The market research industry's watchdog is launching a full-blown investigation into a Conservative pollster involved in an alleged misinformation campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.
Brendan Wycks, executive director of The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, said Tuesday the watchdog has received seven formal complaints of professional misconduct against Campaign Research Inc.
Campaign Research was behind a phone campaign last fall in Mr. Cotler's Montreal riding, in which constitutents complained they were falsely told their MP was about to or had resigned and that a by-election was imminent.
The company was given time to resolve the matter to complainants' satisfaction but was unable to do so.
As a result, the voluntary, self-regulatory MRIA is now striking a three-member complaints panel to investigate the matter more thoroughly. If Campaign Research is found to have violated the association's code of conduct, the company could face sanctions, ranging from a public reprimand to suspension or even expulsion from the MRIA.
The MRIA fears the allegations of dirty tricks by partisan pollsters and telemarketers is giving legitimate public opinion research a black eye. The association is so concerned that Mr. Wycks said it is updating its code of conduct to spell out that voter identification or partisan promotion cannot be conducted under the guise of market research.
It has also given itself more power to initiate investigations into unethical or unprofessional conduct by its members, rather than having to wait for someone to file a formal complaint.
"If you are to be a corporate research member of MRIA, you cannot be doing voter intention-slash-advocacy type calls under the name of a marketing research firm because that just tarnishes the image of the entire industry," Mr. Wycks said in an interview.
"You can't do partisan stuff under the banner of a marketing research firm that is doing statistical, survey-based marketing research."
He said the association's board has approved in principle adding an addendum to the code or an ancillary regulatory document to that effect.
"I can definitely say that this is something that will be an outcome of the current issues [involving]Campaign Research and the other firms that are not marketing research firms, they're on the periphery, but we're getting some of the negative spillover from some of their activities."
Campaign Research has made no bones about its partisan motivation. Principal partner Nick Kouvalis has publicly boasted: "We're in the business of getting Conservatives elected and ending Liberal careers. We're good at it."
To Mr. Wycks, that quote alone suggests "that type of firm is not the type of research agency that can and should belong to MRIA. So that is going to be sort of the crux of the complaint panel's deliberations."
Aaron Wudrick, Campaign Research's general counsel, said he can't comment on the specifics of the confidential complaints. But he said the company responded "in good faith" and the majority of complainants rejected "our proposed resolution."
He added that none of the complainants actually resides in Mr. Cotler's riding – "They all made their complaints based on media reports, not due to a firsthand experience with Campaign Research."