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I disagree with something Stephen Harper said about the Saskatchewan robocalls

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Well, okay, I disagree with lots of things Stephen Harper says, but the latest is his opinion that robocalls recently made in Saskatchewan on behalf of the Conservative Party do not violate CRTC rules. The calls in question use the pretext of public opinion research to push political spin -- kind of a soft core dirty trick.

On January 30, 2012, Saskatchewan residents received robocalls advising that proposed changes to the province's riding boundaries would pit urban areas against rural ones, and offend "Saskatchewan values." The Conservative Party opposes the boundary changes and initially denied that it had anything to do with the calls.

However, after confronted with forensic evidence gathered by reporters Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher at Postmedia, Frank Delorey who speaks for the Conservative Parthy, reversed himself on the earlier denials and admitted that the calls had been made on behalf of the Party.

Now, quite apart from the ethics of deploying push polls, there is also a question of whether such calls are lawful under CRTC rules which require that robocalls:

"… shall begin with a clear message identifying the person on whose behalf the telecommunication is made. This identification message shall include a mailing address and a local or toll-free telecommunications number at which a representative of the originator of the message can be reached. In the event that the actual message relayed exceeds sixty (60) seconds, the identification message shall be repeated at the end of the telecommunication…" [emphasis added]

According to media reports, the only information identifying the source of the Saskatchewan robocalls indicated that they originated with "Chase Research." Chase Research is listed with the CRTC as a trade name registered by Edmonton-based RackNine Inc. (the voice-broadcasting company that was used by persons unknown to send out the infamous Pierre Poutine robocall in the 2011 election). But while Chase Research was identified as the caller, the robocalls were not being made on its behalf but rather on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Nevertheless, speaking in Parliament, Mr. Harper confidently asserted that the robocalls complied with CRTC rules. We will now have to see what the CRTC has to say in response to a complaint about the calls made by Ralph Goodale, but it's very difficult to see how it could do otherwise than to join me in disagreeing with Mr. Harper.

Stay tuned for more on the Saskatchewan robocalls.

Photo: Mike Gifford/Flickr

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