Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary has stepped heavily into the Ontario election for the second time, this time commissioning a 1,000-person poll because he felt a local newspaper underplayed the popularity of the local Progressive Conservative candidate.
Peterborough's Dean Del Mastro – who jumped into the provincial campaign at its outset when he bashed a Liberal plan to provide tax credits to employers to hire immigrants – is back in the spotlight after hiring a polling company to provide a second opinion on a poll published by a local twice-weekly newspaper on Friday.
The Peterborough This Week telephone poll suggested Liberal candidate Jeff Leal had a 45.5-per-cent share of the vote compared to 28 per cent for Progressive Conservative candidate Alan Wilson.
"I was deeply concerned that publishing numbers in the fashion as presented on the cover of a weekly large circulation paper could significantly suppress voter participation," he said. "The methodology was not released and the responses could have just as easily been provided by six-year-olds as registered voters."
The newspaper's poll saw 629 people respond via an automated phone poll. Mr. Del Mastro's poll, meanwhile, has the two in a dead heat at 34 per cent each.
Monday, Mr. Del Mastro publicized the poll on Twitter by saying "my latest media release on poll results," but then took it down less than an hour later. He said Monday night that he needed to run his own poll because if people think one candidate is running away with it then they may stay away from the polls.
He doesn't think he's interfering in local politics. A directive from the Prime Minister's Office issued in August warns candidates that the "federal government wishes to avoid becoming the story in any of the provincial or territorial elections," but doesn't specifically prohibit MP-commissioned polling.
"In provinces where there is only one 'conservative' option, we may all make efforts as individuals on private time to assist the election of that option – provided that we comply with this policy," the memo states.
Mr. Del Mastro said he is motivated by democracy, not partisan politics.
"I dispute that I'm heavily involved in the provincial election, I want people to vote in each and every election," he said. "When information is published that suggests the election is decided based on flawed methodology it runs contrary to one of my core democratic values which is that people need to exercise their right to vote."
Using money from the Peterborough Conservative Electoral District Association, he hired Electright to call 1,000 voters Sunday night between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The provincial Liberals jumped on the poll, saying that Mr. Del Mastro was acting on behalf of the Prime Minister to run interference in the provincial election.
"This is Harper's hand-picked parliamentary secretary – his go-to attack dog – and it's the second time that the Prime Minister has set him loose during the Ontario election," said Greg Sorbara, a candidate in Vaughan and the campaign co-chairman.
"It is another sign that Harper and the Conservatives are increasingly concerned about Hudak's disorganized campaign and are prepared to intervene."
The Prime Minister's Office had no comment.
Mr. Del Mastro also took advantage of the poll to ask two questions about how residents felt about a few provincial issues. One question was "given that jurisdictions like the United States and Europe have invested billions of dollars trying to create green jobs with disappointing results, do you believe that the 7 billion dollar Samsung deal will create 16,000 jobs in Ontario?"
Half said no, a quarter was undecided, a quarter said yes.
His last question was "given that families and seniors are struggling today in Ontario, do you support eliminating HST from energy bills as well as income splitting for families to reduce their provincial tax burden?"
Seventy-four per cent agreed with the statement.