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Elections watchdog faces MPs on robocalls

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand waits to appear before a Commons committee in Ottawa on Oct. 4, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada's elections watchdog is speaking publicly for the first time on the allegations of voter suppression that have been keeping his office – and politicians – working overtime.

For Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, it's a chance to possibly clear up some misconceptions about the work his office does and how it handles such probes. He wrote a letter earlier this month offering to appear at a Commons committee.

He noted his office has received 700 complaints from Canadians who say they received so-called robo-calls directing them to non-existent or wrong polling stations during last May's federal election.

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"As an agent of Parliament, I would welcome the opportunity to appear ... to provide information on our administrative and investigative processes," Mr. Mayrand wrote on March 15.

So far, the only investigation that's come out in the public has been one in Guelph, Ont. Trying to persuade someone not to vote, or preventing them from voting, is prohibited under the Elections Act.

"We have consistently stayed away from discussing any matter that related to the specifics or details of any on-going investigation," said Elections Canada spokesman John Enright, noting that Mr. Mayrand will give brief opening remarks.

"Beyond that it's up to the members to decide what they wish to ask him."

MP Marc Garneau, the Liberal vice-chair of the procedure and House affairs committee, says he'd like to know more about the scope of the investigations.

"I obviously want to know the extent of the investigations, how many possibly valid complaints have been sent in, how many ridings are being investigated, whether its just robo-calls or it's beyond that, to just try to get a sense of what Elections Canada or the elections commissioner is actually investigating," Mr. Garneau said.

The timing of Mr. Mayrand's appearance at committee has raised a few eyebrows. Parliament Hill will be wrapped up for the better part of the day in the release of the federal budget, and most of the media locked up for hours in a briefing.

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Committee chairman Joe Preston, a Conservative MP, said it was the only day Mr. Mayrand could be slotted in.

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