News : Election Call Centre Script Raises Questions
May 12, 2014 -- The lawyer for the Conservative party twice gave Elections Canada incorrect information about telephone calls that directed voters to the wrong polling station in the last days of the 2011 federal election.
In an email May 1, party lawyer Arthur Hamilton told Elections Canada that Conservative call centre workers were not advising voters that Elections Canada had changed the location of polling stations, and that the party had not advised voters to go to a polling station an hour and a half from their home.
But a report released by Elections Canada last month includes a script that shows the party’s callers were telling voters that Elections Canada had changed the location of polling stations, and investigators found one voter who was directed to a polling station 740 kilometres away.
The report from Elections Canada found that there was no evidence of a conspiracy to prevent Canadians from voting, but comparing the script included in the report to emails obtained under access-to-information legislation raises questions about whether the Conservatives have been honest about their use of political calls.
Hamilton sent his email to Elections Canada as the agency was fielding complaints from voters who had been given bad information about their polling station by Conservative campaigns.
Elections Canada lawyer Ageliki Apostolakos emailed Hamilton on the evening of April 29.
Hamilton replied 27 hours later, just after midnight on May 1. He wrote that because Elections Canada changed some polling station locations "a number of our candidates have had to confirm the proper location of polling stations to a number of supporters during their respective get-out-the-vote efforts."
"The calls being made by our candidates request the voter to confirm his or her polling location. There is no indication by the caller that the location may have changed, or words to that effect. And no voter is being directed to a polling location one and a half hours away from the correct polling location."
But a script included in Elections Canada’s report shows that workers at Conservative call centres were told to deliver the following line: "Elections Canada has changed some voting locations at the last moment. To be sure could you tell me the address of where you’re voting?"
The morning after receiving Hamilton’s email, Apostolakos emailed colleagues to say the response from Hamilton "was not very clear. It seems that Conservative candidates are confirming the address of polling stations. They are pretending that Elections Canada or the returning officer have changed the polling stations. Moreover, Hamilton indicates that the Conservatives are doing no more than advise electors to verify their polling station."
As the day went on, officials became more concerned at "some mischief purportedly done (by) representatives of the Conservative Party," as one email put it. Another email said the reports were coming from "right across the country except Saskatchewan."
As the volume of calls increased, on the afternoon of May 1, Elections Canada’s legal counsel Karen McNeil again emailed Hamilton, listing 10 ridings where voters were being misdirected and Conservative party phone numbers were linked to the calls.
"Any inquiries you can make in an effort to determine who is making these calls would be appreciated," McNeil wrote.
Hamilton responded the next day — election day — resending the email he had earlier sent that incorrectly stated that the party was not telling voters their polling stations had moved.
Neither Hamilton nor party spokesman Cory Hann responded to a requests for information about the emails last week.
Hamilton sent the second email at 10:45 a.m. on election day, as Elections Canada officials were struggling to deal with the fallout from a robocall that misdirected opposition supporters in Guelph, Ont. Party worker Michael Sona faces a trial in relation to that call in June. He maintains he is innocent and is being used as a fall guy by the party.
Elections Canada’s two-year investigation into reports of dirty political calls across the country found that "incorrect poll locations were provided to some electors," but there was no proof of intent to deceive.
The report says, however, that investigators were sometimes hampered by a lack of co-operation.
"There were a few instances where it took several months or longer for investigators to receive the information they had requested, or for interviews they had asked for to be arranged," the report says. In one instance, a person whom investigators believed could have provided very relevant information declined to be interviewed."
The report does not indicate who failed to help investigators in a timely way, and Elections Canada has declined to identify the person who refused to be interviewed.
But Opposition MPs and other critics have accused the Conservatives of being deceptive and secretive, pointing to a number of examples where the party appeared to delay or stymie investigators.
– In 2011, when Elections Canada first approached Guelph Conservative campaign worker Andrew Prescott to ask about the "Pierre Poutine" robocall, national campaign manager Jenni Byrne emailed Prescott: "Please hold off doing anything until I consult with a lawyer."
Opposition MPs and critics suggest this amounts to a pattern of secretiveness and deception but the Conservatives say all of that amounts to little more than a smear campaign, and point to the conclusion of Elections Canada’s report.
"As we’ve said all along, and as Elections Canada has now determined, the Conservative Party of Canada ran a clean and ethical campaign," said spokesman Hann. "For the last two years, the opposition parties have made unsubstantiated allegations which have now been proven to be false by Elections Canada."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Today's Tip of the Day - Recognition
About Elections Canada:
Elections Canada is the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums.
Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014