The whole country received a robocall with the purpose of conducting a survey for “Tell City Hall.” Whoever agreed to participate in the survey, they received a message on their phones with a link to an online survey. There, they were asked if they approved of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
However, the website TellCityHall.ca said nothing about who they work for. After an investigation, it was revealed that the survey is run by Advanis Inc., which is a marketing and social research firm from Canada. Their spokesperson confirmed that the survey was conducted on behalf of the Alberta government, a fact which was confirmed by David Sands, the director of cross-ministry initiatives for the department of communications and public engagement in Alberta.
Hiding Behind Rules and Regulations?
The problem is, said Dermod Travis – with the IntegrityBC (a non-partisan non-profit organization which advocates for government transparency), that in a world where social media companies allowed data from users to be used in political campaigns, the government has no excuse for what they did with this survey:
“A government, in particular, should be setting the standard [for transparency] rather than hiding behind rules and regulations and interpretations.”
Travis doesn’t know if the survey using robocall messages would violate federal or provincial regulations, but with the recent fear of online privacy, the approach used should be a public concern.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was all in for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, announcing in May that the government will spend over a million dollars on a pro-pipeline campaign. To bring Canadians on board of the expansion, they used the survey to see how it can benefit their campaign.
Back in 2013, the CRTC fined provincial and federal parties and politicians for using robocalls without identifying which party was responsible for the survey.
Avoiding Biased Results
Andrea Rosen, who was the chief compliance and enforcement officer at CRTC, explained that robocalls – “automatic dialing announcing devices” – shouldn’t allow parties to use the tech to call Canadians for information, money or other things without additional identification and contact information and that at the end of the message there should be an e-mail address and a phone number.
David Sands replied that they did not add the identity as being a survey for the Alberta government, to avoid biased results, but added that they would “add a line at the end that states we are the sponsor/client.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.