Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Six "S" of Scandal Stickiness

This time last year, the Tories found themselves engulfed in scandal - Carson, Contempt, In & Out, Oda... The opposition parties were licking their chops at the prospect of bringing the government down.

We all know how that turned out. The scandals didn't stick, and the result was a Tory majority.

With the Nixonian references flying fast and furious around Ottawa, the question now becomes whether Robocon will prove to be Harper's Watergate, or just another soon-to-be-forgotten scandlette?

From my experience, there are 6 keys to a scandal "sticking", so let's see how Robocon stacks up.

1. Simplicity: The rule of thumb used to be that everything in politics had to be explainable in a "30 second elevator pitch", but that's probably down to 10 seconds (or 140 characters) these days. The Carson scandal may have had hookers, but good luck explaining lobbying improprieties to anyone.

Robocon passes the simplicity test in flying colours - "the Tories lied to voters about polling stations moving, to prevent them from voting". Done, with 56 characters to spare.

2. Shock: Is your 10 second explanation met with shock or a shrug? Harper missing a photo op or pocketing a communion wafer is a simple story, but it's not going to leave many people aghast.

Widespread voter suppression? It does. Canadians tend to be rather apathetic about democracy, but it's hard not to find what is being alleged reprehensible.

3. Story: Does the scandal fit in to a larger narrative or can it be dismissed as an isolated incident? Adscam worked because it struck to the larger issues of corruption and wasting taxpayer dollars, two things which matter to voters.

Harper has enough strikes against him on the "undermining democracy" front that it's easy to tie this in to a larger narrative. I'd suggest the Tory track record here, including the Cotler incident, also leaves voters a lot less likely to give them the benefit of the doubt.

4. Sexiness: Is the scandal attention grabbing? Despite its name, "in and out" was the definition of "unsexy", dealing with spending limits and accounting loopholes. Yawn.

Robocon has recorded calls, burner cellphones, and Pierre Poutine. Yeah, it's not cocaine and busty strippers, but conspiracies sell movie tickets, and this one could turn out to be a conspiracy.

5. Sustainability: Can the scandal sustain itself for months or years, or will it burn out quickly? The Gomery Commission gave Adscam the legs to fight two elections over it.

While Harper will be reluctant to call an inquiry, the RCMP, Elections Canada, and journalistic investigations will drag on, and they're likely to be followed by a trial. This one isn't going away anytime soon.

6. Seriousness: Simply put, how high does it go? Watergate is the grandaddy of all scandals because it went to the very top. As entertaining as Maxime Bernier losing his briefs was, it said little about Harper.

This is really the one question mark that will make or break this scandal. If Robocon was the creation of a few rogue volunteers in Guelph, no one is going to be talking about it come 2015. If it looks like the national campaign was involved, then the Tories are in trouble. If Harper knew, it's game over.

Robocon has more potential to inflict damage on Harper and the Conservatives than anything they've faced during their 6 years in power. Whether or not it does will depend on who exactly was involved.



  • "Yeah, it's not cocaine and busty strippers..."

    Was that an intentional Jaffer joke?

    By Blogger Ian, at 8:14 p.m.  

  • I disagree. Unless other revelations come out I would wager there will only be 1-3 by-elections and with no real connection to Conservative politicians the scandal will fade, albeit not for a few months.

    By Blogger, at 8:49 p.m.  

  • Robocon passes the simplicity test in flying colours - "the Tories lied to voters about polling stations moving, to prevent them from voting". Done, with 56 characters to spare.

    Yeah, except for the part about "the Tories". So far there has been absolutely nothing presented to link the Conservative Party itself to any of these calls (*intentionally* misleading calls, that is...); lots of accusations, innuendo, supposition and conspiracy theories, yes...but no actual evidence (and there won't be any, either...especially nine months or so after the fact).

    Forget about 2/3rds of these calls being made in safe Conservative seats, or the incidents in the safe Liberal ridings where the Liberal candidate won anyway. Forget about the insanity of an apparent 'conspiracy' (yeah, right) that guarantees that YOU WILL BE CAUGHT whether it works or not(!). Forget about the near-total lack of any tangible evidence (all these Liberal/NDP supporters coming out of the woodwork now with very convenient allegations and nothing else), or the fact that the Liberals and NDP have been caught doing almost exactly the same things on more than one occasion. Forget all the other stuff that doesn't add up. Given the Elections Canada investigation into these incidents already, and their findings (supporters of *all* parties called, no effect on the outcomes of any election results, etc), this 'scandal' is going to amount to exactly the same as all the other 'scandals' you people have tried to create: NOTHING.


    By Blogger Fred from BC, at 10:10 p.m.  

  • I keep looking at the "evidence" and these are my observations:

    The Media and Opposition Parties view;
    The CPC hierarchy is the combination of the KGB/MI6/CIA Black Ops.

    Professional Political Operators;
    These guys are a mixture of the Three Stooges and the Griswold Family.

    I am thinking that whoever ran this op are these clowns:

    "Hey Fred how are you coming with organizing our "OP DENY"?

    Well Frank I have taped announcements in French and English telling people that polling stations have moved to malls in these cities. I have also made tapes of people loudly denouncing Lib and NDP candidates.

    So Fred how are we going to distribute these announcements?

    Well Frank since we already have a contract with this auto-calling service in Edmonton we'll use them!

    That's a great idea Fred, nobody would ever figure out it was us doing the calls right?

    By Blogger Don Mitchell, at 10:27 p.m.  

  • The last guy may be correct, but hopefully it sticks. We found out Vic Toews is a pervert, but that did not stick unless it did in a Something about Mary way. Perhaps this will be different.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:28 p.m.  

  • Forget about Fred From BC getting the point.

    By Blogger Gene Rayburn, at 11:00 p.m.  

  • If you want this story to have legs, play on the whodunnit aspect. That was the key for both Watergate and Gomery - it isn't just about the big picture (after all, Nixon would have won in 1972 anyway). So you need a deep throat, you need gradual revelations, etc.

    Interesting questions at the moment:

    Who is Pierre Poutine?

    Is it Michael Sona, Burke campaign director of communications (and seizer of ballot boxes)?

    Was it deputy campaign manager Andy Prescott, who had a Racknine account, and who sent out a mass email warning Tories about bogus calls?

    Was Matt Meier in on it (as might be suggested by the calls to Racknine - even though Racknine was not officially working for the campaign)?

    I doubt Harper was aware of these goings-on, but there's a different question that is interesting and more plausible. When did Harper know about the Guelph robocalling?

    Did he know before the November investigation by Elections Canada? Does he know who Pierre Poutine is? Did he/some senior Tory wait for the story to break before pushing out Michael Sona?

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 11:19 p.m.  

  • I would suggest changing the simple statement to:

    the Tories PAID TELEMARKETERS to LIE to voters about polling stations moving, to prevent them from voting.

    See? Now that stops the "But we didn't call anyone" BS, ties the Cons to wasting money on Telemarketers of all things - something no one that I know likes.

    Just food for thought

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:49 p.m.  

  • Fred - that's my whole point. The impact of this scandal really comes down to WHO is behind it and, like others commented above, WHO was aware of it.

    We don't know that yet.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:40 a.m.  

  • Great theory Dan, I love it!

    It's too bad the prorogation didn't have a simple framing, otherwise that would have been a really sticky one.

    As for robocall, when the Opposition leaps directly to worst-case scenario (eg: Stephen Harper tried to defraud the election), then the issue looks better when it inevitably winds up short (eg: staffer did something improper in a few ridings).

    That's why I also prefer H2H's approach: start only with what you have, and build up. That's way more effective because it looks like it's getting bigger, not smaller.

    And the "Pierre Poutine" thing is gold. That will help it stick - everybody will remember that.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 9:41 a.m.  

  • The name of the scandal is also important. "Robocall" is not a useful word because the Conservatives will say "Everyone uses robocalls", and you have to start making distinctions (This happened with the prorogation issue). "Robocon" is better, but "Robofraud" is probably more of a direct hit. ("Robogate" is just tedious.)
    Of course, the offending calls were not all automated, but the "robo" prefix has already caught on.

    By Anonymous Jeff, at 12:04 p.m.  

  • From the memory hole.

    This is bigger than Guelph. Much bigger.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:22 p.m.  

  • I like Robofraud!

    And Harper needs to hire better people for his less ethical endeavours.

    People generally kept their mouth shut when previous prime ministers did shady things, but he only ever seems to hire people with consciences.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 1:24 p.m.  

  • My (unoriginal) suggestion is RoboCon . Forget who said it first.
    Makes a good companion to Star cartoon:

    By Blogger farwestie, at 4:19 p.m.  

  • Gene Rayburn said...

    Forget about Fred From BC getting the point.

    ...and, right on cue, along comes Gene with his usual insightful, comprehensive point-by-point analysis of the arguments presented.

    (c'mon, little guy...the adults are trying to have a serious discussion here, okay? This ongoing craving for my attention is getting mildly embarrassing...)

    By Blogger Fred from BC, at 3:04 a.m.  

  • calgarygrit said...

    Fred - that's my whole point. The impact of this scandal really comes down to WHO is behind it and, like others commented above, WHO was aware of it.

    We don't know that yet.

    Sorry, based on your first couple of points I thought you were doing the same as the rest of the Liberal blogosphere and painting this as a 'done deal', when the reality is quite different...

    (kudos for showing the reserve (or integrity?)that most of your peers seem to lack)

    You're right, we don't know anything yet...and until the RCMP or Elections Canada can come up with something it is all speculation. We know that many conservatives were also called, thanks to a CBC report right after the election, we know that not all calls were misleading (there were about 100 polling stations that *did* get moved, weren't there?), we know that there doesn't appear to be any discernible pattern as to which type of ridings were actually targetted, and that the vast majority of the calls now being reported were not reported earlier (and indeed many of the new complaint do not allege any attempts to change polling locations or otherwise suppress any attempts to vote; they merely report "annoying" or "suspicious" phone calls of some kind).

    We know a few things, yes...but nothing that could be used as evidence against any specific person or political party. Given the nature of this entire incident, I don't believe anything more will come of this than it did regarding the last few 'scandals'.

    By Blogger Fred from BC, at 3:25 a.m.  

  • Greg said...

    This is bigger than Guelph. Much bigger.

    I especially like the use of the word 'pranks' in that URL...

    Did anyone else notice that the TV news media seems to have really stepped back from this story today, for some reason?

    By Blogger Fred from BC, at 3:29 a.m.  

  • My own guess? That Elections Canada will find four things: (1) that some individual did something bad in Guelph, (2) that there were some call agents who went off-script without permission, (3) there were calls made by Liberals to Liberals who were perceived rudely, and (4) anything else that happened was inadvertant at worst, with a lower error rate than Elections Canada attains in telling people where to vote.

    That the Conservatives have already been blamed for all three, but are guilty of zero, will mean that this gets swept under the rug as soon as EC announces that it was the Liberals who were responsible for upsetting Liberals.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:03 p.m.  

  • Well, clearly Liberals are hoping the Conservative attempted to suppress democracy, but so far no evidence of that.

    It helps the cause that the Toronto Star and the CBC are also clearly trying to blame the Conservative party (and evidence be damned), but really nothing new there.

    So legs... You know so far this scandal doesn't even have feet.

    By the way, do you think we're going to find out that Justin Trudeau was in on the Vic Toews thing from the start?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:00 p.m.  

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