PARLIAMENT HILL, Ottawa—Canada is in the grip of an election scandal that one member of Parliament says is rooted in “American-style dirty tricks.”
While allegations in the increasingly complex scandal continue to emerge, one consistent charge is that the Conservative Party, which won the last election, had candidates who used questionable, if not illegal, methods to discourage voters.
The governing Conservative Party is facing the brunt of the accusations that it, or its candidates, was behind misleading or harassing phone calls meant to confuse voters or discredit opposing parties.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his designated hitter on the file, prime ministerial parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro, tried to deflate the controversy by suggesting the calls were mangled attempts by Liberal Party candidates to get their own supporters out to vote.
“Yesterday and other days the Liberal Party said that it had received these misleading phone calls from numbers in the United States. We have done some checking. We have only found that it was the Liberal Party that did source its phone calls from the United States.
“So I wonder if the reason the honourable leader of the Liberal Party will not in fact show us his evidence is because it will point in fact that it was the Liberal Party that made these calls,” Harper told the House of Commons.
Del Mastro made that same point but later revealed in a televised interview on CBC that he was not aware there was a Canadian company, PrimeContact Group, by the same name as a U.S. company based in North Dakota.
The U.S. company, Prime Contact Inc., said it did not work with Canadian political parties.
Many of the damaging election calls came from U.S.-based area codes. However, the numbers people saw on their call displays could have been spoofed, given that some saw “Elections Canada” on their display even though the national body that handles Canada’s elections does not make such calls.
In some of the calls, live agents made what are described as rude, harassing calls while presenting themselves as advocates for one of the two major parties that lost in the last election.
In another scenario, automated calls directed voters to non-existent or incorrect polling stations.
Among the most vocal denouncers of what is now known as the robocall scandal is Pat Martin, an MP for the second-ranked New Democratic Party.
“If the Conservatives won their razor-thin majority by cheating, using American-style dirty tricks, then they have no mandate. Neither do they have the moral authority to govern,” Martin told reporters on Wednesday.
The Conservatives maintained that they had no connection to a centralized robocall effort.
However, they have left the door open to individual candidates having played a role, particularly in Guelph, Ontario, where Elections Canada is now investigating reports of widespread robocalls by a firm with Conservative ties that attempted to direct voters to the wrong polling station on election day.