Tag Archives: robocalling

Some pre-election house cleaning, perchance?

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What is that faint odour wafting through the halls of Conservative power in Ottawa this week? Could it be the off-gassing from good, old fashioned industriousness? Or is it something more akin to desperation?

2015, an election year, is just around the corner. Until then, Canadians will enjoy their seats at the centre ring of one of the stupidest and politically costly scandals in recent memory.

Stupid, because the rules governing allowable Senate expenses have been, for years, willfully skewed, misinterpreted and ignored. Costly, because the authorities now appear determined to blow the most recent cases wide open and lay the facts at the Prime Minister’s doorstep.

The RCMP has charged retired Liberal senator Mac Harb and Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau, now suspended, with two counts each of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly misrepresenting their housing and living expenses.

The cops also said they were continuing their investigations into other matters, such as the expense accounts of Conservative senator Pamela Wallin (suspended), and the PM’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s $90,000 Hail Mary pass to Conservative senator Mike Duffy (suspended).

On Tuesday, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud told news media that the investigations into Messrs. Harb and Brazeau “were detailed and and involved careful consideration and examination of evidence,” as well as :dozens of individuals and witnesses.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Michaud said, “I can assure you that we continue our work on other significant files. RCMP investigators continue to explore multiple leads to ascertain all of the facts and collect the evidence in support of these facts. We will update Canadians when our work is completed.”

Of that, at least, Canadians entertain not a shred of doubt. Nether do those in Conservative quarters who are looking at a long, nauseating stretch of bad news from the Senate from here until eternity, a span that’s otherwise known in political circles as the election cycle.

Indeed, the Upper Chamber scandals over the past 11 months have already damaged the federal government’s credibility among electors. According to one CBC report last last month, “More Canadians think Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would do an excellent job as prime minister than either NDP Leader Tom Mulcair or Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a new poll by Abacus Data suggests. The poll also suggests 68 per cent of Canadians believe Harper is not honest and accountable.”

One poll, of course, does not frame an entire contest. But other surveys show similar results.

Is there, then, some sort of meta-meaning behind two recent moves by government to clean its house in new and productive ways?

As the Globe and Mail reported this week, “The Conservative government is overhauling the rules that govern how Canadians vote and run for office – cracking down on rogue robocalls that have embarrassed the Tories and increasing by 25 per cent the maximum allowable contributions to parties.”

At the same time, the Globe also reported, “The Conservative government is reducing the Department of National Defence’s influence in steering big-ticket military purchases after a string of delays and cost overruns in acquiring hardware for the Canadian armed forces.”

In fact, both moves are prudent and necessary and exactly the type of sober, responsible government Canadians have every right to expect from their representatives. Opposition critics may complain that these measures either go too far, or not far enough, but anyone who has had even tangential experience with the mechanics of oversight and decision-making in Ottawa knows that, in regards to military procurement alone, the system is utterly broken.

Still, the timing of these announcements only seems fortuitous. The Tories need a few big policy wins over the next several months – enough to turn the tide of public opinion back towards them. Is it now attempting to raise its stature among likely voters?

As we enjoy our front-row seats at the Senate expense scandal, we may find or attention straying to other weightier and Conservative-friendly issues.

Industriousness or desperation? Perhaps it’s a little of both.

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Telling the robocaller to leave a message

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No one calls me anymore. When I say no “one”, I mean no “person”, though the recorded voices at the other end of the line can display some uncannily human timing.

Every day, at precisely 12:30 pm, the phone rings. It goes off again at 12:45 pm. Suppertime brings a veritable chorus of bells and buzzers from various tech devices, scattered around the house, sounding like fire alarms.

The California Public Utilities Commission describes the automatic dialing

announcing device (ADAD), or “robocall” experience as such:  “When you answer your phone and find that you are listening to a recording. These calls are placed by machines (which) store hundreds, even thousands, of telephone numbers, and then dial them automatically and play a recorded message.”

Needless to say, political parties love to deploy ADADs. It’s the grown-up version of prank calling. Instead of, “Hey, do you have pop in a bottle? Better let him out, cause mom says dinner’s ready,” think, “Hey, it’s 11:00 o’clock and the Liberals are prowling the streets. Do you know where your children are?”

As it happens, California maintains some of the toughest robocall regulations in North America. In that state, the practice is lawful only when a real, live, breathing human being introduces himself before turning over the show to the recording.

The exceptions to this rule, says the Utilities Code, apply when you, the call’s recipient, “are a member or a client of a company or organization that uses (robocalls) to deliver messages, such as an announcement about a sale” or when public authorities need to reach you concerning an emergency.

In Canada, we’re a little less formal about how we intrude on hapless citizens tucking into their evening meals. Or, at least, we have been.

Word comes down from Ottawa that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is mightily displeased with certain political parties in this country and their habit of concealing (or, at least, failing to disclose) their identities in the automated calls they authorize on their behalf.

The regulator has slapped fines totaling $370,000 on the federal Conservatives, NDP, the Ontario PCs, the Wildrose Party of Alberta, as well as two MPs and a private robocalling company.

That’s not a stunning amount of money, but it sends a message to happy-go-lucky politicos and their staffers who seem to think that the ubiquitous telephone is their personal pipeline into the homes of the nation. The CRTC is, in effect, telling them, “Look it. . .You wouldn’t welcome a complete stranger into your home. Why would you expect anyone to tolerate a partisan message delivered by an unidentified caller?”

As Andrea Rosen, the Commission’s chief compliance and enforcement officer told the Globe and Mail this week, “Canadians have a right to know who is calling them. . .The robo-call rules have been on the books since 1982. We expect that people should understand the rules and should be able to comply with the rules rather easily given the length of time they’ve been on the books.”

You’d think, huh? But, it’s not that simple.

Common courtesy and plain dealing are the wooly mammoths and Dodo birds of modern society. They went extinct long ago. In their place have risen blithe disregard and crowning arrogance.

Not long ago, I made the mistake of answering a call at suppertime. To my surprise, a warm body was on the other end of the line, though he might as well have been a robot.

“So, I have a great opportunity to discuss with you,” he began right out of the gate. No “hellos”, no “good evening, my name is. . .” for him. Just “So, how do I get to your place?”

To which, I responded, “Well, pal. . .first you have to be invited,” before slamming the receiver down.

This is the sort of behaviour that one expects from a generation of brand-makers and salesmen. So, too, from the current machinery of politics, which is more concerned with the means of its messaging than of its content.

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