The federal Conservative Party, already in the spotlight over an Elections Canada investigation into fraudulent robocalls, has come under scrutiny by the country’s telecom regulator for dialling people who don’t want to hear from them.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced Thursday it has been investigating the Harper Conservatives over what it says was the party’s failure to stop telephoning people who’d asked the Tories to stop calling.
It’s letting the governing Conservatives off without a penalty, saying they didn’t deserve one.
By comparison, the CRTC slapped a fine of nearly $5,000 on the opposition Liberals last month for calls a riding association made to voters during the last election campaign.
The CRTC’s compliance and enforcement officer, Andrea Rosen, has made public a letter to a top Conservative Party official where she castigates the Tories for failing to keep a proper list of Canadians they should cease calling.
But she stopped short of finding the Conservatives in violation of the rules – or fining them for this.
In August, however, the CRTC fined the federal Liberal riding association in Guelph, Ont., $4,900 for robocalling voters during the 2011 election campaign without identifying who paid for the message.
When it comes to making unsolicited calls, political parties are exempt from a federal rule that requires telemarketers to avoid dialling Canadians who have registered their names with a national do-not-call list.
But parties are still required to keep an internal do-not-call list and stop telephoning these voters if these Canadians personally ask them to cease communications. Those who want to be left alone have to ask to be placed on internal party do-not-call lists and the parties have 31 days to comply.
The Tories, it turned out, were keeping two internal do-not-call lists: one for people to avoid when seeking financial support and one for people who should not be contacted for voter outreach purposes.
They were removing complainants from one list after receiving a request – but not both lists.
The CRTC’s Ms. Rosen says that’s wrong and revealed the regulator met with the party on Sept. 5 to address the matter.
“I consider that the Conservative Party of Canada has fallen short of meeting its obligations as an exempt party to, nonetheless, properly maintain an Internal Do Not Call List,” the CRTC’s Ms. Rosen wrote Conservative Party executive director Dan Hilton this week.
Ms. Rosen emphasized that the Tories have not been found in violation of federal rules over unsolicited communications, saying what happened didn’t constitute that.
Her letter to the Conservatives however, made it clear they were falling short of the obligations under the Telecommunications Act. In it, Ms. Rosen told the Tories their practice such as keeping two separate do-not-call lists “do not meet the requisites of subsection 41.7(4) of the act.”
The CRTC investigation is not related to the Elections Canada probe of misleading robocalls in the 2011 federal ballot.
Elections Canada has been trying to find out who made thousands of calls to non-Conservative voters in Guelph, Ont., on May 2, 2011 and has alleged in court filings that it was a Conservative operative.
Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey played down the CRTC investigation, saying the matter was merely “an administrative issue” with live calls it was placing to voters.
The CRTC, “informed us of this issue and we have made the changes to our processes,” Mr. DeLorey said. “There have been no fines or sanctions because of this.”
Ms. Rosen said in an interview that Canadian political parties enjoy an advantage because they’re excluded from the obligations of the national do-not-call list. But at the same time, she said, they have to play by other rules.
“These exemptions are rare ... They benefit from these exemptions but we expect them to nonetheless honour the other rules that apply to them – which is to have an internal do-not-call list and not to make it confusing [for] Canadians.”
She said the CRTC has been investigating the Conservatives for several months because of a complaint over the Tories failing to stop dialling people who’d requested that calling stop.
Mr. DeLorey said the party is complying with the CRTC letter of Sept. 5 and will write the regulator to confirm this.
The Tories aren’t the only party under scrutiny by the CRTC.
Last month, the regulator fined the federal Liberal riding association in Guelph, Ont. because a pre-recorded telephone message sent by the Liberals during the 2011 campaign failed to tell listeners on whose behalf the call was being made, did not provide call-back information and did not display the originating telephone number.