Liberal Flipcounters of a Third Kind



Last night, somewhere, in some Liberal household — probably in Montreal, or Toronto — a family of die-hard Grits sat around a computer, crossing their fingers and just waiting for the digital flip-clock to reach one million.

You can do it!  cried little Jacques.

Yesterday, I wrote about the Liberal’s desperate plea to hit the symbolically significant goal of raising $1 million in just two weeks.  The deadline was yesterday at midnight.

Well midnight came and went, and the party failed to reach its goal.

That’s what the flipcounter says, anyway.

That 90s-alarm-clock-resembling measure of the official third party’s fundraising success is forever continuing its slow, steady march towards a million.  And lo, its made great gains.  Just 24 hours ago, the counter was at a mere $700,000.

Still $300,000 short of their goal, the heady dream seemed destined to be dashed.  Crushed under the front wheels of the Conservative fundraising bus.

All according to the flipcounter.

But just like informing little Jacques that there is no Santa, it would no doubt crush him to learn that the almighty fundraising counter is, borrowing an annoying Question Period creation, shambolic.

Pulling up the source code on the Million Dollars for Change digital panhandling site, there’s a great shock: the flipcounter is but a lonely script, counting towards infinity in the cold ether of the internet.

At the time of writing, the flipcounter starts at $971,595, and will count to $974,567, over a period of 829 seconds.  It will usually count by a set increment — today it’s ranged from $7 to $22, every five seconds or so — but it bounces around every once and awhile to give it an aura of realness.

But refresh the page, and it will go right back to $971,595.

There is a disclaimer on the bottom of the site, tempered hopes and dreams of the all-powerful counter.  The donation counter above updates according to an algorithm that is a representation of donations coming in through the current fundraising campaign.  It is updated a number of times throughout the day.

Well I didn’t know what that meant, so I reached out to the Liberal Party.  They informed me that someone would go into the script every hour or so, insert their new fundraising total, and let the magic script continue its work.  That mathematical count, they told me, was more-or-less representative of the money they are actually pulling in.

That’s a system fraught with opportunities for abuse.  As I pointed out yesterday: what if the party raised $900,000 in the first week, but didn’t want to peak too soon?  Did the party, perhaps, create a false sense of urgency by appearing far off from its goal in the final three days?

Well we certainly don’t know.  All we have is that flipclock.  Flipping.  Forever flipping.

As the House of Commons pushes for ever-more transparency, in an effort to ensure that the numbers provided to us as oversight for our democratic system of moving parts, Liberal members are comforted with a flipclock.  A flipclock with little meaning, and no transparency.

Is this fiscal accountability?  A scripted flipclock, displaying a representation of real numbers?  When the Parliamentary Budget Officer walks out from behind the curtain with a bag of figures, are they just the selected metrics in an equation that none of us really understands?  Isn’t that what a budget is?  Isn’t that what the F-35 scandal was all about?  Wasn’t that the trouble over the missing $3.1 billion?

As one New Democrat put it to me last night: “This is why you don’t use a goddam counter!”



Other articles by Justin Ling

Boldly going where many political fundraisers have gone before

Stephen Harper – The Seeker

The Taming of the Prime Minister

Harper’s Lincoln Continental

The last MP out can turn off the light

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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