Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Is Probit Calling Every Voter in BC? And Who Is Their Mystery Client If Not Any BC Political Party?

National polling firm attempting to call every voter in BC – but for who?  All major parties say “not us”! 

Probit, a division of Ekos, firm wants to probe your political leanings in every BC riding, but it won't say who it works for.  Concerned Citizens for BC right-wing pro-BC Liberal advocacy group with $1 million campaign won't respond.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday January 29, 2013
By Bill Tieleman
"Polls? Nah... they're for strippers and cross country skiers."
A national research firm is attempting to call every single one of British Columbia's estimated 3.27 million eligible voters with election polling and voter identification questions, 24 Hours and The Tyee have learned.
But who is paying for what is sometimes controversially referred to as "robocalling" and why? All four major B.C. political parties say it's not them and they don't know.
The Tyee obtained all the questions conducted by Probit, owned by public opinion polling firm Ekos, in the five-minute call, which could cost up to nearly $500,000.
Probit head Elliott Gauthier confirmed Monday that: "We have been hired to conduct an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) survey. The questionnaire is for all eligible voters in British Columbia."
Gauthier says another research firm hired Probit, but their name is "confidential."  
However, B.C. Liberal, New Democrat, Green and Conservative Party representatives all said they weren't conducting the calls, as did the B.C. Federation of Labour.
The pro-Liberal group Concerned Citizens for BC, which 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper and The Tyee exclusively revealed has a $1-million advertising campaign budget and is running anti-NDP radio ads currently, didn't respond to email inquiries by deadline.
What they want to know
Bryan Bedera of GrassRoots 2.0 -- a Reno, Nevada calling firm, estimated the Probit calls would cost about 15 cents each.
That would price the calls at up to $491,000, but Bedera notes a volume discount might bring the price down to as low as 10 cents a call or $327,000. And since not every voter has their own phone, the potential total calls and the price is more likely half that.
Steve Griffiths of Ifbyphone, a Chicago-based telemarketing firm which does call in Canada, said Monday its rates usually average five cents per minute but with a high volume of calls the price would come down to 3.5 cents a minute, or around 20 cents a call with the length of the Probit script.
I received automated Probit telephone calls twice last week, on Thursday and Sunday evening at my home in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, recording one call and taking notes for the second identical survey.
The questions seem to combine polling and voter identification, where the party commissioning the Interactive Voice Response [or Recognition] survey is provided with results on the party preferences of the person who answers, reaction to issues raised, approval rating of party leaders and demographic information.
The cheaper IVR automated campaigning is a means by which a party can reach far more people than with a traditional live phone call, making it a cost-effective method of determining where your candidate stands with voters and which ones to concentrate efforts on, i.e. the undecided or soft support voters who might be convinced to back your candidate with the right argument.
IVR is also used for Get Out The Vote efforts on election day, candidate endorsements, advance voting reminders or any other messaging a party may wish to send to voters.
The Probit poll was just five minutes long but packed in key questions, including these:
"Would you say the provincial government is on the right track or the wrong track?"
This is a classic question almost always asked in party polling -- a general indication of political environment that sometimes is at odds with party preference numbers but usually shows the way the wind is blowing.
"If a B.C. provincial election were held tomorrow, which one of the following would you vote for here in Vancouver-Point Grey: Christy Clark, the BC Liberals' candidate; David Eby, the BC NDP candidate, Francoise Raunet, the BC Greens candidate, the BC Conservatives' candidate [not yet nominated], an independent candidate or are you undecided?"
If undecided, the poll asks: "Which party's candidate are you leaning towards supporting?" with the same choices.
This again is classic, a way to attempt to get a "forced choice" answer out of those who don't want to give their party preference.
The poll then asks if "you approve or disapprove of" Premier Christy Clark's and NDP opposition leader Adrian Dix's performance or have no opinion.
The poll also asks who you voted for in the May 2009 provincial election, followed by demographic questions on gender, age, education level, household annual income, ethnic background, what kind of phone service you use and your postal code.
The past election voting allows the pollster and/or party to track voter retention --- how many previous supporters are still on board, while demographics help a pollster ensure a balanced sample.
Probit also asks if you wish to join its research panel for future surveys "on a variety of topics".
Probing Probit
Probit does not mention voter identification on its website as one of its services but it does state that it is suited to "market research" among other purposes.
"Probit is EKOS' new Internet-telephone survey tool for answering serious research questions. It is the most rigorously constructed hybrid survey tool in Canada. Probit is perfectly suited to polling, communications, evaluation, market research or any project that requires valid, representative sampling."
The BC Liberals polled heavily in Vancouver-Point Grey during the lead up to the May 2011 byelection that Clark narrowly won by 564 votes over Eby -- and at that time I also revealed details of the polling.
Regardless of whether we ever find out all the details of the Probit polling or who is behind it, what is clear is that the battle for B.C. will be both fierce and expensive.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

BC Government Bailouts for BC Film Industry? Cut! The Never Ending Call For More Money From Hollywood

BC Liberal, NDP politicians: resist being seduced by Hollywood's subsidy hungry hype

Hollywood sign over the movie business capital in Los Angeles
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours/The Tyee Column

Tuesday January 21, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

"Free is too much!" -- Desk sign at Hollywood film producer's office, 1998
If there's one thing that both BC Liberals and New Democrats can agree on it's this: giving money to Hollywood is almost irresistible!
So if you want to get literally hundreds of millions of tax dollars to subsidize your already highly profitable $1.2 billion industry, just send a few movie stars and producers up to British Columbia, smile sweetly about how you love the place and then threaten to leave.
Works every time.
And when over 1,000 rightly worried film and television workers meet tonight at North Shore Studios for a Save BC Film information session that will get blanket media coverage, and an online petition hits 25,000 signatures, watch the pressure build on both parties to outbid each other with your money.
But things don't change when it come to film moguls milking the government like a prize dairy cow while promising to make politicians look like stars.
Adventures in Hollywood
In 1998 I went on a "fact finding" mission to Hollywood representing labour, along with a B.C. government deputy minister and film industry representative.
The trip was needed because Ontario had just introduced an 11 per cent tax credit on labour used in film and television production -- excluding foreign actors and crew -- and B.C. was under pressure to match it or the industry would die hard with a vengeance.
We spent two days meeting movie executives and in one producer's office was a big sign at his desk that epitomizes the whole situation: "Free is too much!"
The penny -- and a several million dollars -- dropped for me then.
The same producer said his firm would shift a $2 million television movie of the week from Vancouver studios to Toronto if it could save just $10,000 in total from Ontario tax credits.
"Seriously?" we asked incredulously. "Even with more experienced crews, the time zone difference, better weather, the extra distance from Hollywood, the variety of locations and sets?"
"Yes," was the straight answer back.
And it may be true.
Scripting a bidding war
B.C. paid up then even when the dollar hit as low as 63 cents U.S. and kept jacking the tax credit from 11 per cent to an astonishing 33 per cent today on all local labour costs, plus additional credits for shooting outside Vancouver, spending around $285 million a year to keep up to 25,000 jobs here. Currently the industry says the unemployment rate is about 90 per cent.
But Hollywood has a good script and we now see the results of Ontario and Quebec starting a shameless bidding war for film industry jobs and investments with an incredibly generous tax credit hike to 25 per cent of total costs that puts B.C. 10 per cent to 13 per cent behind them.
Better investments
Just think for a minute about that -- would the restaurant or forest products or construction industry like to get a one-third tax credit on all its labour costs?
A tax credit that really means you get all tax paid back and then a cheque from the government for the remaining value of that cost?
You bet! Would they invest that money in B.C. to create more jobs? Sure!
Would spending $300 million a year building 1,000 or more units of housing for the homeless create lots of great jobs and put a needed roof over people's heads too? You bet!
But unlike the film business, other sectors can't easily get up and leave town.
Movie and TV shoots, unfortunately can and do.
And they're not shy about making that clear.
Movie production manager Warren Carr made it clear in an interview with CKNW radio's Sean Leslie on Sunday.
"Yes, we need a little help on the tax credit," said Carr, who helped produce The Bourne Legacy and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid.
The movie moguls were also big fans of B.C.'s outgoing Harmonized Sales Tax, which also put more money in their pockets at consumers' expense, advocating strongly for it in 2011's binding referendum when I was strategist for Fight HST, the group that successfully opposed the tax.
Today the industry's Save BC Film online petition also puts it plainly -- give us tax money:
"Vancouver's ability to remain a competitive film market relies heavily on the support of the provincial government and their enthusiasm for maintaining an attractive taxation scheme.
"With a strong Canadian dollar, this is the only way to ensure and build upon the long-term success that has been established."
Fair enough from the film industry perspective -- and no one wants to see workers unemployed -- but the rest of us may not agree that ever-rising levels of tax rebates from the public coffers are a good way to save jobs.
Let's direct our own fate
No matter what B.C. does, other jurisdictions in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere have engaged in an unlimited bidding war for Hollywood's favour, with tax credits as high as 35 per cent in Louisiana.
So what's the solution if throwing more money at Hollywood isn't?
There has to be a sustainable plan for B.C.'s film and television industry; one that isn't completely dependent on massive tax credits or a depressed Canadian dollar to survive and grow.
But it won't be developed in the heat of a panic campaign or with advice from self-serving movie moguls.
And Hollywood's love of whip-sawing province against province, as well as American states and foreign countries, for the biggest, fattest tax credits imaginable has to hit the cutting room floor at last.
Premier Christy Clark and her government have done a pretty miserable job with the industry, considering how much money they spend on it, alienating both workers and bosses with their indifference to what really is a very difficult situation of high unemployment and fewer productions in B.C.
But both parties would be smart not to jump when Hollywood yells: "Action! Throw us big bucks and make it look sincere!"
With a sensible strategy, B.C.'s film and television business won't fade to black and the hit movie "Tax Credit Bandits" won't keep producing expensive sequels.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Right-wing Group Plans $1 million 'Blanket Coverage' Ad Blitz Against BC NDP

Million dollar campaign supporting BC Liberals helped by federal Liberal lobbyists. 
Jim Shepard of Concerned Citizens for BC
Wazuku Advisory Group's Michael Watson, Brad Zubyk & Steve Kukucha - website photo
Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday January 15, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

"Christy has not been given a fair shake. She has not been identified as a competent premier." 

-Jim Shepard, Concerned Citizens for B.C.

A political action group formed by a retired corporate leader will soon launch a $1 million "blanket coverage... full multi-media campaign" to attack the BC New Democrats and help re-elect Premier Christy Clark's BC Liberals, according to leaked documents obtained by 24 hours Vancouver and The Tyee.

And Concerned Citizens for B.C. -- created by Jim Shepard, the right-wing former Clark economic advisor and ex-Canfor and Finning International CEO -- is running the campaign with the help of prominent lobbyists with strong ties to the federal and BC Liberal parties.

CC4BC, as it refers to itself, told supporters in a Nov. 30, 2012 email obtained by 24 hours about advertising plans that "the cost of such a bold undertaking is $1 million" and that it is "already to $520,000."
"The positive feedback we get from all quarters indicates we will reach our goal well before year end. That will enable us to come out with a full multi-media campaign early in the New Year," the email sent by Shepard states.
No spending limits or disclosure
Shepard has been a vociferous critic of the NDP, claiming that it introduced "socialism" when in power in the 1990s.
"You know, we lived through socialism in B.C. for 10 years. I know what it looks like and it is not pretty," Shepard said in 2010, adding that he was similarly worried about U.S. President Barack Obama political proclivities.
Shepard's $1 million advertising campaign -- or any other -- isn't subject to any spending limits or financial disclosure so long as it concludes before the provincial election officially begins with the writ being dropped 28 days before the May 14 vote, Elections BC confirmed Friday.
That's because a court decision striking down BC Liberal legislation that attempted to ban pre-election advertising.
Ties to Grits
Wazuku Advisory Groups' Kirsten Avison confirmed in a telephone interview Friday that the firm is doing paid work for CC4BC but had no details on its ad plans and did not call back with additional information as requested or respond to email.
Wazuku's three principals are Mike Watson, Brad Zubyk and Steve Kukucha. Kukucha did not return telephone and email interview requests.
Both Kukucha and Zubyk have strong ties to the federal Liberal Party as well as the B.C. Liberal Party and Clark.
Zubyk was communications director for the federal Liberals in B.C. in the 2008 and 2011 campaigns and Kukucha was senior advisor to former Liberal Environment Minister David Anderson.
Wazuku, Kukucha and Watson are BC Liberal Party donors.
Zubyk was also active in Clark's BC Liberal leadership campaign and has worked for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association in an expensive anti-NDP campaign before the 2009 election. The ICBA's Philip Hochstein is a vociferous opponent of the NDP and unions in B.C.
Zubyk also testified for the B.C. government in court in support of its earlier legislation restricting election advertising.
Ironically, Zubyk's political career in B.C. started when he was communications coordinator for the NDP caucus under then-Premier Mike Harcourt and he later ran two unsuccessful BC NDP leadership campaigns for ex-MLA Corky Evans.
Zubyk's current lobbying clients include General Electric Canada and the B.C. Maritime Employers Association.
Kukucha, who has previously been active in independent power production, has lobbyist clients that include Ballard Power Systems and Blu Earth Renewables Kukucha has also been a federal lobbyist but currently has no active clients.
Watson is a BC Liberal government appointee on the Pacific Carbon Trust and a national director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
'Oh really?'
But despite the colourful background of CC4BC's top advisors, its biggest problem may actually be founder Shepard. The ex-CEO is an evangelical supporter of Clark and the "free enterprise" cause but he is often short on facts.
In an interview with CKNW radio host Bill Good on Jan. 8, Shepard was definitive on the NDP record -- but wrong.
Good: Fiscal management does not seem to be a high point of this government today... It's not been balancing its budget.
Shepard: They have not done as well as they should have. They only balanced their budget four times out of the last nine attempts.
But if you look at the previous nine years with the NDP, they never had one single balanced budget.
Good: They had two.
Shepard: Oh really? Which ones?
In fact, the NDP left office in 2001 after two balanced budgets.
But despite Shepard's shaky grasp on political and financial reality, he has a $1 million ad campaign ready to launch -- why let any facts get in the way?

UPDATE:  In an ironic twist that must have Shepard and his supporters apoplectic, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix helped open the Toronto Stock Exchange today with Catalyst Paper!  

Apparently NDP "socialism" isn't what it used to be.

See also related story by 24 hours Richard Sussman:  

Negative publicity nothing new to NDP’s Dix