There’s a bit of a scandal brewing up here. The Ottawa Citizen‘s Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher broke the story that the servers of a call centre with ties to the Conservative Party were used for misleading and potentially illegal robocalls during the last federal election:
Elections Canada launched its investigation after it was inundated with complaints about election day calls in Guelph, Ont., one of 18 ridings across the country where voters were targeted by harassing or deceptive phone messages in an apparent effort to discourage Liberal supporters from voting.
In Guelph, a riding the Conservatives hoped to take from the Liberals, voters received recorded calls pretending to be from Elections Canada, telling them their polling stations had been moved. The calls led to a chaotic scene at one polling station, and likely led some voters to give up on voting.
Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen have found that Elections Canada traced the calls to Racknine Inc., a small Edmonton call centre that worked for the party’s national campaign and those of at least nine Conservative candidates, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s own campaign in Calgary Southwest. There is no evidence that Harper’s campaign or any of the other candidates were involved in the calls.
Racknine says it was unaware its servers were being used for the fake calls.
The Tories, understandably, are trying to distance themselves from the controversy, denying any link between the robocalls and the national campaign. They did not rule out the possibility of a local campaign (or campaigner) being behind the calls.
This is only the most recent allegation of dirty pool leveled against the Conservative Party. For years, there have been allegations of exceeding election spending limits, which finally resulted in criminal charges. In December, the Tories were caught making calls in Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s riding that implied that Mr. Cotler would soon be stepping down. The calls in Mr. Cotler’s riding broke no laws, but they definitely hurt the Conservative Party’s reputation.
Opposition parties, understandably, were full-throated in their condemnation of these acts of voter suppression. Here is NDP MP Pat Martin:
“How is this different from a bunch of goons with clubs blocking the door to a voter station as we’ve seen in third world countries or the deep south of the United States? Because the net effect is the same.”
Liberal MP John McCallum led the charge for the red team:
“I think it’s relevant the degree to which the Conservative Party had ties to this company, yes,” he said.
“We don’t have a smoking gun pointing to Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party, but we do know that these actions benefited the Conservative Party. We do know that the strategy of vote repression has been in their toolkit for some time, so there are definitely suspicions.
“I think it’s also a technique that the Conservative Party has borrowed from its Republican friends to the south, where the technique, I think, is more developed.”
You may have noticed that both MPs took swipes and America and/or the GOP. This is pretty standard operating procedure in Canada. Personally, I think it’s sad that so many Canadians think that we’re not smart enough to come up with our own dirty tricks.
The Opposition parties are right. This is a serious matter, and whomever was behind it was engaging in voter suppression. Still, as of now there is no firm evidence that the Conservative Party was behind this. If I were make a guess, I’d say that a Conservative was certainly behind it all, but it probably won’t get tied to the national campaign or to the Prime Minister. I’ll bet they’ll be able to shrug it off as some rogue agent.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see what comes of this.