Monday, March 11, 2013

Manning conference : Big Brother's big data

The Cons opposed collecting data for the long gun registry and the Canada long form census as "too intrusive" - and also muzzled Canadian federal scientists to keep any of their data from leaking out - but on Saturday they eagerly attended a conference to hear 'big data' proponents discuss how to collect more data about you in order to win elections.

Canada ‘light years’ behind U.S. on data mining in election campaigns, time to catch up, say experts 
Innovations in big data have started a “revolution” in the way political parties target voters and win election campaigns ...
 “There is a revolution in the way campaigns are not only run, but won,” said Mike Martens, director of the Manning Centre’s School of Practical Politics, at the Manning Centre Conference March 9 in Ottawa, at a session called, “The Cutting Edge in Practical Politics, The Data Revolution.” 
At the conference, Washington Slate columnist Sasha Issenberg explained in the years since the 2000 election in the United States, detailed voter registration information has been combined with information on individual customers from corporations to produce a detailed portrait of voters, how much they earn, their ethnicity, political affiliations, age, gender, annual income, and more.
It’s “a breakthrough,” said Mr. Issenberg, who wrote The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.
Tom Flanagan, "the godfather of CIMS" the Cons' voter database, told the G&M last year that purchased consumer data on spending habits was not added to CIMS while he was with the party.
But last year I posted a 2008 vid of CBC's Keith Boag getting a walk-through of CIMS by a Con staffer, augmented by commentary from Garth Turner and Michael Geist. Google took it down sometime this year so you can't watch it now and all that remains is a quote beneath it left by an outraged commenter :
"All of them have access to the list of voters provided by Elections Canada - from there they are free to buy data commercially."
But there's this :
Can Press, October 18, 2007Tory database draws ire of privacy experts
The federal Conservative party's central database is set up to track the confidential concerns of individual constituents without their knowledge or consent, says former Tory MP Garth Turner. Privacy experts agree the practice is a clear breach of standard privacy ethics -- but probably not the law, because federal political parties fall into a legislative grey area. 
Both the federal Liberals and the NDP have separate databases for constituency work and voter tracking. Data does not migrate between the two. But the Conservatives use a single clearing house for all data collection, storage, data mining, mailing lists, voter tracking and any other partisan use such information may serve.
A single clearing house for all data. 
And now a further blurred line between "the Party" and the government, courtesy of Michael Sona last week :

Really? Government staffers in the public service working on the Hill "were encouraged" to add info about Canadians to a partisan Con Party election campaign database? Government subsidizing a political party?
I guess that's why they call it "the Harper government".

Update : Kai Nagata covered the Manning Conference for The Tyee. Here he catches Blogging Tory founder Stephen Taylor, who now holds Harper's old job as head of the National Citizens Coalition, bragging on the 'big data' panel about the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau's use of public funds for micro-targeting voters in 2008 :
"We sent out, I think, probably a hundred million pieces of mail. Paid for by the taxpayer, I should say. They were each barcoded, and they were each very issue-specific. Most people would sort of ignore it or say 'this is garbage.' But the few people who would actually send it back and say 'Hell yeah, that's what I'm all about' -- you would be able to put them in a database." 
Taylor's group, the NCC, gathers and cross-references sets of data to build pictures of voter types and figure out how to speak to them. 
"We found that CBC privatization petition signers are most likely Molson Canadian drinkers, they watch Dexter on television, they enjoy Sun News Network, they vote Conservative, they're from Toronto, and they donate to World Vision." Those discoveries help shape the messaging. 
A voter who proves unusually engaged on an issue can often be recruited as a volunteer. That's where Mike Martens comes in. Formerly the regional organizer for the federal Conservative Party in B.C., he now runs the School of Practical Politics at the Manning Centre. From now until the next election, Martens will be training thousands of volunteers online and at the school's new campus in Calgary.
From the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau to CIMS to your ear - your tax dollars hard at work re-electing the Harper government.

Best irony overload at the conference came from Tony Clement, MNC big data panelist and President of the Treasury Board of the most secretive government in Canadian history :
“I happen to think of data as Canada’s 21st century resource. … When all the information is supplied to the citizenry, why does government have to make the decision?"
And speaking of Tom Flanagan ... You know all those writers' and academics' editorials coming to Flanagan's defence over his child pornography remarks :
Jonathan Kay : The mobbing of Tom Flanagan is unwarranted and cruel 
Barry Cooper : Some academics are coming to the defence 
Rainer Knopff : U of C owes Tom Flanagan an apology 
William Watson : Tom Flanagan, meet George Orwell
Conrad Black Turning public discourse into a never-ending shriek of ‘unclean!’
Jonathan Kay again : Tom Flanagan’s media critics leave their spines at the door

Photo of Knopff at MNC 2013 sporting Flanagan button : David Climenhaga, Alberta Diary



pogge said...

Gwyn Morgan? The one who's Chairman of the Board of SNC Lavalin? The company being investigated for fraud in four countries on three continents? That Gwyn Morgan?


Anonymous said...

Gwynn's spouse Trottier? Contact person for one of the four third party drop boxes set up in the same Lunn support office to re-elect CPC MP Gary Lunn in the robocalled 2008 Saanich election? That Trottier?

Also fascinating.

thwap said...

Thank you for yet another awesome post Alison. Very much appreciated.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the informative article

sooey said...

You rock, Alison!

Beijing York said...

Excellent coverage, Alison.

They have no shame - imagine bragging about misusing tax payer funds to help their election campaigning.

deBeauxOs said...

CPC kool-aid drinkers like Taylor would brag about their party's MASSIVE electoral fraud and vote suppression during the last two federal elections, if they thought they could get away with it - and if things continue to unravel at Elections Canada - they may well have.

Alison said...

Thanks for your kind words of encouragement, all.

Pogge and Anon : And as I'm sure you already know, Gwyn Morgan was one of the first directors at Manning Centre, along with Steve's current chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Sooey! I first learned of the existence of the Manning Centre 5 years ago on your forum.

Leaving this reminder here : the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau goes by the name of Conservative Resource Group on GEDS.

Holly Stick said...

A couple of articles on things to watch for: Conservatives going "green" and other plans for their next election campaign:

and getting into municipal politics more:

Alison said...

Thanks, Holly.
Additional on Con Resource Group in 2008:
Kory Teneycke was hired to head up CRG in the fall of 2007; replaced by Jason Lietaer, another Harris-ite, of the lobbying/polling firm Ensight in July 2008. Lietaer later Hudak's dcomm.

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