Opposition shifts strategy in robocall saga

Interim New Democratic Party leader Nycole Turmel speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 6, 2012.

Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie


OTTAWA - The government and opposition are digging in for a long and drawn out battle on the robocall issue.

"This is not a sprint," interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said. "This is a marathon."

The story broke in late February about efforts to misdirect non-Conservative voters in Guelph, Ont., to the wrong polling station through automated phone messages.

There have since been allegations it happened in dozens of other ridings, but Elections Canada won't confirm how widely it suspects misleading robocalls were used.

So, with little new information to go on, Rae has switched to scoffing at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's promises of co-operation with Elections Canada investigators.

"Everything in Mr. Harper's background makes him dislike Elections Canada," Rae said. "He's referred to them as jackasses."

Harper led the National Citizens Coalition when he called Elections Canada "jackasses" in a 2001 fundraising letter after the agency charged a private citizen who transmitted real-time election results.

Even so, interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel appears to have won Harper over in her effort to give Elections Canada the power to get political parties' financial documents without a warrant.

"We have no objection to such a proposal," Harper said in Wednesday's question period.

A spokesman for Harper indicated the party would even vote for an NDP motion to be introduced Thursday, calling for three key changes within six months: Giving the chief electoral officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure Elections Act compliance; making all telecom companies that provide voter contact services during an election register with Elections Canada; and making all telecom company election clients register their identities

Even if the Tories follow through on the motion, it's not clear the changes would affect current robocall

In the meantime, Turmel admits she's concerned about the involvement of American groups, like Avaaz.org, in online campaigns to drum up robocall complaints.

The issue has popped up on The Blaze, the website of conservative U.S. radio host Glenn Beck.

An article on the site asks, "Are Canadian elections being manipulated by George Soros and the American left?"

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