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Ten percenters too valuable a tool to give up

I’ve been spending the past couple of days going through the past few issues of The Hill Times that I’d fallen behind on reading, and I came across an article on those ten percenters, and the top 40 MPs’ printing costs. As a great change from last year, 38 of the top 40 were all Conservatives. The only exceptions were numbers 10 (NDP MP Olivia Chow) and number 40 (Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal). And Chow will argue up and down about the usefulness of ten percenters, and sure they’re partisan, but hey, that’s politics.

Chow isn’t wrong – politics is partisan, and it can serve a useful function. It’s supposed to be a subsidised way for MPs to keep in touch with their constituents, or to communicate with people who aren’t in a riding they hold who might not otherwise hear from their party. So far, so good, right?  But the question always becomes where the line gets drawn. Is it appropriate for Chow to take her party’s anti-HST battle to these ten percenters? (Especially when it’s really a provincial decision?) Perhaps, but I’d say it’s a bit on that line. But some of the hyper-partisan, mean-spirited ten percenters that torque or misrepresent issues the party sending them wants to try to campaign on? Or ones that misrepresent the position taken by that riding’s MP? Not so cool.

(I might also add that MPs sending ten percenters about municipal or provincial issues when it’s outside of their scope as a federal MP are also vexing to me, but maybe that’s just me).

The thing is, as much as MPs are wailing and gnashing their teeth over these mean-spirited ten percenters, nobody wants to give them up completely, and I don’t believe them when they say it’s because it’s an important communications tool. Rather, I’m quite certain the real reason is that they’re also an important data-mining tool for parties. Remember that these ten percenters have reply spaces – with free postage – to answer some kind of a biased survey question (and you’re lucky if you get a choice rather than just a “yes!” check box). Those replies go to each party’s research bureau, which compiles them in a voter database, that they can then use to build demographic data on the riding, and to know whether those who reply support them or not. Why wouldn’t they want to give that up?

No doubt this issue will continue to come up in the New Year – especially as those questions of prima facia breaches of privilege brought up by the likes of Irwin Cotler still exist (given that he was smeared by ten percenters inferring he was anti-Semitic, even though he’s Jewish and an internationally respected human rights lawyer). But I don’t expect any real limits to be placed on them.

Elsewhere, the PMO is sending out mean memos mocking Michael Ignatieff – because that’s a prime use of their resources (as opposed to, oh, the party office).

The Canadian policy of paying Afghans for the damage our operations cause their property is the best counter-insurgency policy out there, it seems.

And a gay wedding in Argentina is Latin America’s first same-sex marriage. Apparently it’s catching…
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