By John Geddes - Friday, March 2, 2012 - 0 Comments
The robocalling scandal that’s sweeping Ottawa is raising troubling questions about the state of Canadian politics
During last spring’s federal election, Anthony Rota, a Liberal MP fighting for his political life in the northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, didn’t pay much attention to the odd report of strange phone calls to some of his supporters. He heard a few complaints about obnoxious calls from what his campaign concluded were opponents masquerading as Liberals to annoy voters. Then on May 2, election day, some voters took calls, purporting to come from Elections Canada, misdirecting them to phony polling locations. It wasn’t until he heard news last week of similar widespread incidents that Rota woke up to the possibility of something beyond local dirty tricks. “I started thinking, ‘Okay, maybe this wasn’t isolated,’ ” he says.
So did many others. The pattern Rota describes was echoed, with variations, in accounts from more than a dozen ridings. But his case stood out: Rota lost to Conservative Jay Aspin by an ultra-thin margin of 18 votes. In Nipissing-Timiskaming, at least, the possibility that bogus calls resulted in even a handful of lost votes is clearly consequential. Overall, though, the uproar was less about the impact fake calls might have had on outcomes than what the controversy says about the state of Canadian politics—especially the way Stephen Harper’s Conservatives play the game. Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, labelled current Tory political culture “Nixonian.” The Prime Minister’s 2011 campaign manager, Jenni Byrne, insisted Conservatives won with “clean and ethical” politics, although she hinted that stray local operatives might have done wrong.
It’s a good bet the truth lies somewhere between Rae’s vintage Watergate intimations and Byrne’s broad denial. The focus of the spreading story, broken by journalists with the Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia, is Elections Canada’s ongoing investigation into calls received by voters in Guelph, Ont., falsely telling them their polling locations had changed. Last November, the federal agency’s investigators used a court order to get detailed information about those Guelph calls from RackNine Inc., an Edmonton technology company the Conservatives used extensively to send out automated recorded messages—often referred to as “robocalls.” After the robocalls story exploded, a Conservative staffer who worked on the Guelph campaign lost his job with a Tory MP, although the party declined to explain exactly why.
By Jason Lietaer - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 3:23 PM - 0 Comments
Last spring, just days before the federal election, I filed into the Conservative party war room and took my seat. Everyone who’s had this experience knows the drill: an empty desk, a forlorn looking computer, some sort of phone and five weeks of exhilaration and hell staring you in the face.
Now, we’ve had some highly publicized disagreements with Elections Canada in the past, so the campaign leadership made it clear to everyone before they stepped into the building that accountability standards were to be incredibly high. We added new language to our volunteer and employee agreements, and even had an in-house independent accountability officer available to us at all times.
Have we been accused of being aggressive and rough-and-tumble in the past? Of course. Did we go after Liberal leaders with everything we had? You bet. But did the campaign organize a widespread voter suppression exercise in the 2011 campaign? No way. Continue…
By Richard Warnica - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 10:47 AM - 0 Comments
Elections Canada’s robocall probe, which has dominated federal politics for the last week and…
Elections Canada’s robocall probe, which has dominated federal politics for the last week and sparked claims of widespread electoral fraud from the opposition, appears to be limited to a single riding, according to documents obtained by the Edmonton Journal.
The arms-length federal agency obtained a warrant for documents held by RackNine Inc., an Edmonton company caught up in the scandal, in November. From the Ottawa Citizen:
[The Order] specifically refers to records related to the campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Burke in Guelph, where many voters reported receiving pre-recorded messages that falsely claimed their polling stations had moved.
Since reports of that investigation came to light last week, Liberals and New Democrats have reported fraudulent calls in dozens of ridings across the country and the Conservatives have called on anyone with information to send it to Elections Canada — but the documents suggest any such investigation was more narrowly focused, at least in November.
The news could provide some cover for the beleaguered Tories, who on Monday clung to the lines they’ve used since the story broke: that they ran a clean campaign; that any malfeasance was limited; and that rogues elements are to blame for anything that went wrong. From The Globe and Mail:
The message from Tories, in private conversations Monday, was that something wrong happened in the riding of Guelph in the spring, 2011 election campaign – but that was the work of local staffers and took place without the knowledge of the national Conservative machine.
Complicating that narrative, however, are stories cropping up daily of other alleged dirty tricks from across the country. The Citizen reported Tuesday that Liberals had complained of similar foul play in a tightly contested Ottawa-area riding in November. Aaron Wherry, meanwhile, had the running tally of ridings in question at 11 as of Monday night. (He added another three to the list Tuesday morning.)
By Richard Warnica - Monday, February 27, 2012 at 11:17 AM - 0 Comments
Workers at a call centre hired by the Conservative Party say they were given…
Workers at a call centre hired by the Conservative Party say they were given scripts that directed voters to the wrong polling stations in the lead up to the 2011 election.
From the Toronto Star:
A fourth remembered directing people to voting stations but did not remember passing on any message that a voting station had changed.
However, one employee was so concerned that something was amiss she says she reported it to her supervisor at the RMG site, to the RCMP office in Thunder Bay and to a toll-free Elections Canada number at the time.
With the House set to resume Monday, the voter-surpression scandal threatens to dominate debate in Ottawa. Over the weekend, Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the CBC he believes the any misdirection was isolated. The Liberals and the NDP, however, say as many as 34 ridings may have been targeted.
In the Globe, John Ibbitson writes that Harper likely “knew nothing about what was going on in Guelph or elsewhere.” But he is now scrambling to find out exactly what went on. In the Citizen, meanwhile, Michael Den Tandt notes that the Gomery Inquiry all but destroyed the Liberal Party then helpfully suggests Harper call a similar probe into the robocall allegations.
For the latest in on this story, follow Aaron Wherry’s Beyond The Commons blog.