, 03.26.2018 07:31 AM

Column: as with Trump, what if they won by cheating?

It almost seems kind of quaint, doesn’t it?

Back when the Conservative Party was running things, the commentariat were apoplectic about something called CIMS: the Constituent Information Management System (CIMS).

“Tory database draws ire of privacy experts,” went one CTV News headline.  An “unethical invasion of Canadians’ privacy,” thundered Conservative-turned-Liberal MP Garth Turner.  It was “chilling,” warned University of Ottawa privacy expert Michael Geist.

A decade ago, the Conservative Party started using CIMS for targeted appeals to voters, for donations, and to Get Out the Vote on election day.  CIMS relied upon information gleaned from door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and direct mailings to gather information – and it gave the CPC a decided edge, too.

CIMS provided the Conservatives with what is called “psychographic” data – that is, very specific information about a person’s personality and attitudes, their values and interests, and their lifestyle.  It was much more than a voter’s street address, postal code and voting history: CIMS offered the Tories data about a person’s IAOs – their Interests, Attitudes and Opinions.

The value of all that stuff was certainly apparent to the Liberals and the New Democrats, who started to lose to the Conservatives right around the time that the CIMS machine was humming away in a CPC backroom.  CIMS gave Harper’s team a better way to identify supporters, and communicate with them.  It also gave them a means to micro-target and then mobilize supporters and potential supporters.

As noted, CIMS seems a bit old-fashioned now, like dial-up modems and Blackberries.  It has been overtaken by something that is far more invasive, and far more dangerous.  And it has a moonish, bland face: Christopher Wylie.

He’s a Canadian, as the entire planet knows by now.  Among other things, he has hammered the reputation of one of the biggest companies on Earth (Facebook), he has gutted the markets ($50 billion, from Facebook) with his revelations about illicit/illegal activity, and he has set off a firestorm in political capitals around the world (Washington, Ottawa and London, all focusing on Facebook).

He calls himself a whistleblower, but that seems to be a bit of mendacious spin and proactive self-preservation.  In reality, Wylie was the guy who helped create the companies which stole highly personal information about millions upon millions of voters.

And he did that kind of work for the Liberal Party of Canada, too, for successive Liberal leaders.  Including the current one.  The Prime Minister.

For the record: during the blessedly brief period when I was advising Michael Ignatieff, I did not ever meet young Mr. Wylie.  I am told now that he hung out with what I called the propeller-heads – the ones who manipulated data down in the bowels of the various offices of the Leader of the Opposition.

No one in Liberaldom wants to admit to knowing Wylie these days, of course, because they correctly sense that a genuine scandal is in the offing.  The guy who helped engineer one of the biggest data breaches in human history worked, as it turned out, for them.

Usually, when an individual has become radioactive, politicos adopt a standardized approach.  The revolving-door Trump White House uses it quite a bit.  First, claim the individual in question was “just a volunteer,” nothing more.  If that doesn’t work, insist the aforementioned individual is unimportant, a “coffee boy,” in effect.  And if none of that works – and it rarely does – join the pile-on, and say, with a straight face, that the President/Prime Minister/Potentate “never met with this person, and is cooperating with police.”

Pat Sorbara was the Grits’ 2011 deputy campaign boss – and, in 2014, a very senior campaign advisor to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.  She is one of the few who has been willing to speak about Wylie on the record.  Wylie was “way ahead of his time,” Sorbara marveled in the Globe.  The two of them spitballed various microtargeting techniques.

“[Sorbara] was impressed by his ideas,” reported the Globe and Mail, “but said that after his initial presentation she had to reject his proposals owing to a lack of time and resources.”  So the story changes, yet again: the Ignatieff Liberals didn’t reject Wylie because what he was suggesting was unethical and possibly illegal.

No, they didn’t use him because they couldn’t afford it.

Regrettably for Ignatieff’s successor, that all changed in 2016.  In that year, Christopher Wylie was paid at least $100,000 by Trudeau’s own political hit squad – the Liberal Caucus Services Bureau.  It is impossible to claim that the bespectacled, cherubic computer whiz with the technicolour tresses is a mere coffee boy – as the Trudeau spinners initially did – because they paid him, they now admit, $100,000.

That’s more than what most of their full-time tech folks are paid in a year, Virginia.  And that, therefore, has all the makings of a full-blown scandal.

Stephen Harper, sitting in a Calgary office tower looking at the yellowed press clippings about the scandal that was CIMS, must be having a good old chuckle.



  1. billg says:

    I think I would represent many people over 50 who think that as soon as you enter social media your information is there for anyone to use as they see fit. I am trying to read as much of this as possible to get a better grasp of this, but, so far I really don’t see the issue for the Liberals, not saying there isn’t one, but, I honestly thought once you signed in on the Interweb your life was open and on display for anyone to look at. The breaches at CRA have been well known for years, so, if they cant possibly keep your records private who can.

  2. Sean says:

    I very briefly volunteered as a door to door canvasser for LPC in the 2015 election, having been a long time supporter for many years. I distinctly recall hearing a rumor that the party had purchased data about voters commercial activity. I will avoid defamation here by stating that I never confirmed whether or not there was any basis to that rumor or if that is illegal. However, hearing this pissed me off, creeped me out and this was definitely one of the reasons I quit.

    • Kelly says:

      Getting consumer data is not illegal as long as it was collected and handled in accordance with PIPEDA (the federal privacy act). The standard of consent for the sharing of most commercial data, such as product purchase history is opt out. I can go rent a mailing list of people who subscribe to different publications, or buy fishing gear, or whatever… for targeted direct mail. Businesses have to let consumers know that their contact information and interests may be shared with third parties and that it is up to the consumer to opt out of that sharing. The list rental business is large and profitable. Commercial email is tightly regulated under CASL (Canadian anti-spam legislation) and the standard of consent to send commercial emails is opt-IN and it can never be transferred between parties. Every business entity has to obtain their own consent. But political parties are . . . surprise, surprise … exempt and they can email you all they like for donations without asking for your consent.

      • Ron Benn says:

        The same concept applies to the “do not call me again” regulations. Commercial enterprises are required to take you off the list if you ask them to, but political parties are not. Strange as it may seem, this “anomaly” was explained to me by an individual who was calling for the third consecutive month, begging for $ in a non-election year.

        The integrity of the democratic process is challenged whenever politicians require others to do something, while exempting themselves from what they accurately ascribe to be unacceptable behaviour.

        Physician, heal thyself.

    • Charlie says:

      Having worked as a campaign coordinator for the LPC in 2015 myself, I can say from my experience that this is highly unlikely.

      The voter information we were working with was derived from legally available Stats-Can data and it was trash.

      The software we used for voter identification was very, very spotty and local candidates with local volunteers would have a much better idea of their communities than what the overrated software was offering. The centre still pushed for its usage to track engagement, but we were working with information you could basically obtain from a Google search in most cases.

      By default, I continue to hold skepticism on the current hysteria surrounding data-driven politics. Far too often, political parties become mesmerized by this pseudo-science that doesn’t really provide concrete evidence of benefits by way of GOTV efforts. This was the case in 2015; it was all about running a campaign like Obama’s and using efficiency through voter data but the momentum of change and enthusiasm of volunteers to GOTV is what made the impact in each riding.

      We cede more credence to this kind of stuff than is warranted, IMO.

  3. Jim Miller says:

    You have got it bang on Warren! I have to add though that the Tories have been at this for a long time. I was involved in the development of Track Right, the precursor to CIMS for the Ontario PC Party in 1998! 98!?! We Tories should be angry, not at the Liberals, but at ourselves for throwing away the huge electoral data advantage we once had.

    • Matt says:

      But didn’t the Tories build their database with information they got by going out and knocking on doors or sending out questionnaires. Information people voluntarily gave to them knowing they were giving it to a political party?

      That’s not the same as what happened with Cambridge Analytica is it?

  4. SM says:

    How much follow-up was there regarding this by the Liberals? I guess we know why now.

  5. whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

    When is someone in the media going to asked Tom Pitfield what Data Sciences Inc was doing in 2015?

    The media was always exceedingly curious about what the Harper data people were doing, but seem disinterested is knowing what Tom Pitfield was up to.

  6. Susan says:

    Hmm that’s interesting. My daughter went to Ignatieff’s leadership convention. Her dad had died suddenly when she was 17, and she was struggling to stay focused and in school, finally finished at St. Mary’s, so I suggested maybe get involved in volunteering in politics, the Liberals. I liked Ignatieff, his ideas. So off she went, now 19,and as Alberta Liberals are few and far between, she also went to Vancouver as a delegate. The bus broke down on the way through the mountains, the young people were on it for 24 hours or so. Upon arrival the woman at the desk was quite rude, said she was too late to check in as a delegate. First clue that Liberal volunteers can be elitist. Not so much as a comment on their struggle to get there.

    However, she enjoyed herself, met people, saw WK from a distance. She saw Chrétien speak, but she missed speaking to him and maybe getting a photo. One of the people she met was Justin Trudeau. Knew very little about him so was unimpressed, he was standing talking to a friend, and asked them if they wanted a photo with him, which she went along with, but never would have asked for it herself, this was the beginning of selfie PR. He went on a streetcar ride with them somewhere, and led the song Trailer for Sale or Rent, then asked them to be sure not to put it on YouTube, lol, and had a talk with them about things going viral on the internet, and how savvy they all were. Was generally being “hey there fellow kids”. She talked to me about it when she got home, and said she was sure he would try to become leader. She didn’t think he was a good choice, because he was “too immature”. Didn’t like him. One thing stuck in my mind, and now it’s returned with this Cambridge scandal, was that he told them that Ignatieff “didn’t have the wisdom to be leader or win an election.” At the time I thought it was odd for someone who clearly had no grounds to do so, to say that about their party leader, not exactly supportive.

    I always thought someone either in the NDP or the LPC took Ignatieff down with some kind of inner dirt, now reading this good article…. maybe he had enemies inside the gate. Trudeau became leader, but he wasn’t my first choice, and now he’s turned me off the party altogether.

    I wonder what “wisdom” meant; maybe money and data?

    • Ron Benn says:

      There can be only one leader at a time, so when a leader in waiting and his/her rabid dog supporters are no longer willing to wait, you get insurrection. Brian Mulroney and his supporters stuck the knife in Joe Clark back in the early ’80s. Paul Martin Jr. and his cabal executed a coup on Jean Chretien in the mid ’00s. Why should anyone be surprised that Justin Trudeau and his merry band of script writers undercut Ignatieff a decade later?

    • David White says:

      Come on, you are rewriting history to suit a silly narrative. Ignatieff did himself in and he made the political careers of both Stephen Harper (delivering an overwhelming majority) and Jack Layton (Orange Crush and official opposition). The Conservatives nailed Iggy prior to the election and lets be honest, got it right. He came back to be leader and hopefully PM and when that did not happen he bailed on the LIBS and Canada. Where is he now? Hungary I believe and good for him, I wish him well.

      Lastly, 100K is about the cost of having these guys scope out a project and give you an idea. In yesterday’s G&M Wylie himself said there is nothing to the story and at 100K I believe him. To paraphrase the lovely and always on point Linda Evangelista, these guys don’t get out of bed for less than 10 K. 100K probably bought the libs a couple of afternoons talking to him.

      • Ron Benn says:

        David White, sometimes all you have to do to ensure failure of the leader is drag your oar in the water, rather than putting your back into and rowing in cadence.

        In the case of Ignatieff, I agree that he was the wrong man for the role, for many reasons. Having said that, the end never justifies the means, unless of course you are a political animal, in which case the end justifies everything, as long as you are on the winning side.

  7. Patricia Morfee says:

    I was hesitant to answer to this wild summary of Libs not winning honestly. I worked on the 2015 Liberal campaign in my area inputting information from a computer list of voters for our area and phoning to get their affirmation of who they were voting for. This was a former voter’s list with many errors, some people having passed away and not removed and wrong addresses, phone numbers etc. Meanwhile from January of 2015 to the election our candidate went door to door to get voter signup and probably did our whole riding. We worked extremely hard to get her voted in but unfortunately we live in Conservative rural and city southwestern Ontario. I would hope that our hard work was not dismissed as casually as you all mostly are assuming happened.

  8. Pedant says:

    My reaction is….*shrug*. And I loathe this PM.

    But really, I think we all understand that our online data may be used to market or “micro-target” us. It’s up to us to be intelligent enough to resist it and may our own informed decisions.

    As long as my data isn’t being used maliciously against me (and really, as a law-abiding citizen there are no demons in my closet anyway so have at it, Liberals), I’m not much bothered by any of this.

    I think the alarmists are having a difficult time explaining exactly why people should be up in arms.

    • doconnor says:

      Your discomfort with trans people could be used to convince you to vote against your economic interests.

      There are also a lot of other issues related to this particular case, like the data was collected in a way that deceived the users of the app and Facebook. The work may have been illegally financed in Britain and illegally used foreign works in the US.

      • Pedant says:

        Preventing schoolchildren from being exposed to borderline pornography and socially engineered lectures on “gender” is a better basis of one’s vote compared to those who voted Liberal in 2015 because they thought Trudeau was “cute”.

        I have no “discomfort with trans people” and wish them all the people but please do not force me and other taxpayers to pay for their cosmetic reassignment surgery. Why are Liberals so obsessed with this issue? Keep it a private and self-funded matter.

        • doconnor says:

          If you aren’t uncomfortable with them, why do you call talking about them, “socially engineered lectures on ‘gender'”?

          • Pedant says:

            Because it is not a subject to be “taught” to confused and impressionable young children by unqualified union members in an elementary school classroom. It is a private, delicate matter and the fact is that the vast majority of early-childhood gender identity issues resolve themselves by puberty.

            Why don’t you mind your own business and stop rubbing your values in other people’s faces?

            What would be your reaction if Conservatives demanded that teachers tell schoolchildren that a fetus’s heart begins to beat at 2 months gestation, eyes open and reflexes kick in around 6-7 months, and that women who abort their babies are at risk of lifelong guilt and depression?

          • doconnor says:

            All the gender identity stuff is in grade 8 and 9.

            I wouldn’t have a problem teaching the things you list. People romanticize the heart, but it just a glorified pump.

        • Fred from BC says:

          “I have no “discomfort with trans people” ”

          Nor do I, especially since there is *no such thing* as a “trans person”. There are only two genders and no amount of political lobbying will ever change that.

          ” please do not force me and other taxpayers to pay for their cosmetic reassignment surgery. ”

          Exactly, and I notice you weren’t fooled into calling it “gender reassignment surgery”, since that’s something else that simply does not exist. If you were born a male, no amount of surgical mutilation will ever, EVER turn you into a female, sorry. That’s just impossible.

          “Why are Liberals so obsessed with this issue?”

          My guess is that they saw “wedge politics” working for the Conservatives, and as much as they may have condemned it at the time the Liberals are nothing if not opportunistic.

          • doconnor says:

            “There are only two genders and no amount of political lobbying will ever change that.”

            What about science, where there are several variations on the XX and XY combination where either they have a different combination of chromosomes or the body doesn’t react to the chromosomes in a normal way.

            The term used today for ones genetic state is “sex” while the term used for you feel is “gender” where things get really variable.

            You can see how this can become complicated.

            I’m not sure why you think trans people are less legitimate then homosexual people.

            I think the Liberals expected the issue to disappear after Brown accepted the curriculum. It is the Conservatives who brought it back.

          • Fred from BC says:

            “What about science, where there are several variations on the XX and XY combination where either they have a different combination of chromosomes or the body doesn’t react to the chromosomes in a normal way.”

            There are three primary Chromosomal Variation Disorders (Jacob’s, Turner’s and Klinefelter’s Syndromes) and several others. The most common (and minor in effect) occur in one in 650 live births, the least common (most severe) occur in only one in 100, 000 births. All are treatable to varying degrees.

            Note the use of the terms “Syndrome’ and ‘Disorder’. Please.

            “The term used today for ones genetic state is “sex” while the term used for you feel is “gender” where things get really variable.”

            Only by the people gullible and suggestible enough to buy into such inane SJW bullshit. Biology doesn’t lie, and the “science” you refer to actually invalidates your unsubstantiated belief, it doesn’t prove it. When I read about a Canadian doctor stating that the so-called ‘gender re-assignment’ surgeries are “medically necessary” my first reaction was disbelief…the second was anger (she should be stripped of her license).

            ” I’m not sure why you think trans people are less legitimate then homosexual people.”

            Quit trying to put words in my mouth – it only makes you look dishonest.

            I don’t think they are illegitimate. I think they are confused.

          • doconnor says:

            “I don’t think they are illegitimate. I think they are confused.”

            So they just need some Conversion therapy and they’ll be straitened out?

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