Elections Canada is combing through internal Conservative Party e-mails and database records as it tries to close in on Guelph robo-call scammer “Pierre Poutine,” sources said.
The election watchdog has gained access to the electronic logs that track who drew down information from the party’s database of voters in the riding of Guelph during the 2011 campaign.
Elections Canada is looking for evidence that the tightly held list was used by one or more political operatives as fodder for robo-calls that directed non-Tory supporters in the Ontario riding to the wrong polling station in the 2011 ballot.
Agency investigators are operating on the assumption that the hunt for the fake-call culprit who hid behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” will lead to the local Tory campaign in Guelph.
The Conservatives keep track of supporters and other voters through a massive database called the constituency information management system (CIMS), which was created and expanded under Stephen Harper’s leadership of the party.
Access to CIMS is controlled through personal accounts with passwords. One person familiar with the local Guelph campaign estimated that perhaps 10 to 15 people working there had personal CIMS accounts.
“Everything is logged,” a Conservative source said.
Someone familiar with the investigation said that CIMS records indicate Michael Sona, then-communications director to candidate Marty Burke, never used his CIMS account to draw down lists of voters during the campaign.
Mr. Sona resigned from his job with Tory MP Eve Adams’s office near the outset of the robo-call controversy. Anonymous Conservative sources have repeatedly alleged – without proof – that he played a role in the fake calls that were routed through RackNine, an Alberta firm that is not suspected of wrongdoing.
Mr. Sona has publicly protested his innocence, saying he left Ms. Adams’s office only because the allegations swirling in the media prevented him from doing his job.
Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said the party has willingly turned over confidential records to Elections Canada to help its probe in Guelph. The party has not been served with a court order requiring it to do so.
“We have proactively reached out to Elections Canada and offered to assist them in any way we can,” Mr. DeLorey said. “That includes handing over any documents or records that may assist them.”
He would not divulge what the party handed over “as we do not want to compromise any part of the investigation.”
Separately on Tuesday, friends of Mr. Sona’s said the former Conservative staffer is eager to prove he isn’t Pierre Poutine by submitting to a test. RackNine CEO Matt Meier spoke to the unknown man who set up the Pierre Poutine account at his calling firm and Mr. Sona has told friends he would like to participate in a “voice lineup” that challenges Mr. Meier to identify the caller.
Mr. Sona has told former co-workers he learned from the Sun News Network that he was being fingered by Conservative sources in connection with the phony calls. Friends say the ex-aide was sitting in his office in late February when Sun News broke a story that Tories had tied him to “a robo-calling scandal.”
The Sun News Network was the first media outlet to link Mr. Sona to the controversy.
The former aide has told friends he was stunned that nobody from the Conservative Party had ever mentioned a word of this to him before.
He told them he offered his resignation to Ms. Adams and she initially refused it – but later accepted it after receiving a call from Jenni Byrne, now director of political operations at the Conservative Party. She served as national campaign manager for the Tories in 2011.
Elections Canada has alleged a political operative using the name Pierre Poutine engineered an off-the-books scheme via robo-calls and a disposable cellphone to discourage opposition voters from casting ballots in Guelph.
Mr. Sona has repeatedly told co-workers that there’s no way he had the technical skills to engineer the robo-calls, telling them he fared poorly in math at school and that his computer knowledge is limited to one computer science course.
Other sources familiar with the Conservative Guelph campaign said key officials knew in the days before the 2011 election that the Tories would lose the riding since the results from advance polls put them too far behind to catch up with the Liberals.
Also on Tuesday, the Liberal Party boasted that it had sent data on its robo-calls in the 2011 election to Elections Canada. It said this included the scripts and recordings of automated phone messages.
Elections Canada is fielding complaints from dozens of other ridings in which voters complain that live or automated calls sent them to the wrong polling station.
The NDP and the Liberals have compiled examples of about 30 ridings where the script of the calls was basically the same: A call purporting to be from Elections Canada falsely informed the listener that their polling station was changed due to high voter turnout.
This pattern hints at a bigger scheme, opposition parties charge.
“Liberals are committed to co-operating with this investigation,” Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said. “We are setting the standard for openness and transparency, and we expect that all other political parties will follow suit.”
Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Rae acknowledged the bounty of materials provided to Elections Canada did not include information on a Liberal robo-call in Guelph that attacked Conservative candidate Marty Burke for his stand on abortion.
“That was a local call that doesn’t have much to do with the national campaign,” Mr. Rae said.
The Liberals late last week admitted they had funded an anti-Burke robo-call during the Guelph race – a message that didn’t include the acknowledgment it was authorized by them.
Liberal spokesman Dan Lauzon said that Guelph Liberal MP Frank Valeriote and his staff have already proven “forthcoming and co-operative” with Elections Canada over their robo-call.