Pollster Frank Graves, the EKOS pollster who provides weekly data and analysis for the CBC, is apologizing and retracting what he described as his own "incendiary" comments describing a potential strategy for the Liberal Party.
The comments produced a heated exchange on CBC's Power and Politics (about 44 minutes in) Thursday between Mr. Graves and Conservative commentator Kory Teneycke. Mr. Teneycke, a former director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper who is now paid by the CBC to provide regular commentary, accused Mr. Graves of having a Liberal bias and said his comments suggested Tories are racists and homophobes.
But in an interview today with The Globe and Mail to explain his apology, Mr. Graves went on to say that polling data shows the Conservative Party "does seem to provide a haven" for people with xenophobic or homophobic views.
Mr. Graves' original comments, which were first quoted by columnist Lawrence Martin in The Globe, suggested he had told the Liberal Party it should invoke a "culture war" to battle the Conservatives. He described this as a battle between "cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Albera don't like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin."
The president of the Conservative Party, John Walsh, filed a complaint with CBC's Ombudsman.
"The fact that our national public broadcaster is using a pollster that is also advising the Liberal Party of Canada raises serious questions about the impartiality of Canada's publicly funded national broadcaster," he wrote.
Mr. Graves vehemently denies any formal advisory role with the Liberal Party. He said he regularly theorizes about what various parties should do while being interviewed by journalists or in casual discussions with politicians.
"Whether or not I am a centre-moderate in my political beliefs - which I am, which I didn't think was a matter of great shame in this country - is irrelevant to the question of whether or not I can conduct myself as a sociologist or pollster in a fair and neutral fashion," Mr. Graves said in an interview.
Mr. Graves said he was trying to show there are demonstrable differences between Conservative supporters and supporters of other parties.
"In reflection, it was inappropriate and I should have used more measured terms and I don't think the Prime Minister's racist or a homophobe, nor do I think members of his cabinet or his caucus are," he told The Globe.
"I do believe, and this gets more subtle, that there is a higher incidence of people who are less tolerant to homosexuals and more wary of other races, within the Conservative Party. I can demonstrate that empirically."
"That does not mean that Conservatives or Albertans are homophobic or xenophobic, but it does mean that many people, and more people statistically that have those points of view, end up in that party than in other places. That may be a statement that people don't want to hear, but it's empirically accurate and has been for a long time."
"...Saying those things, which are true, does not mean that Conservatives are either homophobic or xenophobic, but it does mean that the party, for whatever reason, does seem to provide a haven for many people who feel that way - systematically more likely than in other parts of the political spectrum.
"But, I don't want to get focused on the issues of xenophobia and homophobia. I would rather, in fact, that I hadn't even included that as part of the debate."
CBC spokesman, Jeff Keay, told The Globe and Mail that the CBC uses a wide-variety of polling firms, including EKOS.
"We rigorously review the data that we receive with our own internal research people. We take care to present it accurately, fairly and without bias. That hasn't changed. Won't change. And in that context, our relationship with EKOS remains unchanged."