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Conservative pollster censured for misinformation campaign against Liberal MP

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 15, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A marketing research company that placed calls into the riding of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler on behalf of the Conservatives to suggest that Mr. Cotler was resigning has been reprimanded by the body that oversees the standards of its industry.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) released a decision Wednesday saying Campaign Research had acted in a way that diminished confidence in marketing research, had brought discredit on the profession, and had not received permission to discuss its membership in the MRIA with reporters.

As a result, the complaints panel of the MRIA imposed a sanction of "censure" on research company but opted against the harsher penalties of suspension or expulsion from association.

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"The intention of a censure is to issue a stiff and stern reprimand and also a public rebuke," Brendan Wycks, the executive director of the MRIA, told The Globe and Mail.

Such rebukes are not common. The MRIA has been in existence for eight years and "this is the fourth time that we have censured a member," said Mr. Wycks.

In its decision, the panel said the actions of Campaign Research have "created concern among the public and created adverse publicity for MRIA, its members and their work."

Campaign Research's website still boasts that it is a "Gold Seal" member of the MRIA.

The company was hired in October of last year to make "voter identification" calls into Mr. Cotler's Montreal riding of Mount Royal.

The callers for Campaign Research explained that they were working for the Conservative party and asked whether they could count on the support of the recipient of the call, given that "some people are suggesting the current MP may resign."

Mr. Cotler, who had just won re-election five months earlier and had no intention of quitting, was outraged. He complained to Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer saying the telephone campaign had led his constituents to believe he had deserted his post, and it overshadowed his parliamentary work.

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Mr. Scheer subsequently ruled that the calls were "reprehensible" but found that Mr. Cotler's privileges as an MP had not been breached.

Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan has told the House of Commons the firm was merely repeating rumours that have been floating around for some time. He defended the calls, saying that to prohibit them would be to stifle freedom of speech.

When the government was asked about the MRIA decision during the daily Question Period on Wednesday, Mr. Van Loan replied that it had nothing to do with government business. "So far as this affected government business, Mr. Speaker, you dealt with it some time ago," said Mr. Van Loan. "It is a settled issue insofar as the internal management of a private sector marketing organization. That is not a question for this House."

Mr. Cotler said he was pleased by MRIA's decision, saying it says Campaign research violated its professional responsibilities.

The calls into the Mount Royal riding by the Conservatives appear to have abated, he said

They were merely the final act in a series of false and misleading activities that began with flyers targeting the Jewish community in the riding "with a whole series of scurrilous statements," said Mr. Cotler. "And then it continued with robo-calls during the election which purported to tell people that they came from Liberals when in fact they were coming from Conservatives."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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