There’s a bit of chatter about today’s Ekos poll, but a lot of it has been about its pollster Frank Graves. As with anything in politics, there’s a problem when the messenger becomes the story rather than the message they are delivering.
A few press gallery flacks were all a-twitter at a new meme they perceived to be emerging from the Liberal benches during Question Period: “The Conservative Culture of Deceit”. Obviously more of a play on Stephen Harper’s “Culture of Defeat” remark about Atlantic Canada than the Justice Gomery’s remarks of a Liberal “Culture of Entitlement”.
The “Culture of Defeat” written for Harper in 2001 posed problems for the Conservative brand in Atlantic Canada and what made it particularly damaging was a bit of history on uncouth remarks about the region by another member of one of the Conservative’s legacy parties, the Canadian Alliance.
Back in 2000, Alliance pollster John Mykytyshyn went adrift in some turbulent seas when he remarked “[Atlantic Canadians] don’t want to do like our ancestors did and work for a living and go where the jobs are. Probably, the Alliance won’t go over as well there.”
Indeed, after these comments, the Alliance did not “go over” well in Atlantic Canada and it has taken years to climb back from these words.
Mykytyshyn told me, “as an unpaid volunteer, I was subjected to 13 days of media coverage on this based on an offhand comment that I apologized for, and the CBC did a 10 minute special on the incident.”
Fast forward to today, where we learn that the CBC’s EKOS pollster is also advising the Liberal Party of Canada giving the party strategic direction on the sentiment of the electorate.
Among Graves’ advice?
“I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.”
Start a culture war? I remember years and years of Liberal criticism about Conservatives dividing Canadians, “pitting region against region”. The Liberal Party branded itself as the party that “unites” Canadians rather than divides. The only thing the Liberal Party is not known to divide these days are leadership debts and the cheque at Carmello’s — someone else will pick it up.
But the CBC’s attachment to Graves is particularly conflicted since it erupted when Mykytyshyn made those unfortunate and divisive remarks, driving it home to every east-coaster watching or listening to Canada’s state-funded broadcaster. And now? Our tax dollars pad Graves’ bottom line as he advises the Liberals on how to “stop worrying about the West” as Lawrence Martin reports him saying. Further, the CBC is using him to provide objective, research-driven advice on party politics yet he is giving advice to one party.
Division does work in politics. But when the Conservatives own the right side of the entitled vs. ordinary split what’s left? Demonization of entire constituencies, provinces and regions of people is the politics of desperation. It always fails.
UPDATE: Kory Teneycke unloads on Graves on CBC’s Power & Politics. Teneycke pointed out Graves’ donation record to the Liberal Party. The Sun points out donations totaling $11,042.72 to the Liberal Party including the leadership campaigns of Ignatieff and Rae with just $449.04 going to a Tory candidate in Ottawa-Vanier.
I emailed Richard Stursberg, the executive VP of CBC/Radio Canada about this:
Was CBC aware of Frank Graves’ financial donations to the Liberal Party of Canada and his current advisory role to that party? And given this revelation, does CBC now believe that this presents a conflict of interest in how it reports research and analysis from EKOS/Graves concerning public opinion of federal party politics?
Here is the CBC’s reply,
Your email to Richard Stursberg was referred to me for a response.
We will let Frank Graves of Ekos comment on the nature of his relationship with political parties. I believe he made a public statement on the subject earlier today.
I can confirm that CBC News uses Ekos, along with several other large, national firms, as a source of polling data, as do other media organizations. The data we receive is carefully reviewed and vetted by our own research department and is presented, in accordance with our own journalistic standards and practices (available on our website) fairly, accurately and without bias. We disagree with your suggestion that any conflict of interest exists with regard to either our polling or our journalism.
Head of Media Relations
And my reply to Jeff,
thanks for your reply.
I’m more concerned about Graves being presented as a non-partisan observer in the analysis he provides for the CBC.
Do you believe that conflict exists between the CBC’s use of Graves’ research and CBC use of Graves’ analysis? You may assert that Graves produces great and professionally sound data for the CBC but can it rely on his analysis as a non-partisan? Will CBC vet Graves’ commentary as they do with his data?
I note that Lawrence Martin has confirmed Graves quote putting the pollsters explanation in dispute, “The quote is exactly as Frank gave it to me. ‘I told them…’ meaning the Liberals.”
and the subsequent reply,
No, we don’t believe a conflict exists. We use Ekos polling data, along with those of other firms. To the extent that Frank Graves shares his analyses of those polling data on our programs, we let his analysis speak for itself and our audiences will judge it accordingly. This is like our other political commentators and analysts, many of whom have relationships of varying degrees with various consituencies, political or otherwise, or for that matter with several constituencies at once.
Bottom line, we’ll put CBC News journalism up against anyone’s for rigor, fairness and transparency.
Have a great weekend!
Head of Media Relations
The Sun story includes comment from Paul Adams, executive director of EKOS:
“EKOS has never polled for any political party or been retained as a client by any political party,” he said in an e-mail Thursday night.
“Mr. Graves did give an interview to Lawrence Martin, the Globe columnist, in which he offered the Liberals hypothetical advice, just as he might to any other political party in the course of an interview.
“To the extent that the Globe article may have implied that Mr. Graves had previously proffered this advice directly to the Liberal Party, it was a mistaken implication.”
From EKOS’ website, we learn about Paul Adams:
Prior to joining EKOS, Mr. Adams had a distinguished career as a journalist. He covered mainly political stories as a correspondent for CBC television’s The National and later as Parliamentary Bureau Chief for CBC Radio. In 1999, he joined the Globe and Mail as senior parliamentary correspondent and later served as the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent.
UPDATE 4/23: Graves has apologizes for his remarks and wants to set the record straight: