Matching Tory-robocall IP address adds to scope of widespread fraud allegations

One year after the Conservatives took hold of Parliament, the election that swept Prime Minister Stephen Harper into majority has seen an unprecedented share of scandals, allegations and irregularities.

Yesterday, Canadians learned that an internet protocol (IP) address used for illegal robocalls was Andrew Prescott's, a top Tory campaign staffer in Guelph, according to Elections Canada.

Robocalls and Republican strategists 

But with 200 ridings (nearly two-thirds of all seats) now reporting illegal calls, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 11-seat majority hinging on a 7,735 vote margin in 11 robocall-reporting ridings-- as close as only 18 votes -- the 2011 election scandal continues to smoulder.  

While some are viewing the entire results as suspect, three-quarters of Canadians want a public inquiry into the affair, according to a March 11 Ipsos-Reid poll. That call has, so far, been ignored by the government. Conservatives say that whatever calls were made were not associated with their party, and to pin it on the Tories is effectively an opposition party manoevre.

In addition to widespread reports of robocalls, harassment and voter suppression, questions around unreported Tory payments to Front Porch Strategies, a Republican-tied voter contact firm, and that firm's US staff campaigning on the ground in Ontario, remain unanswered. 

Under those rules, all services used by a candidate during an election period, according to an Elections Canada spokesperson, must be reported in candidates' expense reports. The Vacouver Observer learned that the Tories may have broken rules by not reporting payments to the US firm.

Just how many people received fraudulent calls? And could they have impacted the election results? Two national opinion polls suggest the number of fraudulent calls made could be between 50,000, according to Ekos Research, and 250,000 households, according to Forum Research. The more recent Ekos poll found a statistical link between the calls and voters for opposition parties. And a Simon Fraser University study suggested that it might only take 1,000-2,500 phone calls to sway a riding's vote. 

"I am calling from Elections Canada"

Then there came the affidavits -- former Thunder Bay call centre employees for Responsive Marketing Group (RMG), a company widely used by Conservatives in the 2011 election, claimed last month they made false polling station changes, sometimes sending voters hours away.

"About three days before election day, the script changed in a manner that was noticeable to me," Annette Desgagne swore under oath on April 13. "The scripts we were to read to the listeners 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 also saw/heard one other caller reading from the screen and talking on the phone. He said to the listener, 'I am calling from Elections Canada."

Last month, Elections Canada's investigation moved from Guelph to Nipissing-Timiskaming, a Conservative win by only 18 votes -- in fact, their investigator piloted his own small aircraft to the riding to interview complainants.

This week marked a year since Canadians woke up to a new post-election reality – Tories winning their long-sought majority, and New Democrats taking its first-ever role as official opposition. But early election day rumblings of mysterious calls redirecting voters gradually gestated for nine months, until Postmedia and the Ottawa Citizen blew open the so-called “robocall” scandal on Feb. 22, when they discovered court records revealing an investigation.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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