Friday, October 18, 2013

On lobby groups, forums and astroturfing in the Calgary election.

The following is a cross-posting from Cory Morgan.



Electoral forums play an important role in elections at all levels of government. These forums provide an opportunity for voters to watch candidates first-hand and hear them respond to the pressing issues of that particular campaign. Candidates can demonstrate their ability to respond on the spot to questions and can engage with other candidates of differing views if the forum format allows for such interaction. People who can’t go to a forum in person can still benefit through watching media summaries of the event as often these forums are covered by all types of media.

Calgary only held one mayoral forum with all of the candidates and it unfortunately was almost a complete waste of time as the forum was held and managed by a highly biased informal lobby group acting under the name of CivicCamp.

The most glaring evidence of the forum bias was in the twelve questions selected by this group calling themselves CivicCamp to ask of the candidates during the forum. Unlike most electoral forums where audience questions are allowed and candidates may debate each other on points, in this forum things were carefully orchestrated so that only twelve questions were to be presented and candidates had no means to respond to anything else aside from these twelve questions.

Let’s look at what the group calling themselves CivicCamp determined to be the twelve most important issues to Calgarians in this election.

1.      Will you release campaign donors.
2.      Do you support a living wage.
3.      Do you support secondary suites.
4.      Can we expect movement to urban agriculture
5.      How will you support Calgary poverty reduction initiative
6.      Sun Valley Blvd and Macleod trail.
7.      What role should city play in investing in artists.
8.      Do you believe the city requires a charter.
9.      Stance on cosmetic use of pesticides.
10.  What is your stance on curbside recycling.
11.  How will you repair flood damaged infrastructure
12.  What would a diverse economy look like in the city

While candidates and media are reporting spending, tax increases, vehicular congestion and public safety as being among the top issues of concern among Calgarians, apparently these did not make the top twelve questions at this CivicCamp forum.

If you are wondering why the twelve questions look like they were lifted right out of Mayor Nenshi’s campaign platform don’t be surprised considering Naheed Nenshi co-founded the group that wrote the questions. Of course Nenshi’s pet lobby group won’t ask those awkward questions about tax hikes or the demonization of industry that Nenshi has participated in. Banning audience questions ensured things never went of the choreographed rails.

Can we imagine a circumstance of more blatant bias than having an electoral forum hosted and managed by a group formed by one of the candidates? I sure can’t.

This group of people who called themselves CivicCamp lobbied City Council directly demanding massive tax hikes as can be seen in the letter accepted by council. Considering how Nenshi hiked property taxes 32% since being elected, I would say their lobbying was effective. No wonder they didn’t want voters asking about taxation at their forums.   Budget presentation letter

Let’s be clear here. This loose lobby group that acted under the name CivicCamp was not some simple group of volunteers seeking to hold election forums. This was a highly biased and ideologically driven lobby group that was hiding under the radar by refusing to even simply register as a non-profit society.

Below is a video of Naheed Nenshi giggling and wearing a CivicCamp shirt while celebrating their successfully lobbying the city council to embrace the controversial Planit document as well as the myopic street-closure promoted by Druh Farrell (the street festival was an unmitigated disaster and was discontinued after a couple of years).



Does Naheed Nenshi and this group of people have the right to lobby for preferred policies in city hall?
 Of course they do. A person can’t pretend for a second however that this group of people is unbiased and should be presenting themselves as such during a civic election.
 The CivicCamp group showed gross bias in Ward 11 when for their forum they gave Brian Pincott (Nenshi’s preferred candidate) an outright veto in choosing the moderator of the forum. Was this sort of power given to any other candidates? Apparently just loading and controlling the questions wasn’t enough, catering to the whims of their preferred candidates in selection of moderators was part of the deal too. In Ward 11 the CivicCamp gang aggressively pressured one of the candidates running against Pincott in their hypocritical finance disclosure campaign to the point of being on borderline harassment. While this candidate had disclosed his donors above and beyond what was legally required, it was not enough for the CivicCamp group. They called, emailed and literally even camped outside his campaign office doors at one point trying to get some sort of extra disclosure or something.
 There are lobby groups and there are groups that try to facilitate unbiased political discourse. These are two very different things but CivicCamp with Nenshi’s help has managed to try and tie both of these roles into one group which hides from scrutiny and never actually pursued or gained any legal form of existence. Despite not actually existing as a legal entity, this group has somehow managed to raise and spend money however which is a whole different area of contention to be examined later.
 The properly registered CivicCamp that I and some others have formed is volunteer based, transparent, legal and is not trying to pretend that it does not carry a policy slant. Let’s hope that if Nenshi chooses to spawn further lobby groups in the future that these groups display the open honesty that we have as opposed to essentially astroturfing in the extreme for the Mayor’s electoral benefit.

It is too late for this election, but let’s hope we don’t let a biased group take off with the management of these very important electoral forums in the next civic election.


No comments:

Post a Comment