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Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays ball hockey with campaign staff in Kitchener, Ont, on April 9, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays ball hockey with campaign staff in Kitchener, Ont, on April 9, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Alleged election crank call just an honest mistake, Tories say Add to ...

The Conservative Party of Canada says there's an honest explanation for why it directed an Ontario woman to vote at the wrong polling station during the last federal election.

Carolyn Siopiolosz had complained to Elections Canada that she received a phone call a few days before the May 2 election telling her she was to vote at a polling station in downtown Kitchener rather than St. Clements, Ont., the town in which she lived.

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“The caller identified himself as representing Stephen Harper,” reads a complaint sent to Elections Canada by the Liberal riding president in Kitchener–Conestoga, Joe Nowak.

“Carolyn was asked if she planned to vote on Monday. She said yes. She was then told that her poll location had changed to Victoria Park Pavilion in Kitchener.

“She became suspicious because her original poll was to be immediately across the street from where she lived and she had not heard of any official change. She was asked by the caller if she would like a ride to the new poll.”

The complaint first came to light Tuesday in the Waterloo Region Record, the daily newspaper serving the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

But Conservative Party spokesman Fred Delorey says it was simply a matter of human error. The voter's information was listed twice in the party's voter-identification database under two different ridings, and she was directed to the wrong riding location.

“We made over a million calls on Election Day. In this case there was a mistake. We have corrected Ms. Siopiolosz's information in our database to avoid this in the future,” Mr. Delorey said in an email Tuesday.

“We spend the entire campaign identifying supporters and we work hard to get them out to vote on Election Day. Our job is to get votes out, we do not engage in voter suppression.”

The federal Elections Commissioner is currently investigating several complaints related to “crank calls designed to discourage voting, discourage voting for a particular party, or incorrectly advise electors of changed polling locations.” Elections Canada spokeswoman Diane Benson said the office does not comment on its investigations.

The complaint from Kitchener follows another controversy involving calls and the Conservative Party.

Constituents in Irwin Cotler’s Montreal riding were asked how they would vote in the event of a by-election, and were told there were rumours the veteran Liberal might be stepping down.

The Speaker of the House of Commons called the tactic “reprehensible,” but did not find the Conservatives in breach of parliamentary privilege as Mr. Cotler had suggested. The Liberal Party has since filed a complaint with Elections Canada.

The two cases involved two separate market research firms – RMG in Kitchener and Campaign Research in Montreal.

In the same riding where Ms. Siopiolosz received the election phone call, a campaign worker with Conservative incumbent Harold Albrecht was accused of dirty tricks when he bought up Internet addresses with the name of the local Liberal candidate. The addresses sent people to a Conservative Party website attacking former leader Michael Ignatieff.

“I gave them three or four days after [Bob Rosehart]announced to the world that he was going to run. When he hadn't taken up his own domain names, I thought it could be a really good case study,” Jeff Chatterton told the Record newspaper at the time. “If the Liberals had any shred of organization, they'd know better than that.”

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said he's concerned a pattern of behaviour is emerging from the Conservatives.

“They seem to be in ridings where the Conservatives were fighting neck-and-neck with Liberals,” Mr. Angus said. “They all seem to follow the same pattern.

“I can tell you that when people are given the wrong information to go vote, they don't tend to go back to the right place. It's an extremely good, effective way of ensuring that people don't vote.

“This is a very serious allegation and we want Elections Canada to look into it, but we want Stephen Harper to come clean – were these rogues, were they incompetents, or was this part of a larger Conservative Party strategy?”

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