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A voter enters an Ottawa polling station to cast his ballot in the federal election on May 2 , 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
A voter enters an Ottawa polling station to cast his ballot in the federal election on May 2 , 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Tory campaign chief on robo-calls: 'Godspeed to Elections Canada' Add to ...

Elections Canada officials worked into the weekend looking into thousands of complaints about harassing and misleading phone calls during last year’s election, as the Conservatives tried to contain the robo-call controversy to a single Ontario riding.

The federal agency has reported being contacted by 31,000 Canadians in relation to the furor over potentially illicit activities during the 2011 campaign. With such a deluge of information, Elections Canada is weeding out frivolous grievances, but also prioritizing complaints that need to be tackled by its team of investigators, which includes former police officers.

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One of the voters who complained about harassing phone calls said she was interviewed on Saturday, highlighting the efforts by Elections Canada to go through the long list of concerned citizens.

“I am very glad they are following all complaints, and I was very impressed that they were working on the weekend,” said the Liberal supporter, who did not want her name to be made public.

Guy Giorno, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative campaign chair last year, said he is particularly concerned by the situation in Guelph, where fraudulent robo-calls were used to direct voters to the wrong polling station.

Speaking on CTV’s Question Period, however, he cautioned that this situation cannot be extrapolated to the rest of the country.

“It looks like there is something worth investigating there and that’s a concern to me, to you, to all Canadians because the right to vote is sacrosanct and anyone who wants to mess around with that right, interfere with that right, is doing [a disservice]not just the Conservative Party, not just the people of Guelph, but all Canadians,” Mr. Giorno said.

“I wish Godspeed to Elections Canada and the RCMP investigators,” he said.

Mr. Giorno added the Conservative campaign used a series of tools, such as phone canvassing, to identify its supporters and get them to the voting station last year. He said there was no intent to suppress the votes of non-Conservative supporters.

“When you're running a good campaign, you don't have time for any shenanigans outside those three core activities of identification, persuasion and mobilization [of voters]” he said.

He also insisted that internal measures were in place in the Conservative campaign to ensure that his officials did not engage in dirty tricks.

“I'll simply say that our campaign was run with the same standards, the same structure, the same processes that any modern progressive company would use to ensure that its employees and its agents operate ethically and in compliance with the law,” Mr. Giorno said.

Meanwhile, a new poll by Nanos Research shows that support for the Tories has remained exactly the same – at 35.7 per cent – compared to a month earlier. Support for the Liberals climbed slightly to 29.5 per cent from 27.6 per cent, while the NDP’s numbers were essentially unchanged at 25 per cent.

The survey found jobs and the economy now dominate as the top issue of concern for Canadians. “Regardless of the noise related to the robo-call affair, there hasn’t been any material impact on Conservative support,” pollster Nik Nanos said.

The Liberal Party is creating a database with the various complaints that it has received from its supporters, to be shared with Elections Canada and, eventually, the media. The party is alleging that Conservative supporters lodged harassing or misleading phone calls to suppress the vote of their adversaries.

Elections Canada has told at least one complainant that the CRTC is also involved in policing the country’s phone lines. A spokesman for the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission refused to state whether it has launched an investigation into the matter.

With a report from Bill Curry

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