill to protest the use of robo-calls as they allegedly were used in the last federal election.  Obviously it’s not a serious deal to many people as the protest only attracted a handful of people.
Now I don’t know who, if anyone, used robo-calls to misinform people about voting stations. If they did, they should not have done so and should be punished. 
Here’s a bit of background. Automated calls have been around for years. Sometimes organizations will use them to let people know about a meeting. Sometimes, it’s about an event or a change in a venue and it’s too late to buy an ad in newspaper or send out notices by mail. Last year, the Neepawa Banner used robo-calls to let people know about the Canada Post strike-induced cancellation of deliveries and that readers could pick up a paper at local locations. It worked well; about 2,000 homes were called and it was done in a matter of minutes at very low cost.
However, robo-calls or automated phoning only works as well as the data that a person uses for the phone number list. If a political party used Elections Canada or Elections Manitoba lists, they would have a lot of errors. Having worked extensively with both EC and EM lists, I can attest that they are full of errors. At best, their lists are a guideline and a person intending to run for office can only use them as just that, a guideline. Based on EC and EM lists,a  person could well get a phone call giving them the wrong information. If a person has moved but kept their phone number, or if an old phone number had been re-assigned, it would cause the wrong person to get the wrong message. Phone numbers are re-assigned quite quickly. For a while, I had a Winnipeg phone number and I kept getting calls from someone in the Winnipeg Police Service looking for one of their motorcycles. Trust me, I didn’t have the motorcycle, but I apparently had the former phone number of the guy who used to have the motorcycle in his care.
Locally produced and checked data should be the basis for a political campaign and it just takes time to develop proper lists, more accurate lists at the local level. Robo-calls are annoying at times but so are a lot of things. If a person doesn’t want to take a call, don’t answer it. Call display is a wonderful thing. If a message is left and you don’t want it, delete it. It can be momentarily annoying as one has to, as far as I know, listen to the whole message before deleting it. But that’s a small irritation isn’t it? It’s far less annoying than most TV commercials and the internet commercials that interrupt downloaded shows.
In a nutshell, robo-calls are here to stay for a while at least. They are cheap, effective and sometimes annoying. If used for illegal purposes, users should be punished. For political parties to use robo-calls in an illegal or unusual fashion is just wrong. But once the story broke that calls may have been made in one riding, the conclusion was quickly drawn by many losing candidates that they had been victimized. That was a leap in logic. Except in very close elections, a few calls aren’t going to make the difference. 
Elections Canada should investigate, but let’s hope they don’t spend too much money chasing something that doesn’t exist.

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