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Conservatives send robo-text criticizing the federal carbon tax

Last Updated Mar 30, 2019 at 6:48 pm PDT

TORONTO (CITYNEWS) — Some of the texts identify Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as the sender, while others appear to be sent by a “Mary,” “Sue,” “Sarah,” or “Emma.”

Though the names may change, the messages are all similar, opposing the Federal Liberal government’s carbon tax that takes effect on Monday. A link accompanying the text took you to a website asking you to sign up and divulge even more information, including your name, email and postal code.

Mass texts, like the ones sent by the Conservatives, are sometimes referred to as virtual door-knocking, a controversial tactic that’s received backlash in the past.

The Conservative Party of Canada told CityNews the texts were sent to people in the four provinces without a carbon tax plan: Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick.

When asked the purpose of these messages, the spokesperson said it was to do voter outreach.

“Just as we would over the years knock on someone’s door to deliver a message, we’re also informing them via communications mediums they regularly use like text messaging and social media,” said Cory Hann, Director of Communications for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Other parties have also used this approach as a way of garnering support from voters, including the Liberal Party, who said they use this tool as a way to engage as many Canadians as possible.

“Effective use of these tools on campaigns can help boost voter turnout and get more Canadians involved in our democracy,” said Braeden Caley, Senior Director of Communications for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Effectiveness of Robocalls

With a federal election only seven months away, Nelson Wiseman, an expert in Canadian Government and Politics, expects Canadians will be getting even more of these messages as we get closer to the October election.

“It’s very cheap, it costs next to nothing to do it and it has the potential to raise a lot of money,” said Wiseman, who is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. “Of course, it’ll alienate a lot of people, it won’t alienate conservatives and other Canadians who may not be that political. They might find the message very appealing.”

Wiseman believes this strategy is no different than households getting phone calls from politicians and their staff, and adds it is an effective tool to reach voters.

“The upside of it is greater than the downside of it,” he said. “The people who are more upset about it, don’t want to vote Conservative to begin with. They’re upset, they think their privacy is being violated.”

Privacy Concerns

Critics of robocalls have often times questioned how political parties are able to obtain Canadians’ personal numbers.

The Conservatives said most of them were generated randomly through a software program, but a Cyber Security expert says people’s personal information are often circulated by marketing agencies.

“Most people have not opted to be called,” said Daniel Tobok, CEO of Cytelligence. “It’s part of a big picture of how our data is loosely out there and all those companies are aggregating it and then selling it. Today, someone can call you for a new flavour of ice cream, tomorrow, it’s robocalling for an election.”

Tobok also believes there should be a change in legislation that gives Canadians the ability to decide whether or not they want to receive these types of calls.

“It’s time for a overhaul when it comes to what the political parties can do and can’t do when it comes to calling,” he said. “There needs to be some sort of overhaul not to disturb people on their mobile devices and calling home.”

Some on social media said they blocked the number that sent the text, but according to Daniel Tobok, that won’t exempt them from getting these messages as they can be sent from another generated number.