The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Elections chief fears repeat of robocalls episode without new rules by 2014

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OTTAWA - The chief electoral officer is warning of another wave of false or misleading telephone calls in the next election if tough new rules and punishments are not in place by the end of next year.

"Given the time it takes for the parliamentary process to follow its due course, we need to act sooner than later on these matters," Marc Mayrand said Thursday.

"My preference would be to have legislation in place by the end of 2014."

Mayrand spoke to journalists a day after Elections Canada released a report that floated a number of ideas aimed at preventing another rash of so-called robocalls in future campaigns. Those suggestions include tough penalties for impersonating election officials, wider investigative powers and more voter privacy.

The elections chief said he has yet to be consulted as the governing Conservatives draw up legislation aimed at stopping malicious robocalls.

"It is not entirely new, I would suggest," Mayrand said.

"Governments, from time to time, have tended to put forward their proposed legislative changes and then I become aware of them when they're tabled in Parliament.

"I'm always available if they want to get my views or advice on any legislative matters regarding the electoral process

He urged the Tories to adopt the report's recommendations.

"My fear is that we see a re-occurrence of issues that we saw in the last general election, that further undermined electors' confidence and breeds disengagement and cynicism among electors," Mayrand said.

Conservative MP Tim Uppal, the minister of state for democratic reform, said Wednesday the government would consider Elections Canada's recommendations.

The report did not shed light on the identity of the mysterious figure known as "Pierre Poutine," the person behind a rash of misleading calls in ridings across the country.

Mayrand refused to provide an update on the ongoing investigation into fraudulent robocalls, stemming from complaints that surfaced in dozens of ridings across the country.

The agency's investigation has centred on the southwestern Ontario riding of Guelph, where a number of residents say they received automated phone calls from someone claiming to be from Elections Canada and directing them to a wrong or non-existent polling station.

While the misleading phone calls appeared to target non-Conservative voters, the Conservative party insists it had no involvement in any such scheme and says it is assisting the investigation.

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