Robocalls: Campaign Research speaks
Campaign Research, the firm that's taken a bit of a pummelling in the robocalls controversy, is very much present at the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa this weekend. Nick Kouvalis and Richard Ciano have been on panels and in the corridors, making a forceful defence of their trade -- and their reputation.
Given that some of their defence has included shots at the "media filter," perhaps it's best to dispense with the filter here and just give you the text of Mr. Ciano's remarks on a panel this morning. Here you go:
Richard Ciano - Remarks to Manning Center Networking Conference, Ottawa – March 10, 2012
Right now, as we are here in this room, there are forces conspiring to try and take our ability to effectively communicate our message away, so it's especially important to me that I'm being asked to speak to you on the topic of how to effectively communicate a conservative message. And it's my hope that you'll see my remarks not as an interesting convention speech but as an urgent warning to not only defend our ability as a movement to communicate our message, but also to defend free speech itself and the vigorous, competitive and relevant elections that we have come to expect and demand in Canada.
First of all, let me start off with a tautologically true statement that might seem obvious but bears repeating anyway - that to effectively communicate a conservative message you need first to have a conservative message. I'm a student of the Tom Long school that says that the best way for conservatives to win is to run on conservative principles. In all honesty I'm not sure if Tom Long really came up with this idea, I've just heard him repeat it the most often. Perhaps I'll learn the lesson from that observation and from now on, I'll call it the Richard Ciano school.
While it may seem obvious, I can't even recount the number of times I've been on a campaign with so called 'conservatives' where they have seriously considered the possibility of running as a liberal, and at least in one case, an NDPer. If you are to run as a conservative in an election at any level, spend some time crafting an actual conservative agenda for the post you are seeking.
But with all the great conservative philosophers at this gathering, I'm not going to talk at length on that. I'm a mechanic. So I'm going to stick to mechanics now.
So once we move past that point, and we assume we have a conservative message to communicate, the sum total of my campaign experience in the federal, provincial and municipal campaign arenas have taught me one main lesson: that when we communicate a conservative message effectively to a vast audience of potential conservative supporters, we win.
For conservatives to win we need to communicate our message directly to voters, without the filter of the mainstream media. I agree with Guy Giorno who observes that the mainstream media doesn't overwhelmingly have a left wing perspective, the mainstream media has an elite perspective. I have observed that over and over.
I saw it on the national stage, when after the 2004 federal election, the consensus media/elite view was that Stephen Harper would never become prime minister, because he didn't have 'charisma'. I saw it in Toronto when the media elites watched, dumbfounded, the ascendency of Rob Ford. How could a candidate who sometimes had trouble pronouncing the word “unsustainable”, possibly achieve high office in Toronto? And finally, I'm seeing it right now, while the media continues to dismiss Tim Hudak and the Ontario PC Party's unrelenting march towards government.
Victories only become possible when we master the mechanisms of communicating directly to the vast pool of potential voters. Whether it is direct mail and television ads that the Conservative Party of Canada under Stephen Harper has become so effective at creating, or the telephone townhalls that Rob Ford used to great effect, direct unfiltered dialogue was crucial to making a
connection with voters that led to victory. And in time we'll unveil the new approach that Tim Hudak will take to speak directly to voters.
So it should come as no surprise when the Liberals and NDP seize on an opportunity to create hysteria about entire forms of direct voter contact as they have been recently.
Let me be perfectly clear and echo the comments of Preston Manning that any deliberate attempt to frustrate a voter's desire to cast a ballot with fraud or misdirection is completely deplorable. I join him and others in wishing Elections Canada investigators and the police godspeed in finding and bringing to justice the culprit(s).
But I also observe that the Liberal and NDP’s systematic undermining of confidence in Canada's electoral process, and fear mongering about virtually all forms of live or automated telephone calls to voters, is equally cynical and self- serving.
Elections Canada received 119 complaints regarding misleading and abusive telephone and “robocalls” made to constituents during the 2011 general election, as of September 28, 2011. Of these, only 30 complaints referred to false information regarding changes to poll locations.
After the Liberal/NDP week-long hysteria campaign there were 31,000. Did 31,000 voters suddenly remember, nine months later, that they got a suspicious robocall last election? No - they are simply being manipulated by a cynical opposition campaign designed specifically to scare voters, discredit the
conservative majority in the last election, and cast doubt about all election telephone calls.
Why do the Liberals and NDP want to remove direct contact from Canadian elections? Because put it bluntly: they suck at it.
Since the 1990's when Customer Relationship Management (CRM) approaches became widespread, conservative parties have moved quickly to implement this essential business process into electioneering. And for the last 15 years we have amassed a considerable lead on the Liberals and NDP in this area, as evidenced by the numbers on our direct response fundraising programs. Why? Is it because we had people with more technical savvy? Is it because the Liberals were stupid? Or lazy? Personally I prefer stupidity as an explanation, but it's immaterial. The fact that they Liberals and NDP couldn't get their act together on CRM approaches and direct contact is not our fault. It's theirs.
So rather than pull up their sleeves and get to work to eliminate our advantage they want to take the typical socialist/big government approach to their problem - create a public crisis of confidence in telephone contact so that they can ban it at the next possible opportunity. It's a tempting approach to take, when winning is more important to you than free speech. I remember going to meetings hosted by the Chief Electoral Officer with representatives from all parties in Ontario on behalf of the Ontario PC Party. The fringe parties that had no money or support used to advocate a Soviet style election process, in which an election would consist of flyers put in an envelope mailed by elections Canada and debates hosted by the media. Now the Liberals and NDP have come to this.
If you think it unthinkable, think again. Television political ads are banned in Britain and voter databases are almost unheard of in Europe. Let's not let Liberal and NDP insecurity and weakness bring Canada to that. Never apologize for the lawful use of telephone or other forms of direct contact. The conservative movement would be worse off, Canada would be worse off and freedom would be worse off.