A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for February 2012

[LINK] “Robocalls phone number registered to ‘Pierre Poutine’”

Don’t you miss the days when people committng nefarious deeds would at least try to be sneaky? I miss that kind of respect.

A telephone number used to place automated calls directing voters to the wrong polling station in Guelph, Ont., in the last federal election was registered to a “Pierre Poutine” of Separatist Street, Joliette, Que., court documents reveal.

The documents also show a link between the national Conservative campaign to the call centre through which the automated calls were made.

The documents were sworn by an Elections Canada investigator and filed in Edmonton court to get a production order for Racknine, the call centre used to make the robocalls. A production order requires documents to be made available to law enforcement officials within a specified time.

The allegations contained in the document have not been tested in court.

The investigator is looking into allegations somebody claiming to be from Elections Canada telephoned people in Guelph and falsely told them their polling stations had moved.

Records obtained from Bell Canada “identified the phone 450-760-7746 subscriber as ‘Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette, Que.’,” according to the sworn production order.

That number, which belongs to a disposable cellphone, appeared on the call display of voters who received the incorrect polling station information.

[. . .]

The documents show Elections Canada is investigating whether somebody wilfully prevented or tried to prevent electors from voting, or whether somebody tried to persuade voters not to vote for a particular candidate. Both are offences under the Elections Act.

Someone using phone numbers of Marty Burke’s Conservative campaign in Guelph called Racknine 31 times between March 26 and May 5, 2011, indicating his campaign used the company’s services, the documents say. But there is no expense listed for Racknine in the expenses filed by Burke’s campaign team.

Burke filed $87,361.60 in expenses, investigator Allan Mathews notes.

“The return does list [two] other, Ontario-based service providers whose business includes voice-broadcasting services and other telephone work; Campaign Research at $6,215.00 and RMG [Responsive Marketing Group] at $15,000.00,” Mathews says in the filing.

Payments to those companies are consistent with the number of people he interviewed who reported “repeated campaign and voter survey survey calls from the Burke campaign,” Mathews notes.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2012 at 3:57 am

[LINK] “The Mounting Minuses at Google+”

Amir Efrati’s Wall Street Journal article chronicling the massive problem Google is havng in getting people to use its Google+ social networking system rings personally true. Last night was the first time I’d visited my profile there for any length of time in two, even three months.

To hear Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page tell it, Google+ has become a robust competitor in the social networking space, with 90 million users registering since its June launch.

But those numbers mask what’s really going on at Google+.

Google+ is a virtual ghost town compared with Facebook. PC users spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between last September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook. Scott Austin has details on The News Hub. Photo: AP

It turns out Google+ is a virtual ghost town compared with the site of rival Facebook Inc., which is preparing for a massive initial public offering. New data from research firm comScore Inc. shows that Google+ users are signing up—but then not doing much there.

Visitors using personal computers spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook each month over the same period, according to comScore, which didn’t have data on mobile usage.

[. . .]

When Google+ launched last year, the Internet search giant positioned it as a Facebook competitor where people can share comments, articles, photos and videos with specific groups of friends and contacts.

While Google+ has some original features—including “Hangouts,” which lets people start a video conference with up to 10 people—analysts and some consumers say the distinction isn’t enough to lure Facebook members away and persuade them to build a network of contacts from scratch on Google+.

“Nobody wants another social network right now,” said Brian Solis, an analyst at social-media advisory firm Altimeter Group. For those who already use Facebook, “Google hasn’t communicated what the value of Google+ is,” he said.

Granted that I use Google+ more than I use LinkedIn–I visited my profile there for the first time in at least six months–I still don’t have any clear idea as to what Google’s social network does. The best I myself can say is that my friends at Google+ are disproportionately non-heterosexual, to whatever kind and degree, but that sampling effect is the only way Google+ stands out to me.

Ideas, people?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2012 at 1:32 am

[LNK] “Allegations unprecedented, ex-elections chief says”

Ths Ottawa Citizen article is, well. Thanks to james-nicoll for digging up the link.

Canada’s former chief electoral officer says recent allegations of systematic voter-suppression phone calls are unprecedented in the country’s electoral history.

“We have never seen anything like this alleged case in terms of this potential organization and impact in terms of numbers,” says Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s chief electoral officer from 1990 to 2007. “People vote twice, people destroy the signs, but this automated means and this use of call centres is the first time the allegations go as far as they are going. They’re serious.”

Last week’s Postmedia News-Ottawa Citizen investigation revealed evidence of fraudulent pre-recorded phone calls made during the May federal election in the riding of Guelph through services provided by the Edmonton-based voice-broadcast company RackNine Inc. Further developments in the story suggest that harassing live phone calls were made by callers posing as Liberal candidates in swing ridings. The Toronto Star reported Feb. 27 that more live phone calls had been made in the Thunder Bay area, with callers phoning on behalf of the Conservative Party to alert voters of purported poll location changes.

Kingsley says all three cases deal with the same violation of the Canadian Elections Act. Section 482(b) of the act finds anyone who “induces a person to vote or refrain from voting or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate at an election” guilty of intimidation of the electoral process.

Whether the calls were pre-recorded or live is irrelevant, argues Kingsley. He says the harassing phone calls are serious and violate the constitution.

“If someone is representing themselves to be Elections Canada, giving false information, changing the polls, and the purpose is to confuse electors to the extent that you’re attempting to discourage them from voting, then that is against the statute, in my view,” says Kingsley. “This is not small potatoes because what you are trying to do is interfere with the right of Canadians to vote and that is a constitutional right in Canada.”

Regardless of whether they work independently, for a political party, or for voice-broadcasting company, anyone convicted under Section 482(b) faces, on a summary conviction, a maximum $2,000 fine, or a maximum of one year in prison, or both. On an indictment, individuals found guilty face a maximum of five years in prison, a maximum $5,000 fine, or both.

However, Jack Siegel, a Toronto-based lawyer who practises election and political law, says the chances of indictment are slim to none, assuming the file even reaches the courts.

“After 25 years of practising law I’ve seen two or three files hands on where choice was to be made and every case was summary,” says Siegel.

Last November, the Conservative Fund was fined $52,000 by the Elections Act for breaking election laws. Siegel says the fact that the case took the summary route is probably a good indication that, if the allegations of the harassing phone calls went to court, they would follow a similar path. However, he also notes that the direction of the case is ultimately decided by the prosecutor.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , , , ,

[LINK] “Robocalls phone number registered to ‘Pierre Poutine’”

Don’t you miss the days when people committng nefarious deeds would at least try to be sneaky? I miss that kind of respect.

A telephone number used to place automated calls directing voters to the wrong polling station in Guelph, Ont., in the last federal election was registered to a “Pierre Poutine” of Separatist Street, Joliette, Que., court documents reveal.

The documents also show a link between the national Conservative campaign to the call centre through which the automated calls were made.

The documents were sworn by an Elections Canada investigator and filed in Edmonton court to get a production order for Racknine, the call centre used to make the robocalls. A production order requires documents to be made available to law enforcement officials within a specified time.

The allegations contained in the document have not been tested in court.

The investigator is looking into allegations somebody claiming to be from Elections Canada telephoned people in Guelph and falsely told them their polling stations had moved.

Records obtained from Bell Canada “identified the phone 450-760-7746 subscriber as ‘Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette, Que.’,” according to the sworn production order.

That number, which belongs to a disposable cellphone, appeared on the call display of voters who received the incorrect polling station information.

[. . .]

The documents show Elections Canada is investigating whether somebody wilfully prevented or tried to prevent electors from voting, or whether somebody tried to persuade voters not to vote for a particular candidate. Both are offences under the Elections Act.

Someone using phone numbers of Marty Burke’s Conservative campaign in Guelph called Racknine 31 times between March 26 and May 5, 2011, indicating his campaign used the company’s services, the documents say. But there is no expense listed for Racknine in the expenses filed by Burke’s campaign team.

Burke filed $87,361.60 in expenses, investigator Allan Mathews notes.

“The return does list [two] other, Ontario-based service providers whose business includes voice-broadcasting services and other telephone work; Campaign Research at $6,215.00 and RMG [Responsive Marketing Group] at $15,000.00,” Mathews says in the filing.

Payments to those companies are consistent with the number of people he interviewed who reported “repeated campaign and voter survey survey calls from the Burke campaign,” Mathews notes.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , , , ,

[LINK] “The Mounting Minuses at Google+”

Amir Efrati’s Wall Street Journal article chronicling the massive problem Google is havng in getting people to use its Google+ social networking system rings personally true. Last night was the first time I’d visited my profile there for any length of time in two, even three months.

To hear Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page tell it, Google+ has become a robust competitor in the social networking space, with 90 million users registering since its June launch.

But those numbers mask what’s really going on at Google+.

Google+ is a virtual ghost town compared with Facebook. PC users spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between last September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook. Scott Austin has details on The News Hub. Photo: AP

It turns out Google+ is a virtual ghost town compared with the site of rival Facebook Inc., which is preparing for a massive initial public offering. New data from research firm comScore Inc. shows that Google+ users are signing up—but then not doing much there.

Visitors using personal computers spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook each month over the same period, according to comScore, which didn’t have data on mobile usage.

[. . .]

When Google+ launched last year, the Internet search giant positioned it as a Facebook competitor where people can share comments, articles, photos and videos with specific groups of friends and contacts.

While Google+ has some original features—including “Hangouts,” which lets people start a video conference with up to 10 people—analysts and some consumers say the distinction isn’t enough to lure Facebook members away and persuade them to build a network of contacts from scratch on Google+.

“Nobody wants another social network right now,” said Brian Solis, an analyst at social-media advisory firm Altimeter Group. For those who already use Facebook, “Google hasn’t communicated what the value of Google+ is,” he said.

Granted that I use Google+ more than I use LinkedIn–I visited my profile there for the first time in at least six months–I still don’t have any clear idea as to what Google’s social network does. The best I myself can say is that my friends at Google+ are disproportionately non-heterosexual, to whatever kind and degree, but that sampling effect is the only way Google+ stands out to me.

Ideas, people?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • At A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh is resigned to ongoing instability in the Eurozone’s economy this year.
  • The immigration of Afrikaner farmers to Georgia, according to Eastern approaches, is actually occurring.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley is scathing towards an ill-judged editorial at The New Republic calling for an untenable very partial military intervention in Syria.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders why more Americans aren’t moving to booming western Canada.
  • At The Naked Anthropologist, Laura Agustín reproduces a 2003 article arguing that rhwtoric on migration that assumes migrants’ weakness is flawed.
  • The Population Reference Bureau’s blog notes that improvements in sex ratios at birth in Indian states have stagnated for the time being.
  • Anatoly Karlin’s post at Sublime Oblivion is extended examination (translated from another’s post in Russian) describing how rising fertility, falling mortality, and net migration has helped Russian population growth return to positive territory.
  • At Torontoist, Patrick Metzger points out that Ontario’s upcoming budget isn’t going to be politically fun for everyone. Either McGuinty angers the electorate with an austerity budget or he lets things slide and our economy collapses. (Or both?)

[PHOTO] An archaicism

The payphones in subway stations, like this one in Dufferin, are the only payphones I can remember having seen anywhere in Toronto. Gone so thoroughly, they are.

IMG_0617.JPG

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • At A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh is resigned to ongoing instability in the Eurozone’s economy this year.
  • The immigration of Afrikaner farmers to Georgia, according to Eastern approaches, is actually occurring.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley is scathing towards an ill-judged editorial at The New Republic calling for an untenable very partial military intervention in Syria.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders why more Americans aren’t moving to booming western Canada.
  • At The Naked Anthropologist, Laura Agustín reproduces a 2003 article arguing that rhwtoric on migration that assumes migrants’ weakness is flawed.
  • The Population Reference Bureau’s blog notes that improvements in sex ratios at birth in Indian states have stagnated for the time being.
  • Anatoly Karlin’s post at Sublime Oblivion is extended examination (translated from another’s post in Russian) describing how rising fertility, falling mortality, and net migration has helped Russian population growth return to positive territory.
  • At Torontoist, Patrick Metzger points out that Ontario’s upcoming budget isn’t going to be politically fun for everyone. Either McGuinty angers the electorate with an austerity budget or he lets things slide and our economy collapses. (Or both?)

[PHOTO] An archaicism

The payphones in subway stations, like this one in Dufferin, are the only payphones I can remember having seen anywhere in Toronto. Gone so thoroughly, they are.

IMG_0617.JPG

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2012 at 9:44 am

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,

[URBAN NOTE] Two links on Toronto City Council’s impending (?) takeover from Ford

First is Hamutal Dotan’s Torontoist post “Ontario to Toronto: Grow Up”.

Municipalities in Canada, Toronto foremost among them, are wont to complain, loudly and often, that they are the orphan stepchild of governance—”creatures of the province,” lacking robust taxation powers, in our case forced to deal with a strange beast called the OMB when it comes to simple development appeals. There is a great deal of truth here: Canada is now anchored by major urban centres and hasn’t adapted its governments to suit that relatively new reality. But here, at least, is a case of a provincial government handing us—the City of Toronto—leadership of an important issue on a silver platter. Ford’s response thus far: demur, deflect responsibility, diminish our own role by saying we can just provide advice but the province actually calls the shots.

As it turns out, Queen’s Park doesn’t want to call the shots. This isn’t, mind you, a sign of charity or altruism or some high-minded sense of duty to let Toronto chart its own course. The transit debate is a decades-old quagmire, and they’d like to keep as clear of the mud as they possibly can. It’s very hard to wade into Toronto transit planning and come out looking good; from the province’s point of view, they aren’t so much ceding power as passing the buck on a problem nobody’s been able to solve. They bungled, badly, when they let Ford rewrite the terms of their agreement and jettison a light rail network in favour of a buried Eglinton line, and they bungled again when they let a year go by before noticing that city council hadn’t ratified that decision. So they are washing their hands of things, and leaving us to our own devices.

Ford should take them up on it anyway. Transit planning is an utter mess, with a long and toxic history, and he has only made it worse. But there are compromises that could be struck: if council’s self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives are calling for a sales tax to pay for transit, and council’s centrists were willing to trade an at-grade LRT on Eglinton for Ford’s subway on Sheppard (as they were a few weeks ago, before the special council meeting on transit), there’s clearly room movement on both sides, if only Ford showed some willingness to embrace negotiation.

More importantly, there are precedents to be set. If Toronto, somehow, can get it together long enough to agree on a transit plan and make it stick, that’s the best possible case we can make that we are, in fact, a mature order of government that ought to have greater latitude to control our own affairs than we currently do. A majority of councillors have shown, and continue to show, that they are capable of this. They built a consensus around the waterfront. They built one around changes to Ford’s budget, around the light rail plan, and most recently around a more measured approach to the sell-off of TCHC property. Ford needs to stop throwing temper tantrums and realize that, though they may have their own cynical reasons for wanting to stay out of it, the province has given him the greatest gift a politician could ask for: the opportunity to rescue an important policy, and the ability to claim ownership of that victory.

If our mayor doesn’t want that chance, he should get out of the way of his colleagues on council who do.

Next is “Council’s growing rainbow majority is creating unity”.

In June 2011, Mayor Ford scored a big win with a 33-10 vote to sell-off 22 single-family Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) homes. This month, however, the mayor was in full retreat when he agreed to a Councillor Ana Bailao-engineered compromise to sell just 56 of the 675 TCHC homes he had planned to divest and create a Bailao-led task force to determine how best to manage the rest of the 675 homes. That compromise occurred at a noteworthy stage: before the issue had even been tabled at a committee of city council. This means the Mayor knew he wouldn’t have the votes at council to get his way, implicitly acknowledging the rise of the rainbow majority.

Institutionally, the only thing standing in the way of the rainbow majority from taking over as a governing coalition is committee and board assignments and structures. Agencies are governed by boards of directors that include in whole (TTC) or in part (Toronto Public Library, for example) city councillors that are appointed to their posts by city council (this was done at the very beginning of the term of council when Mayor Ford had a majority of councillors supporting his agenda). As we saw with the vote to oust Gary Webster on Tuesday, Mayor Ford’s allies — through their appointments to these boards — can push an agenda that does not have the support of city council.

Additionally, city council has a series of standing committees that are supposed to consider an issue before it gets to city council. Without a two-thirds vote, a new item of business is referred to a standing committee. It’s at these committees that the Ford administration can bury initiatives it doesn’t like.

The exception to requiring a two-thirds vote to avoid sending a matter to committee is for a special meeting of city council to be called by the mayor or a majority of councillors to discuss one or more specific issues. This was done recently to allow council to debate transit issues when Mayor Ford was preventing that from happening. But governing consistently by special meeting has considerable drawbacks, including the appearance of an unstable government and the inability to include formal opportunity for public input in decision-making processes.

Given that a coalition is unlikely to grow to the two-thirds of councillors (though Councillor Adam Vaughan is optimistic) required to change the structure of committees (for example, removing the mayor’s power to appoint committee chairs and thus the majority of Executive Committee), if the rainbow majority is serious about acting as a proactive, governing coalition it needs to begin to alter the composition of key committees and boards where possible, which only requires the support of a simple majority of councillors.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2012 at 4:58 am

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