On the advice of his lawyer, a key player in the 2011 Conservative campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding.
Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager for Conservative candidate Marty Burke, has already conducted one telephone interview with Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews.
But a source says Mr. Prescott cancelled a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Mathews that had been scheduled for Thursday in Guelph, Ont.
His lawyer advised Mr. Prescott against taking the meeting because of intense media focus on his role in the 2011 campaign, the source says.
Mr. Prescott’s decision could potentially slow down Election Canada’s efforts in the robo-calls probe but the watchdog has been gathering evidence for months from sources as varied as PayPal and telephone companies.
Elections Canada is interviewing a number of people, including former Tory staffers, as it tries to piece together who is behind the calls. The government agency has not made any allegations of wrongdoing against any individuals at this point.
The watchdog 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 using calls routed through an Alberta firm named RackNine.
Mr. Prescott has publicly acknowledged ordering robo-calls from RackNine during the campaign but said these were for legitimate messages to Guelph voters, including to counter fraudulent calls that were misdirecting electors.
Elections Canada noted in a court filing that RackNine didn’t show up on Mr. Burke’s campaign expense forms but Mr. Prescott has said that was because he was working for the campaign as an individual contractor and was not billing Mr. Burke for the cost of the calls.
Mr. Prescott handed over copies of RackNine expense records to Elections Canada last week, a source says.
Mr. Prescott has publicly disavowed any role in the fake Elections Canada robo-calls and the owner of RackNine said in a media interview this week that he spoke to the man behind “Pierre Poutine” and that this man did not sound like Mr. Prescott.
Elections Canada has said it does not suspect RackNine of suspicious activity in the matter.
Separately, a marketing research agency that’s been fiercely protective of its reputation during the robo-calls controversy says allegations that it was connected to the matter are now injuring its business.
“We have had to lay off about 67 people just for lack of work,” said Aaron Wudrick, general counsel with Campaign Research.
Campaign Research has been quick to threaten legal action against journalists or politicians who suggest it is had any role in misleading or harassing calls to voters in the last election.
“I understand why people are calling Campaign Research to see if we’re involved but the reality is ... we were not involved and we haven’t broken any law,” Mr. Wudrick said.
Mr. Wudrick said the firm has never been contacted by Elections Canada investigators probing the robo-calls controversy. “We’re happy to talk to them,” he said.
The Ottawa-based company came under fire for calls into Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s riding last fall where constituents were told the MP might retire and asked how they might vote in a by-election.