Elections Canada investigators failed in a bid to use allegations levelled by Conservative insiders as a means of coaxing more evidence from a former Tory staffer thrust into the spotlight over the Guelph robo-calls scandal.
Sources say in March investigator Al Mathews approached Michael Sona, former communications director for the Guelph Conservative campaign, after interviewing Tories who alleged the ex-aide had discussed making misleading calls to voters.
The investigator invited Mr. Sona, through his lawyer, to give his side of the story. He told the ex-Conservative aide there was someone saying he’d talked about making robo-calls.
Mr. Sona, who’s publicly maintained from the start that’s he’s done nothing wrong, didn’t take the bait. He declined Mr. Mathews’ offer.
Mr. Mathew’s unsuccessful maneuver demonstrates the psychological gambits Elections Canada is employing as it works to uncover the identity of the robo-calls fraudster behind misleading calls to non-Conservative voters in Guelph during the May 2011 federal ballot.
Mr. Sona resigned a job with a Tory MP after the robo-calls story broke in February, saying at the time he had “no involvement” in the fraudulent calls but was resigning because questions made it impossible to do his job.
The statements of two Conservatives staffers have since been made public in court documents, though it’s not certain they offer Election Canada much in the way of hard evidence.
The conversations with former Conservative war room staffer Matthew McBain and former Guelph campaign worker Christopher Crawford seemed almost of out of place in a court filing Mr. Mathews submitted to obtain evidence from Internet service provider Rogers.
According the March-dated documents made public in early May, Mr. McBain recounted a phone conversation with Mr. Sona where the aide “talked about a campaign of disinformation such as making a misleading poll-moving call.”
Mr. Crawford recalled he overheard a conversation in which Mr. Sona "was describing 'how the Americans do politics,' using the examples of calling non-supporters late at night, pretending to be Liberals, or calling electors to tell them that their poll location had changed."
Elections Canada has alleged in court filings that it believes someone linked to the Conservative campaign in Guelph tried to suppress the vote for rival candidates on May 2, 2011. It said it believes this person arranged for robo-calls impersonating Elections Canada that directed voters to the wrong polling station.
The watchdog alleges that a political operative hiding behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” engineered this off-the-books scheme.
Separately, Wednesday, the former deputy campaign manager for the Guelph Tories took to the Internet to defend his conduct.
Andrew Prescott, who calls his web-log “Christian Conservative,” posted what he called “My Official Statement,” on his site.
He quoted scripture to make his case that he follows the rules, writing: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”
Mr. Prescott had an account with RackNine, the same Alberta firm unwittingly used to make the thousands of misleading robocalls.
The ex-Tory campaign staffer has explained his account was for ordering legitimate phone messages to Guelph voters, including to counter fraudulent calls that were misdirecting electors.
Elections Canada investigators have recently said in court filings they believe the Internet protocol address that Pierre Poutine used to arrange misleading calls through Racknine was the same one used several times by someone who accessed Mr. Prescott’s Racknine account.
It’s not yet clear if the election watchdog has determined who arranged the fraudulent calls.
Explaining himself further in his Wednesday posting, Mr. Prescott wrote: “I obey the law at all times, more so than most people. And especially during elections.”
“In fact, I'm the guy who's got copies of the Elections Act, and have actually read most of the thing. I play by the rules ... always. And if there's no specific rule, I err on the side of caution.”
Suggesting he will be exonerated at the end of the Elections Canada investigation, Mr. Prescott wrote of critics: “I just think it will be fun to watch as they realize, one by one, how wrong they all were.”