A new complaint about misleading calls to voters in the Ontario riding of Guelph has been lodged with the country’s elections watchdog.
The complaint, from a key member of the local Conservative team, says Tory supporters were erroneously told their polling stations had changed in last year’s federal campaign.
Unlike the 6,700 automated messages sent mainly to non-Tory supporters by unknown political operative “Pierre Poutine” that sparked an Elections Canada investigation, the calls reportedly received by Tory supporters were live calls from people claiming to be with the elections office.
In a copy of the complaint obtained by The Globe and Mail, Guelph Tory campaign manager Ken Morgan states that calls to Conservative supporters began on April 28 and continued until voting day on May 2. The phone number associated with the calls was 519-479-0031, which, when dialled, led to a recording that said, “This is the Conservative Party of Canada.”
“In no way did this call originate from the Conservative party, nor am I assuming the ‘Elections Office,’ ” Mr. Morgan wrote in an e-mail to the federal elections commissioner last month, after the “Pierre Poutine” robo-call controversy exploded into a political firestorm. “I would like to know from whom did this call originate? It was obviously an attempt to lure our supporters away from their legitimate polls.”
Mr. Morgan declined to comment on the complaint.
While Elections Canada won’t discuss the complaint for policy reasons and the circumstances behind the calls to Guelph Tory supporters remain unclear, the agency has looked into 519-479-0031 before.
That number was cited in a complaint last year from the Liberal Kitchener-Conestoga federal riding association and was traced to Responsive Marketing Group (RMG), a call centre used by the Conservative Party and by several Tory campaigns in the 2011 election.
In the Kitchener-Conestoga case, the live caller who told a resident her polling station had changed identified himself as representing Stephen Harper. The Conservative Party explained in a statement in December that the call was a mistake – the resident’s name had been listed in a database as living in the riding of Kitchener Centre, which is why she was directed to the wrong polling station.
It isn’t clear whether the Kitchener-Conestoga call and the Guelph calls were made by the same call centre. Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said recently the party isn’t aware of complaints in Guelph connected to the 519 number. RMG said it has not received any complaints about live calls made to Conservative supporters in Guelph on election day.
The Elections Canada investigator who looked into the Kitchener-Conestoga complaint, Allan Matthews, is the same sleuth on the trail of “Pierre Poutine.”
Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand told a parliamentary committee that Elections Canada has received 800 complaints about misleading or harassing phone calls connected to the 2011 federal election. The complaints span about 200 ridings in 10 provinces and one territory, but a large number of them – 70 – are centred in Guelph.
The robo-calls, which occurred on election day, have been linked to a disposable cellphone activated on April 30. The cell was used to set up an account with RackNine, a call centre in Edmonton that had also been used by the Guelph Tory campaign, court documents filed by Elections Canada show.
Several members of the Guelph Conservative team have said they weren’t involved in the robo-calls. Local Tory candidate Marty Burke, who lost the election to Liberal incumbent Frank Valeriote by about 6,200 votes, said in a statement to a local newspaper that he would be shocked if the calls were connected to a member of his campaign.
When complaints about the “live” misleading calls to Tory supporters began coming into the Guelph Conservative office, Mr. Burke’s deputy campaign manager, Andrew Prescott, posted messages on Twitter suggesting that the Conservative phone number had been “spoofed” and that the Liberals could be behind the voter-suppression calls.
Mr. Valeriote, the Guelph Liberal MP, rejected claims that his team was involved with misleading calls. He said his campaign did not use call centres to tell voters about changes to polling stations.
At least one Liberal backer complained about receiving a misleading live call, Mr. Valeriote noted.