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Righteous robo-call rage running rampantPosted: March 2, 2012

Perceptions by Gerry Warner

Drip, drip, drip. No, that’s not an icicle melting or a faucet leaking. Quite the contrary. That’s the credibility of the Harper government draining away into a vast ocean of doubt as the robo-call scandal grows more viral every day.

Now I hasten to say, as indeed the PM is saying, that nothing has been proven yet and there may, indeed, be a “smear job” loose in the land. But I’m old enough to remember Watergate very well – not the movie – but the actual scandal that brought down a president. And you know something? It started out very slowly, one drip at a time. But as the weeks went by those drips became a torrent and eventually that torrent became Niagara Falls. And . . . well, you know the rest.

But before we get into that, I’d like to talk about my own experience with a robo-call I received in the federal election campaign. It came at supper time, of course, like all those !#$!%&! telemarketer calls. “Hello,” a familiar voice boomed out of the speaker. “I’m Jim Abbott.”  I started to respond “hi Jim,” but the voice continued and I quickly realized I was talking to a tape recorder. “I would like to introduce you to David Wilks, Conservative candidate for Kootenay- Columbia,” the voice continued. Now that was several months ago and I can’t remember if Abbott or Wilks  then made a 30-second pitch for the Harper Conservatives.  But I do remember feeling vaguely queasy, offended and somewhat angry that someone wanting me to exercise my precious franchise on their behalf would try to communicate with me by tape. Not even a live call where I could ask a question or two – or better yet – appear at a public forum where I could actually see them in the flesh, gauge how they responded to the crowd and make an informed decision on whether they would earn my vote.

Has it come to this, I thought? Robot candidates making robot calls to recipients that might as well have been robots themselves?  Is this what modern politics has come to – digital democracy? No real people need participate.

I was upset about it, especially when the Conservative candidate did not appear at election forums in Cranbrook  or Kimberley, the two largest cities in the riding. So I took the trouble to visit the Conservative campaign office and talk to candidate Wilks personally. He said his schedule filled up before the forums were booked in Cranbrook and Kimberley and there was nothing he could do about it. I left his office thinking it was a shame local voters were denied a chance to see how Wilks would fare on stage with other candidates instead of communicating with them by taped robo-calls.

Now keep in mind that as far as I know the Wilks robo-calls were legitimate and were not up to any nefarious purpose as is being alleged in many other parts of Canada.  I’ve covered Wilks at several news conferences and public meetings and found him to be a forthright and competent individual. I’m sure he would have acquitted himself admirably at an election forum. But he didn’t, at least in Kimberley and Cranbrook, and I think there’s something wrong with a political system that eschews real flesh and blood contact with the voters in favour of disembodied, digital messaging by phone. And this applies to all parties that “communicate” this way.

In the last election, the Harper Tories did this big time and now it has come back to bite them in the butt. Maybe this is poetic justice because it strikes me as both deceptive and cowardly to try to win people’s hearts and minds through slickly programmed cyber-talk instead of a face-to-face exhortation from a soap box.

As for the possible scandal threatening to engulf the Conservative Party, only time will tell. Harper sounds arrogantly confident as he challenges the opposition to come up with the goods. That kind of hubris has got more than one politician in trouble in the past as the evidence builds, drip-by-drip.

In this world, you never know where a “deep throat” may be lurking.  Just ask Richard Nixon.


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