‘It can happen again’: outgoing Liberal MP warns about robocalls as Michael Sona set to be sentenced in Guelph
OTTAWA – As a court prepares to sentence Michael Sona for his role in the robocalls scandal – the only person charged even though almost no one believes he acted alone – Guelph’s outgoing Liberal MP has an ominous message for his community.
“Of course it could happen again,” Frank Valeriote said in an interview.
“The technology is there, and if there are people who are so inclined to repeat that kind of infraction … yes, it can happen again.”
Valeriote announced last week he won’t seek re-election in 2015 so he can spend more time with his young children following a marital separation last year.
Neither the Conservatives nor the NDP yet have a candidate in the riding.
Watch above: Sona sentencing put off until November
Valeriote believes Sona, the 26-year-old former Conservative staffer found guilty of playing a key role in the scheme to send voters to the wrong polling stations in 2011, was a “pawn” used by higher-ups who have never been caught.
“When people run and hide from these things and are not found, sometimes they’re emboldened because they think they get away with it,” he said.
Sona, who worked for Conservative candidate Marty Burke’s campaign in 2011, has said he is innocent and is being used as a scapegoat for the party. However, when given a chance to speak at his first sentencing hearing in October, he said nothing.
Court heard throughout his trial that at least one other person had to be involved in the scheme. The defence suggested it could have been IT expert Andrew Prescott – who received immunity to testify – or campaign manager Ken Morgan, who did not cooperate in the investigation and was never charged.
“I feel badly for Michael Sona that he’s been the pawn, who in part deployed and executed the delivery of the call, but others did, as well, and Michael’s taken the fall,” Valeriote said.
“The Conservatives here will be plagued with that for many elections to come. Guelph has unanimously rejected the kind of dirty politics that was played by [the Conservatives] in trying to deprive people of votes, which is just an absolutely horrific approach to politics.”
A Conservative party spokesman dismissed Valeriote’s claims, noting the Guelph Federal Liberal Association was fined $4,900 in 2012 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for a Valeriote robocall that anonymously attacked Burke’s position on abortion.
“The Conservative Party ran a clean and ethical campaign. We spend our campaigns identifying supporters and getting them out to vote,” Cory Hann wrote in an email.
Sona’s lawyer, Norm Boxall, has also dismissed the notion of a national campaign.
“We are not dealing with a large-scale conspiracy to obstruct the democratic process,” Boxall told a courtroom last month.
In April 2014, the commissioner of Elections Canada said in a report there was not enough evidence that robocalls made in 2011 outside of Guelph prevented people from voting, or that charges should be laid.
Similarly, a federal court judge ruled in May 2013 that while fraud had occurred in six ridings across the country – and that a suppression effort was conducted by a person or persons using the Conservatives’ database – there was no proof it affected the outcome of the elections. The results were not overturned.
Sona is set to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon. The Crown is asking for at least a year-and-half in jail, while Sona’s defence wants community service, house arrest or a short sentence served on weekends.
Valeriote says his own robocalls were a “minor” offence for which other MPs, such as Conservative Blake Richards and NDP Paul Dewar, have also been fined.
“It’s not an issue. It hasn’t been discussed in years, frankly. The overwhelming issue, really, is something that the Conservatives are going to have to deal with, and that’s the issue of the Pierre Poutine call,” Valeriote said, referencing the name registered to the disposable cellphone used to make the misleading calls in Guelph.
Richard Kilpatrick, a Guelph resident who received a robocall in 2011, doesn’t think the incident will recur.
“I don’t see it rearing its head again, because there was such a to-do about it when it happened, that I don’t see another individual or individuals trying it again,” said Kilpatrick, who generally votes Conservative.
As for whether it would impact his decision about who to vote for in 2015, Kilpatrick said: “I don’t trust any of them, to tell you the God’s honest truth.”
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