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Pushing back on robo-calls, Tories blame Liberals for electoral mischief

An Elections Canada worker puts up a sign directing voters where to cast their ballots at a Toronto polling station on May 2, 2011.

Frank Gunn/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper's Conservatives are fighting back in the wake of opposition allegations the Tories arranged for pre-election calls impersonating the Liberal Party to alienate Grit voters.

These accusations are different than the robo-call controversy in the riding of Guelph – now under investigation by Elections Canada – where voters were told to head to the wrong polling stations.

Liberal candidates and voters have been complaining in recent days that annoying calls were made in the run-up to the election by callers identifying themselves as working for the Liberals. Interim Leader Bob Rae has suggested it hurt the party's political fortunes in the May 2 election.

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But The Tories suggest it was the Liberal Party's own get-out-the-vote operations that were making the calls and said the burden should be on Mr. Rae to prove it was otherwise.

The Liberals allege hundreds of voters received phone calls at inconvenient hours from people presenting themselves as being Liberal Party workers. In an apparent bid to alienate electors, these calls arrived at supper time, late at night or on the Sabbath for Jewish voters.

The Conservatives, however, suggest it was merely ham-fisted Liberal calls.

Tory officials say public records show Liberal ridings across Canada spent more than $1-million on firms such as First Contact and Prime Contact that telephone electors to seek support and call people to gauge their support.

First Contact calls itself "the leading Canadian supplier of call centre services to Liberal candidates and office-holders in Canada."

Long-time Liberal MP Joe Volpe, who was defeated in the closely fought Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence last year, complained that electors were flooded with repetitive and harassing phone calls, falsely made in his campaign's name.

Call display showed the calls as originating in North Dakota, he said.

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Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, pointed out however that Mr. Volpe's own riding spent money on voter-support call firms such as Prime Contact.

He suggested the firm also has offices in North Dakota – a claim that Prime Contact later said is wrong.

"Joe Volpe paid over $25,000 to Prime Contact, a company with offices in North Dakota," Mr. Del Mastro told the Commons.

Dan Aquila, vice president of operations at Prime Contact, said contrary to what Mr. Del Mastro stated, his company "is a wholly owned, proudly Canadian company."

A Liberal Party candidate from British Columbia has publicly acknowledged hiring First Contact and that calls her campaign arranged to solicit voter support showed up on call display as coming from the United States.

Former Liberal candidate Diane Janzen told The Chilliwack Times last April that this occurred because calls arranged with the aid of First Contact relied on a computer "based in the U.S., similar to other patented software for computers."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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