Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ID of 'Pierre Poutine' remains a mystery

Liberal MP under fire for his own robocalls

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If 'Pierre Poutine' walked into Elections Canada's office on Monday with a written confession, Canadians might not know about it for months or years, when the investigation into the robocall affair concludes.

As the controversy continued to dominate the House of Commons Monday -- and a Liberal MP came under fire for his own robocalls -- there were rumours a key suspect spilled the curds on the affair, but Elections Canada would not confirm it.

A spokeswoman said it's possible no one will know the identity of 'Pierre Poutine' until the agency's probe wraps up. "We would not comment on ongoing investigations," said Diane Benson, adding any charges would be revealed in a joint announcement by Elections Canada and the prosecutor.

Postmedia News reported Monday someone with knowledge of the misleading calls into Guelph would come forward as the investigation narrows in on the electronic trail of the pseudonymous 'Pierre Poutine', who is believed responsible.

Late Monday night, CTV News cited an unnamed Conservative source as saying former Tory campaign worker Michael Sona had owned up to the calls. Sona left his job on Parliament Hill last month but later issued a statement denying any involvement in the calls.

In Ottawa Monday, opposition parties continued to press the Conservative government for a public inquiry into the robocall controversy, but their attacks were blunted when the Tories lambasted Liberal MP Frank Valeriote for using what are being called misleading robocalls in his Guelph riding during last year's election.

The Liberal campaign in Guelph sent out automated calls recorded by a woman who provided a false name. In the call, the young campaign volunteer criticized the Conservative candidate's "extreme views" on abortion.

Valeriote said Monday the message was intended to clarify a local newspaper's story about his own "pro-choice" position on the issue after some had alleged he was "pro-abortion."

But missing from the robocall message was any mention of Valeriote or the fact his campaign had sponsored it. The Elections Act requires campaigns to identify who pays for advertising, although it makes no specific mention of robocalls.

Valeriote said he does not consider the calls to be advertising.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons voted 283-0 Monday night to pass a motion to eventually give Canada's chief electoral officer additional investigative powers.

But despite support from the Tories in that Commons vote, opposition parties are not convinced the government will fulfil the non-binding motion's call for legislation within six months to beef up Elections Canada's powers.

Opposition parties say Canadians should insist on broad measures to learn the truth about what may have happened in dozens of ridings across the country.

"We've seen from Canadians... a great deal of concern about what has been happening," said NDP MP Charlie Angus. "We need to get to the bottom of it. I don't think people are confident enough just saying, 'Well, hopefully Elections Canada will... have the resources they need to hopefully get to the bottom of this.' We need to find out what happened, why was this so widespread, who was involved. I think that you need a public inquiry..."

A poll conducted last week for Postmedia News found 75 per cent of Canadians support an independent inquiry with judicial powers to look into the affair.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2012 A7

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