Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Harper defends Sask. robocalls

Says Conservative party 'followed the rules'

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OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making no apologies for his party's use of deceptive robocalls to rally public opinion against proposed changes to riding boundaries in Saskatchewan.

Harper insisted Wednesday there was nothing wrong with the automated calls last week, which warned listeners the changes would "destroy Saskatchewan values" and pit rural folk against urban dwellers -- all without revealing the caller was the Conservative party.

What's more, he said the party's message simply echoed the majority view in Saskatchewan, where 75 per cent of those who submitted opinions to the independent boundary commission opposed the proposed changes.

"The party followed the rules and our position to the public is very clear on the commission," Harper said.

But the head of the boundary commission said he doesn't know where Harper's 75 per cent is coming from.

Justice Ron Mills said he assumes Harper is quoting a minority report from one of the three commission members who is against the proposed changes. But Mills said it isn't even clear if that report includes pre-proposal submissions, which he said were "overwhelmingly in favour of urban-only."

The commission is proposing to redistribute some of the 14 federal ridings in Saskatchewan to better reflect population growth in Regina and Saskatoon.

Existing ridings -- four in Regina, four in Saskatoon -- are spread out like slices of a pie, pulling in a corner of each city and a bigger rural area of towns, villages and farms. The proposal would eliminate that urban-rural mix and create urban-only ridings in the cities.

The proposal has met stiff resistance from Conservatives, who hold 13 of Saskatchewan's 14 seats and fear a more concentrated urban vote in some ridings might favour their political rivals.

Mills said some of the 2,500 submissions the commission received once the proposal was made public were identical pre-printed, postage-paid cards opposing the new boundaries. No political party was named on the cards.

After initially denying any involvement, the Conservative party admitted Tuesday it was behind the so-called "push poll" calls in Saskatchewan.

Opposition anger over the robocalls spiked Wednesday after Postmedia News reported the Saskatchewan calls appear to have emanated from the same Edmonton-based call centre used during the 2011 election to misdirect voters in Guelph, Ont., to wrong or non-existent polling stations.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 A11

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