Within days, we in British Columbia will know if democracy has been dealt another killing blow. Has the $20 plus million dollars raised by BC Liberals in the past year and a half purchased success for Clark’s puppet masters?
The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked, an article in Britain’s Guardian, provides frightening detail of how big money perverts the democracy our fathers and grandfathers fought to protect:
The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.
“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”
Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”
Why would anyone want to intern with a psychological warfare firm, I ask him. And he looks at me like I am mad. “It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. …You got to do all sorts of crazy shit.”
…we are in the midst of a massive land grab for power by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.
…The key to understanding how a motivated and determined billionaire could bypass our electoral laws rests on AggregateIQ, an obscure web analytics company based in an office above a shop in Victoria, British Columbia.
…How did an obscure Canadian company come to play such a pivotal role in Brexit? …More money was spent with AggregateIQ than with any other company in any other campaign in the entire referendum. All I found, at that time, was a one-page website and that was it. It was an absolute mystery.”
…UK’s electoral laws were “weak and helpless” in the face of new forms of digital campaigning. Offshore companies, money poured into databases, unfettered third parties… the caps on spending had come off…
Facebook was the source of the psychological insights that enabled Cambridge Analytica to target individuals. It was also the mechanism that enabled them to be delivered on a large scale.
The company also (perfectly legally) bought consumer datasets – on everything from magazine subscriptions to airline travel – and uniquely it appended these with the psych data to voter files. It matched all this information to people’s addresses, their phone numbers and often their email addresses. “The goal is to capture every single aspect of every voter’s information environment”…
Christy Clark’s Liberals have gone all in with identifying “persuadable voters” and knowing all there is to know about each person’s voting impulses. This is not old fashioned door knocking and coffee-party campaigning. It doesn’t rely on volunteers. Instead, the highly paid operators work quietly in the shadows “to find tiny slivers of influence that can tip an election.”
This is expensive political manipulation, far beyond capabilities of the NDP, a party largely dependent on financial contributions from individual members. But, this suits win-at-any-cost principles of Liberals. It also explains why the Legislature has barely functioned in the past year. Liberal cabinet ministers and MLAs were too busy fundraising to waste time governing.
I’m a political wonk and the Liberal’s anti-democratic initiatives and corrupt practices are enough to turn me away from that party, permanently. In addition to being deceitful, Clark’s government has proven itself incompetent, which is not surprising when management positions in the province’s enterprises and service agencies have been sold to Liberal Party contributors.
John Horgan’s NDP team – unlike Clark’s Liberals, there is a team of people beyond the leader – offer an intelligent platform with these main categories:
- Making life more affordable,
- Improving services,
- Creating good jobs in a sustainable economy,
- Respectful engagement with First Nations,
- Banning big money from politics, ending partisan ads and holding a referendum on replacing our outdated electoral system,
- Tax fairness and responsible fiscal planning.
In the platform document, there is much detail, including promises to increase BC’s minimum wage to $15 and bring in $10 a day childcare. If Horgan is successful, I expect the new government will reallocate fossil fuel subsidies ($868 million in the last fiscal year) to the new economy. The aim will be to encourage good jobs, not McJobs.
NDP have already promised new management at BC Hydro and that must be matched with a clear-out of patronage appointees at BC’s countless quangos – most of which you’ve never heard about. I’d like to see a mix of experts and ordinary citizens appointed. Transit and transportation operations for example need technocrats but they also need representatives of citizens who use the systems routinely. (Does anyone imagine that TransLink’s board members ride the buses?)
I was going to suggest Laila Yuile as a TransLink director but, now that she’s moved to Vancouver Island, I will nominate her for the board at BC Ferries.
Another key to good governance is a real commitment to transparency and freedom of information. This is the best way to avoid compounding errors that occur when mistakes or misconduct are hidden from public view. The certainty of exposure is a preventative like no other. Shall we invite Bob Mackin to be the next Information and Privacy Commissioner?
Tuesday presents an opportunity for change. I hope citizens make that choice.
Some readers are aware that I’m travelling in France and Spain this month and I’m following BC politics remotely until after votes are counted. I voted before departure and cast a ballot for North Vancouver Seymour’s NDP candidate Michael Charrois. I hope he is joined at the Legislature by Bowinn Ma, representing North Vancouver Lonsdale. Ms. Ma sat with me for more than an hour a few months ago and I was impressed with her understanding of public issues.
Another new candidate who deserves voter attention is Morgane Oger, like Ma, an engineering school grad. I think she’s a dedicated powerhouse that John Horgan will have on the short list for senior cabinet positions. If you think this is not a new NDP party, talk to these two women.
I had intended to write articles about candidates I interviewed before this campaign, people like Bowinn Ma and Morgane Oger, but I’ve been slowed by acute kidney disease recently. I got final clearance to travel days before departure but left with mixed feelings. I wish I could have done more writing on the election campaign but I’ve seen some really excellent work.
The Tyee has consistently blown Postmedia out of the water on political reporting and my friends in the blogging community help me stay informed. Jon McComb at NW reminds me of how informative morning radio can be when it is dedicated to serious inquiry. Jon Woodward at CTV produced important work on the financial rewards returned to Liberals’ most generous contributors.
On the other hand, Global has been Global and Postmedia, the country’s worst managed enterprise, has once again told voters which political party it favours to manage our province. Somehow, if Christy Clark and Paul Godfrey changed places, their current organizations would probably continue at the same pace, sliding toward ruination.