February 23, 2012 8:03 am

NDP question 2011 election results amidst robocall investigation

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Canada’s Official Opposition called the results of the last federal election into question on Thursday after news that Elections Canada traced fraudulent phone calls directing voters to the wrong polling stations back to an Edmonton call centre with Conservative links.

“Did (the Conservatives) really win that last federal election or did they achieve their razor thin majority by cheating?” NDP MP Pat Martin said at a press conference.

The accusations came after The Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia News reported that Elections Canada traced the calls to a company called RackNine Inc. The company, which has been used by the Conservative Party in the past, allows clients to send automated, recorded messages to phone numbers en masse.

Elections Canada and the RCMP are investigating, but as of yet nothing has linked the party to these so-called “robocalls” that peppered voters in approximately 18 ridings with false information last spring.

Speaking from Iqaluit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he and his party’s directors have “absolutely no knowledge” about the calls.

“But obviously if there’s anyone who’s done anything wrong we will expect that they will face the full consequences of the law,” Harper said.

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Harper’s denial hasn’t stopped opposition parties from making the connection.

Martin says he is skeptical a “rogue” could pull off this trick without support from the national party.

“It’s not up to us to prove it, but it still smells rotten,” Martin said.

Martin said the calls were the same as a bunch of “goons with clubs” blocking the door to a voter station.

“In my view there can be no more serious crime nor a more heinous affront to democracy,” he said.

The party has sent letters of complaint to the Commissioner of Elections and the RCMP, urging them to conduct a full investigation and charge those responsible.

Elections Canada refused to confirm or deny that any such complaints or investigations had been received or is ongoing, but in his most recent report to Parliament the Commissioner of Elections said he is looking into the proliferation of activities like “crank calls.”

“We don’t have a smoking gun pointing to Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, but we do know these actions benefited the Conservative Party and we do know this strategy of vote suppression has been in their tool kit for a long time, so there are definitely suspicions,” said Liberal MP John McCallum.

Part of those doubts include whether the election would have had different results in the absence of robocalls and other reported electoral oddities such as late night phone calls from people posing as Liberals or aggressive scrutineers.

“How can we have confidence in a system where we are not sure whether or not this person that’s elected actually reflects the will of the electorate on the day of the election,” said former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj who lost to a Conservative by 26 votes in the 2011 election.

Wrzesnewskyj alleges the local Conservative campaign temporarily shut down a Liberal-friendly polling station on May 2 – the exact type of behaviour he was tasked to report during the six overseas elections he presided over as an international observer.

“People overseas look at us at being the Boys Scouts of the world when it comes to elections,” he said. “Something has changed and we are now aware of things that took place that have no place in Canada.”

Martin estimates at least eight NDP MPs were targeted by the robocalls, adding that even if they didn’t change the outcome the damage to democracy is the same.

Liberal MP Frank Valeriote said he saw that damage firsthand in his riding of Guelph, where news of the crank calls first surfaced.

More than 70 Liberal supporting-households called Valeriote’s office to say they received an automated call telling them their polling station had been relocated. Valeriote immediately sent staff to the new location to redirect voters, but says many voters simply thre in the towel.

“They took the time to come out to the polls and vote, they were frustrated having been directed to the wrong location and went home,” he said.

Using the telephone number shown on call displays, the robocalls were traced back to RackNine, but the owner of the company said he was in the dark about how the account was used.

“Somebody made a solid effort to mislead my company, “said Matt Meier, who said he was fully cooperating with the investigation.

Valeriote has just one message for whoever is responsible for the calls: “Just come clean and fess up.”
 

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