Investigators from Elections Canada believe that the computer used by "Pierre Poutine" to make more than 7,000 fraudulent and potentially illegal robocalls to Guelph voters on the day of the May 2011 federal election is the same computer used by Andrew Prescott, the deputy campaign manager of Guelph Conservative candidate Matthew Burke.
Investigators say Prescott and "Poutine" used identical IP addresses when logging into their accounts with RackNine. On May 2, 2011, thousands of phone calls were sent through RackNine's servers to voters in Guelph, erroneously stating that, among other things, polling locations had changed. Prescott denied any involvement in the growing scandal, claiming that billing records will show he and "Poutine" used different computers.
A recent poll stated that 75% of Canadians want a formal inquiry into the Conservative Party's activities in the run-up to the May 2011 election that gave Stephen Harper a much-desired majority government.
Elections Canada has also conducted interviews with staffers in Burke's office who overheard conversations between Ken Morgan and Michael Sona about "how the Americans do politics", such as making harassing and misleading calls, and giving incorrect information to potential voters.
Elections Canada is following up on 700 actionable complaints in more than 200 ridings in 10 provinces and one territory. Marc Mayrand, Canada's chief electoral officer, said the scandal "cut[s] pretty much across the whole country". Mayrand told a parliamentary committee on in late March, "It's absolutely outrageous. It's totally unacceptable in a modern democracy."
A judge ruled on May 18 that a by-election must be held in one of those riding. Conservative Ted Optiz won the Etobicoke Centre riding by only 26 votes over Liberal Boris Wrzesnewskyj, who brought a court challenge, asking that more than 180 suspicious ballots be tossed out. Judge Lederer disqualified 79 ballots, enough to trigger a by-election. If Optiz appeals the decision, the case will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. If the decision is upheld, it could set a precedent for by-elections across Canada.
Elections Canada's investigation has expanded to Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa.
Investigators are convinced that the list of phone numbers used by "Pierre Poutine" to make fraudulent phone calls in Guelph perfectly matches a list of opposition supporters from the Conservatives' Constituent Information Management System (CIMS). Elections Canada has asked for CIMS logs for one particular user in the Conservative party's headquarters, but the log on and log off information for that specific user is missing for the date in question.
The NDP has called this apparent coincidence the Conservatives' "Rose Mary Woods moment", a reference to the White House secretary who was blamed for erasing roughly 18 minutes from Richard Nixon's Oval Office audiotapes, including an important conservation related to the Watergate burglary.
The Conservatives admit their database was used for the fraudulent phone calls, but claim the calls were made by a rogue staffer acting completely on his own. Of course, that flimsy excuse does not account for the suspicious activities and phone calls made to tens of thousands of voters in the other approximately 199 ridings across the country.
In addition, Annette Desgagne, a former employee of Responsive Marketing Group Inc., has filed an affidavit in the Council of Canadians' lawsuit seeking by-elections in seven ridings in which complaints were received and Conservatives won by slim margins: Don Valley East, Winnipeg South Centre, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Vancouver Island North, Yukon, Nipissing-Timiskaming and Elmwood-Transcona.
Desgagne worked in RMG's Thunder Bay call centre, making calls on behalf of the Conservative Party. She claims that three days before the 2011 federal election, she was given a new script (written by the Conservatives) that erroneously told voters that their polling stations had changed.
"About three days before election day, the script changed," Desgagne claims. The new scripts "concerned changes to the locations of their polling stations. The new scripts we were to read did not identify that we were calling on behalf of the Conservative party. . . . I became increasingly concerned that I was giving out incorrect information to voters. . . . [T]he supervisors told all of the callers to 'just stick to the script'. . . . Our concerns were ignored."
Desgagne specifically remembers calling voters in the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming because she had trouble pronouncing it correctly. In that riding, the Conservative candidate won by only 18 votes.
Bob Penner, a 20-year political consultant and expert in voter contact programs, has also provided an affidavit in the CoC lawsuit, testifying that these targeted voter suppression election calls could only be authorized by someone at the highest level in a political campaign, someone with access to a centralized database and the necessary funds to carry it out.
Allen Raymond, a 10-year U.S. Republican political operative who spent three months in prison for making illegal political calls, believes that the fraudulent calls made before the 2011 election are likely an American import. "The thing that stands out most egregiously is the number of ridings involved," he said. "That's a fairly sophisticated operation. This thing is not rocket science but it does require some knowledge of the process. ... It takes some co-ordination. It takes some money. "
Liberal MP Frank Valeriote says the calls were part of "a sophisticated, systematic Conservative election fraud scheme".
A study by EKOS Research Associates of voter suppression provides what the Council of Canadians say is "potent evidence" of organized attempts to suppress voter turnout in those seven key ridings.
Tens of thousands of Canadians received voter suppression or harassing phone calls: 16.9% of eligible voters received calls related to polling stations, and of those, 22.3% were told of polling station location changes.
Canadians were targeted for these calls based on the political party they had previously indicated they intended to vote for. Of those who were told of polling station changes, the voter intentions were as follows: Liberals 32.6%, Greens 28%, NDP 25.6%, and Conservatives 10%.
The effect of voter suppression averaged across the seven ridings was estimated between 0.8% and 2.2% of total electors. The margin of victory in these seven ridings in the 2011 election ranged from 0.03% to 2.02%.
Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, said there appeared to be robo-calling "activity" across the country, but he compared 106 ridings where there were no reports of suspicious activity to seven ridings where there was a lot. In those seven ridings — all won by Conservative candidates — the data show about 10-15% of voters received deliberately misleading calls aimed at suppressing non-Conservative votes.
Council of Canadians Executive Director Garry Neil called the results "conclusive and shocking". He said the calls were "targeted at individuals who were not supporting the Conservative Party and it had the desired effect … supporters of the Liberals, NDP and Greens were less likely to vote. ... We believe in all seven ridings there is sufficient … data to indicate that elections were stolen in those ridings."
Meanwhile, several Conservative MPs who hired political strategists with deep ties to the Republican party in the U.S. for their 2011 campaign do not mention the association on their Elections Canada expense reports. Fourteen Conservative MPs used the services of Front Porch Strategies, which has extensive links to the Republican party in the US.
Front Porch was involved in the campaign in Nipissing-Timiskaming, which is under investigation by Elections Canada for misleading phone calls directing voters to non-existent or false polling stations. Conservative candidate Jay Aspin won the riding by a mere 18 votes. Aspin is one of 11 Conservatives who paid Front Porch; the others are Mark Adler, Dean Allison, Patrick Brown, Dean Del Mastro, Rick Dykstra, Cheryl Gallant, Parm Gill, Phil McColeman, James Rajotte, and Kyle Seeback.