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Controversial voter-ID system made former Tory MP uneasy

Former MP Inky Mark, shown in May of 2005, says he had misgivings about the Conservative Party's voter-identification database.

JIM YOUNG/Jim Young/Reuters

Inky Mark was always a bit of an outsider inside the Conservative caucus.

The former Manitoba MP, popular in his riding, wasn't interested in abiding by the party's message control and usually kept a low profile, sometimes not even attending caucus.

Mr. Mark now says he also opted out of the party's controversial voter identification database – known as constituency information management system or CIMS – out of similar concerns about the power the party wielded at the local level.

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"If they get mad at you and don't want you to access your own data, you're done," Mr. Mark said. "I figured that out right off the bat and said I don't want to be under their control, so I just quit basically."

The selection of Canadians for phone calls that misdirected them to erroneous or non-existent polling stations during the last election is a key element of the voter-suppression affair.

There's no evidence the Conservatives or any other party was engaged in voter suppression, but questions have been raised about the systems they use for pinpointing and contacting voters.

Mr. Mark says every time he or his staff would meet a constituent and get their phone number, they were expected to log the information and any pertinent details, including the individual's political leanings and personal interests.

He says the party had control over the entire, nationwide database. An MP and his staff were at the mercy of headquarters, Mr. Mark says, because they had the power to allocate and revoke database passwords.

"I always have thought independently, even with [election]signage at home," the former MP said. "I always knew that I had to do my own thing, because ... they can control you 100 per cent, and that's exactly what happened with CIMS."

A young Conservative staffer has recently been fighting suggestions that he's behind misleading calls placed in the Ontario riding of Guelph during last spring's election. Michael Sona, who worked on the local Conservative campaign, has said he had nothing to do with the calls.

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The opposition has suggested Mr. Sona could not have had the level of technological sophistication and authority to pull off a series of robo-calls.

Mr. Mark has been in retirement since losing a mayoralty race in Dauphin, Man., in October 2010. He caused some waves when a short time afterward he suggested the Conservative Party was handling the nomination process in his riding in an undemocratic way.

He said he ran his campaigns in a fairly traditional fashion, choosing not to make use of CIMS. "I always believed you live and die by your track record."

The Conservative Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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