On Point | Political polls and the hiring freeze

Paul Lane was a featured guest on this week's On Point to discuss Tory efforts to manipulate public opinions polls in the government's favour.
Tory Paul Lane discusses the poll-fixing fiasco. Shawn Skinner, Siobhan Coady and Lana Payne are on the panel on this week's On Point with David Cochrane. 17:59

Paul Lane was a featured guest on this week's On Point to discuss Tory efforts to manipulate public opinions polls in the government's favour.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale said last week that participating in polling was no big deal, and that all political parties take part.

Opposition members said the actions of the PC party members was more like manipulation than participation.

Lane told On Point host David Cochrane that he does encourage his colleagues to take part in various polls.

"As a party, we participate in the political process, and that includes voting in polls – that includes participating in open-line shows," Lane said.

"Certainly, as the chair of the PC caucus, part of my role would certainly be to co-ordinate with my colleagues to ensure we get our message out."

When asked whether the direction to mobilize staff to participate in various polls came from the premier's office, Lane said he couldn't speak to anyone's knowledge other than his own.

"The premier is way too busy. She has so many issues – important issues – to deal with for the people of the province," he said.

"I'm certain that the premier doesn't have time to be involved in polls at this level."

Lane said that he will continue to encourage his colleagues to participate in polls.

Panel on poll fixing

Former PC MHA Shawn Skinner said that he participated in polls while he was an MHA, but that it wasn't common to spend much time doing so.

"If I did that once every three months, that's probably all I did," Skinner said. "And I don't think it was something that was widespread within government."

Shawn Skinner, Siobhan Coady, and Lana Payne during this week's edition of On Point with David Cochrane. (CBC)

Siobhan Coady, former Liberal MP, said it was significant that as chair of the PC caucus, Lane motivated staff to manipulate polls.

She also said she thinks the premier could have handled her response to the controversy better.

"I don't think the premier did any favours to her government by her response," Coady said.

"She went over the top, saying it's not a story, that this goes on all the time. I don't think it does – I think she would have been better served… if she said, 'This is something we need to consider when we're dealing with our next caucus meeting.'"

What stood out the most for Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, was the irony of the level of government involvement in non-scientific polls.

"It's rather ironic given the premier has said several times when we have real polls that she's not too interested in what those polls say, that she doesn't govern according to polls," Payne said.

Government hiring freeze

According to Coady, government mismanaged the province's finances and are scrambling to salvage them through potential layoffs.

"We absolutely knew that we would have less revenues – we absolutely knew that," she said.

"We definitely knew that there was going to be this downturn in revenues, and they didn't cut the cloth to suit the garment, and now they're in panic mode."

Skinner said the government focused on spending money in capital expenditures in order to stimulate the economy.

He said that there may be confusion, but the steps they are taking are necessary.

"There is a bit of a mixed message happening, but government has to get its own fiscal house in order," Skinner said.

"It needs to make sure that the spending that it does is sustainable over the long term."

However, Payne said government has sent out conflicting messages.

"I think this is actually a government that's lost its way. Its messaging around all of this strategy around the hiring freeze – why would you want to broadcast that you were having that kind of a hiring freeze, and then a few days later, backtrack."