Ontario’s elections watchdog is reviewing whether any Progressive Conservative Party candidates used stolen personal data to further their campaigns.
Elections Ontario launched the review in response to a complaint from the New Democrats. The NDP asked for the review after PC Party candidate Simmer Sandhu dropped out of the race last week. He resigned as the candidate in Brampton East shortly after his former employer, the company that operates the 407 toll highway, reported an “internal theft” of 60,000 customers’ names and addresses over the past 12 months. Mr. Sandhu called the allegations “pertaining to both my work life and my nomination campaign … totally baseless.”
The review comes as the PCs face increasing scrutiny of their nomination process. Both the New Democrats and Liberals called for a police probe into questionable PC candidate nomination practices, following a Globe and Mail investigation that found evidence of interference in the local democratic process. Disputed nominations that took place under former PC Party leader Patrick Brown include allegations of ballot-box stuffing, ineligible voters and fake party memberships, The Globe found.
Doug Ford, who became Leader of the PC Party in March, told reporters while campaigning on Saturday that any questions about the “mess” he had inherited should be directed to Mr. Brown, who resigned in January amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr. Brown denies those allegations.
On Sunday, Mr. Ford’s spokeswoman said the party is not aware of any accusations about problematic nominations relating to current candidates.
“If any information comes forward, we will review it and take swift and decisive action,” Melissa Lantsman said in an e-mail.
Mr. Brown did not respond to The Globe’s requests for comment.
In a letter, obtained by The Globe, Elections Ontario acknowledged receipt of the NDP’s complaint on Friday. The NDP asked Elections Ontario to investigate whether any PC candidates used data from the toll operator containing names and addresses of customers as part of their campaigns.
Elections Ontario assigned a reference number to the complaint and said the PC Party has been advised of the details of the complaint. The letter is signed by the agency’s manager of compliance enforcement.
According to Elections Ontario’s policies: “When the chief electoral officer decides to investigate a complaint, an acknowledgement of the receipt of the complaint will be sent to the complainant and a copy of the complaint … may be sent to the person or entity against whom the complaint is made.”
Cara Des Granges, a spokeswoman for Elections Ontario, said on Sunday that the agency “does not comment on whether or not it is investigating a matter.”
York Regional Police are investigating the 407 data leak.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said party officials have asked the agency to deal with its complaint before the June 7 provincial election.
“There are many, many questions that we think need to be answered because they impact our democratic process and people’s trust in the democratic process,” Ms. Horwath said in an interview.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said this weekend that The Globe’s findings about the PC Party’s candidate nomination practices raise “deeply troubling questions.” She asked Mr. Ford to call in the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct a provincewide investigation of the process and to disclose which candidates hired Snover Dhillon, a businessman and convicted fraudster, to work on their campaigns.
“Those who aspire to lead our province have an obligation to put the integrity of our electoral process ahead of partisan gain, political ambition or, indeed, any other consideration,” she said in a statement.
There are many, many questions that we think need to be answered.— Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
Mr. Dhillon, who is friends with Mr. Brown, has not responded to numerous requests for comment from The Globe. He told The Toronto Star on Saturday that as a political consultant, he has helped many candidates over the years. “I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Mr. Dhillon also told The Star that he has met Mr. Ford at least twice, including last year at Mr. Ford’s company. Mr. Ford said he does not know Mr. Dhillon. “I don’t know this guy from a hole in the ground,” he told reporters on Saturday.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said the system for nominating candidates across Canada is vulnerable to manipulation, because it occurs with no independent oversight. The controversy in the PC Party is an example of why Ottawa and the provinces need to “clean up” the system, Mr. Conacher said, by having elections agencies run nomination races.
He also said the questions around the disputed Tory races call for a police investigation.
“It can’t be left up to the party leader to decide whether there should be an investigation or not because their incentive is always to cover things up,” he said on Sunday.
Mr. Dhillon played an influential role in many of the disputed provincial votes, The Globe found. He worked as a campaign organizer for party hopefuls in at least five ridings, including two of the most contentious nomination battles – Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, which is the subject of a criminal investigation, and Ottawa West-Nepean. Both took place on the same weekend in May, 2017, and both were subsequently overturned.
In the Hamilton race, where police are probing allegations of fraud and forgery, The Globe found that a printer was secretly churning out fake identity papers at the meeting. In Ottawa, The Globe found more than two dozen fake members listed in one apartment building who had the same names as people connected to Mr. Dhillon or his associates through social media.
In a recent Facebook posting, Mr. Dhillon said he worked for contenders, providing volunteers and getting supporters out to vote. He did not disclose who hired him.
“The candidates hired me to run their nominations, they signed contract with me and I told them in written statement very clearly that no acclamation is guaranteed,” he wrote. “… some candidates won the election and some lost.”
With a report from Justin Giovannetti in Baysville, Ont.