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Employed by Tories for dirty tricks, polling firm faces potential reprimand

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

CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters

The marketing research company that placed calls into Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's riding proudly boasts that it is a "gold seal" member of the association that oversees the standards of its industry

But Campaign Research Inc. could have some trouble keeping that designation.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association lists 10 principles to which its members must adhere. No. 5 states that they "shall at all times act honestly, ethically and fairly in their dealings with all members of the public, clients, employers, sub-contractors and each other."

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Apparently some members of the public and another marketing research company question whether Campaign Research was being honest when it told constituents in Mount Royal the veteran MP was preparing to resign and that a by-election would be held. Mr. Cotler is still at work and says he has no plans to quit.

Brendan Wycks, the executive director of the MRIA, told The Globe the association has received three inquiries about the conduct of the Conservative-allied firm since Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer labeled the calls "reprehensible" this week in a ruling that found Mr. Cotler's privileges as an MP had not been breached.

Mr. Wycks said the way the calls were phrased might give Campaign Research some wiggle room. The callers apparently began their conversations with constituents by saying: "Some people are suggesting that the current MP may retire…"

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 to prohibit them would be to stifle freedom of speech.

But the MRIA is taking the complaints seriously. "We have had some inquiries which I believe will result in formal complaints of professional misconduct to the research against Campaign Research," Mr. Wycks said.

If Campaign Research is found to have violated the code, the firm could be censured, suspended or kicked out of the association, depending on the severity of the breach, he added.

Campaign Research has assisted with the campaign of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as well as those of nearly 40 candidates in the spring federal election including Mr. Scheer.

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The constituents of Joe Volpe, a former Liberal cabinet minister who was defeated in May, received calls during the campaign from a North Dakota number asking what Mr. Volpe said were misleading and defamatory questions.

CBC News reported that Mr. Volpe was the subject of a 2007 telephone survey of voters in Eglinton-Lawrence, initiated by the Campaign Research.

But Richard Ciano, Campaign Research's co-founder, has denied that his company was part of the more recent barrage of calls to Mr. Volpe's riding. "We would never do that. Absolutely not. Categorically not. First, callers should identify themselves and where they are calling from, and the call has to have a proper CID (Caller Information Display)," he told the CBC.

Mr. Ciano, a former national vice-president of the Conservative Party of Canada who also founded a political training school called Conservative Campaign University and is currently a candidate for president of the Conservative Party of Ontario, did not return calls from The Globe on Thursday.

But his partner, Nick Kouvalis, made no apologies for his company's behavior in a telephone conversation with Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen.

"We've done tens of millions of dials through our call centre and there's never been any complaint launched against us," Mr. Kouvalis told Mr. McGregor. "We're in the business of getting Conservatives elected and ending Liberal careers. We're good at it."

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Had Mr. Scheer found that Campaign Research's actions breached Mr. Cotler's rights as a member of Parliament, Mr. Ciano and Mr. Kouvalis might have been called before a parliamentary committee to explain themselves. But, as Tim Naumetz explains in the Hill Times, the Speaker's ruling took that possibility off the table.

For his part, Mr. Cotler remains the member of Parliament for a Montreal constituency the Tories covet. And though deeply unsatisfied with the Speaker's ruling, he hopes the practices employed against him cease and that "the Conservatives learned a good lesson from this."

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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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