Political Traction: Canadians dial in on 'robocalls'

Jaime Watt takes a weekly look on CBC's Power & Politics at how issues making waves in Ottawa resonate with Canadians. This week: controversy over election "robocalls" dominates the national conversation.

Jaime Watt joins Power & Politics host Evan Solomon each week to look at how issues making waves in Ottawa resonate with Canadians.

Political Traction with Navigator's Jamie Watt appears weekly on Power & Politics. (CBC)

Monitoring the House of Commons' question period, mainstream media and the conversation on social media, Watt and his team at Navigator Ltd. determine which issues gained the most attention in official Ottawa, and then measure how much traction those issues managed to find with Canadians outside the nation's capital.

Robocalls dominates

The "robocalls" controversy, as predicted, dominated the conversation in Ottawa and nationally as politicians made it an issue in the House of Commons and news of Elections Canada investigations emerged. In the absence of smoking-gun evidence, pundits in Ottawa refrained from portraying it as a full-blown scandal, while beginning to agree that accusations of misleading calls during the election are too widespread to have been the result of overzealous volunteers. Canadians discussing the issue outside of Ottawa, meanwhile, continued to point fingers at the government.

The dominance of the issue demonstrates the opposition's ability to keep the story alive, and that in the court of public opinion, guilt is often assumed until you demonstrate otherwise.

The job for the government going forward is to establish boundaries to contain the issue, which it — and the opposition — has been unable so far to do.

Vikileaks fallout

The robocalls took much of the spotlight away from the conversation over bill C-30 (the lawful access or online surveillance bill) and the backlash on Twitter led by the "vikileaks" attack and #tellviceverything Twitter trend — until Liberal Leader Bob Rae was forced to stand and apologize in the House of Commons and admit a member of the party's research bureau was behind the vikileaks30 Twitter account.

In Ottawa, the admission was placed in the context of an increasingly poisonous political arena, but Canadians seemed more taken with the very public battle that ensued on Twitter between Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau in the wake of Rae's apology. Rae's admission gave the Conservatives "the win" when they really needed one — but the entire issue did little to dispel the negative perception of politics as a dirty sport.

Finally, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty took some heat both in Ottawa and across the country for blaming Ontario's economic woes on Alberta's "petro dollar," picking a fight with Alberta Premier Alison Redford in the process.

Here's a look at the numbers for the week of Feb. 25 to March 2: