08/16/2013 02:58 EDT | Updated 08/16/2013 05:49 EDT

Tories' ‘Consumers First' Grassroots Campaign Looks Like More Astroturf


Unhappy with your wireless rates? Now you can put pressure on the prime minister to do something about it, thanks to this campaign from … the prime minister’s party.

The Conservative Party of Canada has launched Consumers First, ostensibly a consumer activist site meant to voice public support for increasing wireless competition in Canada.

It's the latest salvo in the Harper government's war of words with the big three telecom providers — Bell, Rogers and Telus — over the possibility of U.S. wireless giant Verizon setting up shop north of the border, a move the Conservative government appears to support.

The Consumers First site looks like an updated version of another Tory campaign, Standing Up For Wireless Consumers, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper promoted a few months back.

That page included a petition for consumers to sign, but the new page doesn't mention a petition. It simply asks users for a name and email address. However, after filling out the form, the user is thanked for signing a "petition."

The site begins with some boasts about what the Tories have managed to achieve on the wireless file (20 per cent lower wireless prices and and 25 per cent more jobs in the industry, they claim) before launching into a debunking of industry claims that Canada does, in fact, have a competitive wireless market (and therefore presumably doesn't need Verizon).

The site is a response to the pressure campaign that Canada’s big three telecoms — Bell, Rogers and Telus — launched a few weeks back under the moniker “Fair for Canada.” That campaign argues allowing Verizon in under preferential rules meant for new entrants would be unfair to Canada's telecom workers and businesses.

In the wake of that campaign, the Harper government has seen itself drawn into an escalating argument with the big three telecoms. Industry Minister James Moore recently slammed Bell, Rogers and Telus for what he called their “dishonest” and “misleading” claims about wireless.

And while some consumers have been heartened to see a typically pro-business government stand up for consumers for once, others say the Harper government is cynically exploiting Canadians’ frustration with their cellphone bills.

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