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Tories deny deleting robo-call records after NDP invokes Watergate

Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon's secretary, reaches for her phone in a photo released by the White House in January of 1974.

AP

The Conservative Party is categorically denying it has destroyed computer records that might aid Elections Canada's investigation into fraudulent robo-calls.

New Democrats are accusing the Tories of erasing digital logs that track access to the Conservative voter database, known as the constituency information management system (CIMS).

The Official Opposition even invoked the U.S. Watergate scandal, suggesting the Conservatives now have "their Rose Mary Woods moment."

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The party is basing the charge on a Postmedia report that says Elections Canada investigators are asking questions about one Conservative staffer's use of the CIMS database but the records appear incomplete.

Elections Canada has been combing through internal Conservative Party e-mails and database records as it tries to close in on Guelph robo-call scammer " Pierre Poutine." The watchdog is probing misleading calls that sought to suppress the vote during the 2011 federal ballot, both in Guelph and across a swath of other ridings.

"After months of claiming they were cooperating with Elections Canada, Conservatives must now explain why someone in the Conservative war room apparently erased this crucial information," the NDP said in a statement.

The Conservatives, the NDP added, now have "their Rose Mary Woods moment."

Three days after the 1972 Watergate break-in, U.S. president Richard Nixon held a potentially illuminating conversation with chief of staff H. R. Haldeman.

Somehow, 18½ minutes of the tape of that conversation were later erased, perhaps by Mr. Nixon – or perhaps by the president's secretary, Ms. Woods, who claimed she deleted part of it accidentally while reaching for the phone and keeping her foot on the pedal control of the transcribing machine.

"Something similar seems to have happened at Conservative Party headquarters with records that had to do with the ongoing Conservative voter fraud scandal," the NDP said Tuesday.

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But Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said the New Democrats are flat wrong. He said he was surprised the NDP would level such an allegation so soon after one of the party's MPs issued an apology for defamatory comments in connection with the robo-calls controversy.

"No records were deleted and nothing was redacted," he said. "This is nonsense."

The Conservatives say it's impossible to delete logs that keep track of access to CIMS. "In fact, the Conservative Party proactively reached out to Elections Canada and continues to assist them in any way we can," Mr. DeLorey said.

"That includes handing over any documents or records that may assist them."

Elections Canada has alleged in past court filings that someone connected to the local Conservative campaign in Guelph, with the help of a disposable cell phone, engineered a scheme to dial voters of rival parties and tell them, falsely, that their polling station had been changed.

The Liberals nevertheless held on to the Guelph seat in the May 2, 2011, election, winning by a big margin.

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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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