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Steve Bartlett
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Leaked exchanges prove government pads web polls, phone-in shows

Paul Lane

Don't kid yourself the next time you hear a provincial politician say, "the only poll that matters is on election day."

Because the daily informal polls on media websites mean an awful lot to MHAs.

That's obvious from a series of BlackBerry messages, or PINs, obtained by The Telegram.

"This is an IMPORTANT question and we are WAY BEHIND. We need a BIG effort here from EVERYBODY," reads a PIN from a number a source identifies as being Mount Pearl South MHA Paul Lane's.

"Please go to the CBC question at www.cbc.ca/nl and choose the second option."

In late December, The Telegram published a story detailing the Tories' controlled effort to manipulate online media polls and to win the Dunderdale government favour by commenting on news stories using aliases and by prescheduling calls to radio phone-in shows.

The information came from an unnamed Tory insider, who also said the price of not taking part has been spelled out to MHAs.

The source said caucus members have been warned they won't be considered for promotions and that political staffers who fail to participate are expendable.

Lane was one of a few vocal government MHAs on the story.

On Twitter the day it ran, he was involved in numerous conversations about the article, and at one point referred to some of it as "hearsay by some anonymous source."

He also called "VOCM BackTalk" on the subject later that week.

During the call, he noted the source was unsubstantiated and said part of his responsibility as an MHA is letting people know where he stands.

Lane said to the host that the party's talk radio calls are co-ordinated - to allow MHAs a chance to get on air.

And he admitted he votes on web polls, whether the topic is provincial, municipal or federal.

"I generally like to participate in the process and I'll personally make a vote. I'll make one vote," he said. "In terms of manipulating stuff on a computer, I don't even know how to manipulate on a computer. As far as I know you can only vote one time."

But while saying he only votes once, Lane has instructed others to vote numerous times and has also expressed a desire to circumvent automated limits on web polls.

In one of the PINs, he writes, "We are falling way behind on the CBC question. The computer is only allowing us to vote once. Obviously the opposition has found a way around this and we are also working on this."

Lane goes on to request that members vote, over and over if they have access to multiple computers, BlackBerrys or iPhones.

He also encourages them to get loyal supporters, volunteers and district association members to vote.

"This is a very important poll and we require nothing less than 100 per cent effort," he stresses. "Let's get it done."

While Lane also told "BackTalk" he doesn't know how to manipulate a computer, he has been informed how to do so - at least a couple of times in the PINs.

"If you clear the history and cookies each time and start the internet again, you can vote multiple times," reads a response to a message encouraging people to vote.

The dates on all the PINs have been redacted, and the messages are only a sampling of the exchanges between caucus members.

Asked for comment Friday, Lane replied by email, saying, "I am not prepared to respond to any unseen documentation from anonymous sources but if you could please forward the information and source, I will review and respond accordingly."

The Telegram would have shown the PINs to Lane if he had agreed to a live interview. The newspaper does not reveal the identity of confidential sources.

The PINs were sent to a long list of MHAs, political staffers and party supporters.

Most are from Lane or, a source indicates, Tess Burke, communications manager with the Government Members office.

Many of the messages are regarding polls, including one with the subject, "NTV Question."

"Answer: NO," Lane spells out for them.

"We need everyone to vote on this, it's very important," Burke writes in another.

A couple of PINs focus on radio call-in shows.

"Another awesome week on open line. Thanks to everyone who participated," Lane writes. "Will be in touch with some of you in the next day or so to arrange a schedule for next week. ... I realize that this has been constant and I'm sure many of you are probably sick of these PINS, however this is very necessary in order to counter the political spin put forward by the Libs and particularly the THIRD party. These guys are hungry. We must be hungrier."

Advises Burke on a different one: "To follow up on the caucus meeting last week, if you are to speak on a radio show, and you wish to speak about Muskrat Falls, then we will provide messaging ..."

The opposition Liberals did not respond to an email asking for comment on whether or not the party is involved in such efforts.

A spokeswoman for the provincial New Democrats says if there is a poll of interest to their supporters, a link might be emailed to supporters or posted to social media sites.

She said the party has co-ordinated radio phone-in calls in the past, but to ensure MHAs got in the habit of calling, not to have them read talking points.

"I think people are aware of how false it sounds when people are saying the same thing, so we don't do it," the spokeswoman said.

She said what the Tories are said to be doing seems unfair.

"It's underhanded. They're attempting to manipulate public opinion, if what you say is true. They shouldn't be."

The Progressive Conservative approach is not met with open arms by everyone who receives the call-to-action PINs.

One reply was from a member of the public not engaged in the Tory machine.

"Folks," the recipient writes. "Delete this PIN from your (BlackBerry) please. I'm not involved with this."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: @TelegramSteve

Read a related editorial.

Organizations: The Telegram, CBC, Government Members

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Recent comments

  • Are We Human or Are We Dancers
    February 18, 2013 - 10:26

    Seriously people. Step back and take a good long hard look at Mr. Lane and all his buddies. These people represent you, me, and everyone else born and reared in Newfoundland and Labrador whether you voted for them or not and whether you still live here or out of the province. Shameless manipulation, intimidation, secrecy and fiscal mismanagement are violations of trust. Big Oil money flows into their coffers and then gets poured into big business (Muskrat) while we end up with the biggest loan and the biggest deficit ever in history? Why? We don’t deserve to be bullied like that and we shouldn’t be putting up with it. It’s demoralizing and oppressive is what it is! We need an ethics commissioner or somebody with the authority to look into Mr. Lane’s activities and all the other secrecy and dealings going on but after a decade of this regime, all those jobs have probably been filled with political patronage hacks. I resent that waste of money because it’s not going to be fit to live here soon. At what point do we stop and say hold on a minute. Enough is enough! Are we afraid of Paul Lane or are we too apathetic from being down so long or what the heck is the problem? Why isn’t something being done about this?

  • Whaddaya At
    February 18, 2013 - 09:44

    It's hard to say who's the most annoying, Paul Lane, Minister of Open Line, Steve Kent, Dunderdale's Chief Apple Polisher, or the Mouth That Walks, from Mt. Pearl, who hosts Open Line and brutalizes the English Language ad nauseam. He refers to a 'faux pas ' as a 'fu pas ', 'bailiwick' as 'bellywhack' and invents verbs like ' incentivise', to replace ' incentive '. The only bit of entertainment on that show is Pat Murphy, when the Mouth That Walks lets him get a word in edgewise. Lane and Kent ?. Dead air sounds better.

  • Torey Normore
    February 18, 2013 - 08:22

    I've had it with this crowd; I'm not voting Tory no more.

  • Shane
    February 18, 2013 - 08:08

    This Government has all the confidence of a recently dumped 13 year old, and acts just as oddly. A PC VOTER!

  • Philip Conservative
    February 18, 2013 - 07:02

    All governments are concerned with reelection and self preservations. That is natural. However, in our democracy when a government puts all else aside - things like ignoring ATIP legislation, creating an officials secrets act, making multi billion dollar decision without due process and ignoring the entities charged with ensuring prudent decision making than we have reason to be worried. The current governement has a single mandate. Preserve itself. This trumps all! Its time for them to go.

  • Jamie C
    February 18, 2013 - 06:57

    All political parties are doing this, not just the conservatives. It just so happens that someone got caught that was a PC. Looks like Mr. Lane has some 'splaining to do lol!

  • John
    February 18, 2013 - 06:43

    I guess that things aren't as good for the "Big Blue Machine" as they would have us believe. If they didn't believe in any polls other than the election day poll, they wouldn't be stacking the UNSCIENTIFIC polls. Things must not be as good on the hill as they would have us believe.

  • John
    February 18, 2013 - 06:10

    This should not surprise anyone. This government and many of its its staff have the ethics of snakes. The next election cannot come soon enough. This behaviour is pathetic and NL'ers deserve better than to be manipulated.

  • Mr.R
    February 18, 2013 - 01:08

    Is this even news?..zzzzzzzzzz!!!

  • Steve
    February 17, 2013 - 21:52

    This story wasted my time. If only we could harness all the hot air and BS in the Confederation Building (every single part) and export it, we wouldn't need the oil reserves. The entire lot are tarred with the same brush whereas they should all be tarred and feathered and run out of town. All those Artsy Fartsy NDPers are some of the worse of them all.

  • NowIsee
    February 17, 2013 - 20:32

    Thanks for putting this on your website. I for one cannot wait to see what the general public has to say about this.

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 17, 2013 - 19:59

    Pretty embarrassing stuff. Amateur hour.

  • Whaddaya At
    February 17, 2013 - 19:17

    Paul Lane , Dunderdale's unofficially appointed ' Minister of Open Line ', has blisters on his thumbs from using his Crackberry non-stop. He's got Daly, Simms and Soucy on speed dial every day so he can spread PC propaganda for his beloved leader. Then there's Steve 'Eagle Scout' Kent, As if that's not enough to make people hurl their lunches, there's Steve 'Eagle Scout ' Kent doing the same thing.

  • W Bagg
    February 17, 2013 - 19:15

    Goes to show much they care for the general publics views and concerns.

  • Scott Free
    February 17, 2013 - 18:55

    Who's Paul Lane?

  • Political Watcher
    February 17, 2013 - 18:21

    And who is surprised with this? Lane has been useless as a Councillor and was only elected because of his Tory affiliation. Just listen to his interviews or when he is sent to CBC to speak on something; if it isn't written down for him he doesn't know. He seconded the Premier motion in the House for the Muskrat Falls Private Members debate; I bet anyone anything that if he was alone and asked questions on the deal and its contents he would be a deer in the headlights. To think that this person is anMHA only demonstrates the shallow pool of people in Government and a strong example as to why we are a province flushed with cash yet on the door step to being have not again. This is Lane, now if you look a little deeper you will see that Kent is in the same boat, using social media and maniplualting online polls in their favour. To add insult to this we have VOCM Open Line where Simms turns it into a love-in with his former colleagues. Even during the elections, and candidate from Mount Pearl who was not a Tory couldn't get on the air yet we had Lane and Kent on almost daily. Mount Pearl has produced some doosy politicians but these two clowns take the cake and the saddest thing is that they have more lining up behind them.