This Wall-E wannabe is a threat to Canadian democracy. via Flickr.
You may remember when we first told you about the Conservative party’s robocall scandal being a pretty big deal, but you certainly wouldn’t be alone if you’ve kinda forgotten about it since then. That’s what happens when Federal investigations take well over two years.
That said, new information has revealed additional details from the Election Canada investigation, and now we know that Michael Sona, a controversial Conservative staffer from the 2011 Marty Burke campaign in Guelph is—drum roll please—probably, most likely, maybe the robocalls culprit, “Pierre Poutine!” Even if he’s not P.P. himself, he’s at least makes up a good chunk of the cheese curds and gravy, according to a sworn affidavit by the lead Elections Canada investigator Allan Matthews. Matthews says that Sona admitted to being involved in the scandal, but also suggested he wasn’t acting alone.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more details from the Elections Canada investigation because of a publication ban. What a tease.
This all relates back to the 2011 Election robocall scandal where up to 7,000 non-Conservative voters were told to go to the wrong polling station by an automated phone call, that has been linked to the campaign headquarters of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke.
In case you missed it, here’s a refresher on what happened in Guelph leading up to the 2011 Election:
On the night before Election Day, a disposable “burner” phone—like the one your drug dealer uses—was bought and registered under the name Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette, Quebec, which incase you didn’t get the nuance is obviously a fake name and address. Logged in to the campaign staffer Andrew Prescott’s account at Burke headquarters, “Pierre Poutine” contacted RackNine Inc., a company of
robots people that call voters on that ancient thing called a home telephone. Through a spooky Conservative voting identity gathering service called Constituent Information Management Service (CIMS), Pierre provided them with the names and phone numbers of the 7,000 non-Conservative voters who were told to go to a different voting station.
How did they know they were non-Conservative voters? Well since 1997, Elections Canada has been assigning every voter a number, and that number is connected to a name, address and gender. They then give it to the parties who use it for campaigns and essentially to profile you. Yikes!
Anyways, at 10am on Election Day, the calls were made and subsequently diverted hundreds of voters from their proper voting station. Despite this dirty (a.k.a. illegal) trick that everyone, including Burke, denies knowing about, he still lost the election to Liberal Frank Valeriote. Smooth moves, Burke.
40,000 other complaints were made about robocalls across the country during the 2011 Election, but when 800 specific complaints were identified, a Federal judge ruled that the robocalls weren’t influential enough to overturn the election results. While this may be true, many of the ridings did seem very close, and isn’t even a little bit of election fraud a bad thing?
Amongst this nationwide scandal of dirty phone call tricks, Guelph is the only place where there is any hope of actually finding a culprit. And that suspect, Mikey Sona, didn’t say anything until October 2012, eight months after being named Pierre Poutine, when he appeared on CBC’s Power and Politics. On the show, Sona vehemently—albeit noticeably nervous—denied allegations. His strongest point was that at 22 years old, he couldn’t possibly have masterminded such a complex plan—but then he fucked up his story. Sona said first that he resigned from a job on Parliament Hill because of the media attention, but later in the interview admitted he resigned before Sun News outed him as the man responsible. If he really was “shocked” to see the news story, he wouldn’t have resigned before the Sun report came out. Right?
Now, this Elections Canada report is saying he lied in that interview. Fair enough, but publicly Sona still maintains his innocence. He even dressed up as Pierre Poutine for Halloween. What kind of guy commits a crime, denies it, then dresses up in the identity that could have him fined $5,000 and in jail for up to five years? A guilty one? Kinda reminds me of that book OJ wanted to publish.
Anyway, less than a week after Sona was accused, Conservative Minister Peter MacKay said: “I think they've identified the individual that was involved in this," so the party didn’t need to investigate any further. That is, without knowing half of the details we know today, the Conservatives went ahead and threw a young staffer under the bus without much barely any investigating. Fishy.
So what would the Conservatives really have to gain from such blatant election fraud if this was a decision from higher up? They didn’t even win that riding’s election and the risk seems way higher than the reward—unless they get away with it.
Maybe as NDP MP Pat Martin said, it was to deprive the rival parties from the $1.53 per vote subsidy that parties receive, but the Conservatives are actively against voter subsidies in the first place and have pledged to eliminate them by 2015. That doesn’t seem like a thing they’d do.
Sona is the only one accused in this case, but other Conservatives could be involved. Most obviously there is Andrew Prescott. He was the only person responsible for dealing with RackNine, and was signed in on his computer when the contact with the company was made from Burke headquarters. But, it is generally believed that someone used Prescott’s password—rather than it being Prescott who logged in himself. Other suspects could include campaign manager Ken Morgan, who suddenly now lives in Kuwait, or Chris Crawford, who told investigators he overheard Sona and Morgan talking about “making a misleading poll moving call.” Who knows?
It’s true that robocalls aren’t only a Tory thing. All parties use them, and some of them are more effective at juking the stats than others. Both the NDP and Liberals have recently pleaded guilty to making calls, without properly identifying the party who is making the call, and were subsequently charged by the CRTC.
But I’m not letting those blue sons of guns off that easily. Neither of the offences by the orange and red parties were as serious as actually telling voters to go to the wrong polling station.
The point here is that if we want to protect our reputation as being a “global democracy,” (we rank eighth out of 165!) we have to enforce the rules of free elections, and stop downplaying things as just dirty campaign tricks when they are full-blown illegal electoral violations. Let’s step up our democracy game Canada, because this lack of action against the robocalling scandal is setting an unfortunate precedent.
Tweet your favourite dirty tricks to @JoelBalsam Previously: