Conservative MPs quietly developing partisan software for upcoming elections

Are Conservatives being paid to work on apps rather than doing their duties as MPs? If so, "that should be illegal," says a democracy advocate. 

Conservative politicians Rob Clarke (left) and Rod Bruinooge (right)

A group of Conservative MPs including Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg-South) and Rob Clarke (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River) have been quietly developing proprietary software “by politicians for politicians” to be deployed exclusively by Conservatives in upcoming federal and provincial campaigns, The Vancouver Observer has learned -- raising yet again the issue of public resources being used for party activities.

Proxivote is a mobile application for handheld devices that is synced with party databases such as CIMS which is used by the Conservative Party of Canada. Fronted by Conservative insider and former lobbyist Jennifer Pilzecker who was once identified as key player in the Harper Government, Pilzecker stated that the two MPs are central players in the project.

“What a couple of Canadian politicians -- Rod Bruinooge and Rob Clarke -- came up with was something to really help on the ground in campaigns” said Pilzecker in a video to partisans leaked to The Vancouver Observer.

The project is being developed by Proximity Mobile and 6317414 MB Ltd, companies associated with Bruinooge. In his Conflict of Interest and Ethics declaration, he is listed as an officer of the numbered company which is held in his wife Chantal’s name and registered to their Winnipeg residential address.

“Proxivote is used in Canada by a couple political parties and in the US with the Republican National Committee. It’s only available to right-leaning conservative ideology groups or parties as of yet. We only serve right-wing parties” she said, adding that they have used it in Ontario and are looking to deploy in a couple of Western provinces. Bruinooge and Clark represent ridings in Manitoba and Saskatchewan respectively.

“I can tell you we are working on deploying with a national party and there are some features that they would like to see that aren’t in here” Pilzecker said. The software is priced at $5000 per riding. Deployment by the federal Conservatives across the country would see a potential $1.6 Million windfall for the politician developers.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says that this is yet another example of public resources being used for party activities and personal gain.

“It brings up the issue that they are all using public money and resources for partisan and personal purposes to a certain degree” he said. “There’s a rule that says you can’t do this – but we know this is happening. They have been known to use their offices for business and personal purposes. So how much time is being putting into this project – is it taking away from their duties as an MP? And if it is, that should be illegal” said Conacher.

The intellectual property behind Proxivote lies in “proximity awareness” which will track all campaign team members who use the software via their mobile phones in real-time, displaying their locations on a map overlay. “You can track their whereabouts – you know where your volunteers are, your candidate is” said Pilzecker. “We can track whoever is using Proxivote on a map, right down to the doorstep they’re standing on when they are logged-in to the app”.

Proxivote screen showing real-time team member tracking and data.

The app also allows for instant communications across team members in the field when canvassing voters, and the instant updating of voter identification databases.  Voters are identified by a variety of ‘happy faces’ which indicate their potential support for the party and likelihood to vote on election day.

Proxivote screen showing voter contact information.

Push notifications from the central campaign office can be sent to all members, updating key messaging and talking points on the fly, as well as the instant notification to team members of sign-requests on private properties.

 Proxivote screen showing door-to-door canvassing scripts and talking points.

“As someone who’s worked on a number of campaigns, I feel this is going revolutionize elections because the information we’re getting is in real-time. There are no runners between polling stations bringing back sheets of paper. There’s no lag-time in the data being processed on election day, which is usually 4 hours. By the time you call someone at 6pm asking if they’ve already voted that day, and they did so at 2pm -- you’re only annoying your support base and it’s a waste of resources” said Pilzecker.

Neither Bruinooge nor Clarke would comment on the project or to clarify whether public resources were being used in the development of their software. Clarke’s parliamentary assistant -- who had knowledge of the project -- said that “there are a number of others working on the project and he doesn’t feel it’s his place to have a discussion about it,” adding that the he was very surprised that news of this project had reached the press.

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