Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mark ditched Tory voter bank

Ex-MP says party has firm grip on database linked to robocall affair

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OTTAWA -- Inky Mark was always an outsider inside the Conservative caucus.

The former Dauphin-Swan River MP, popular in his riding, wasn't interested in abiding by the party's message control and usually kept a low profile, sometimes not even attending caucus.

Mark now says he also opted out of the party's controversial voter-identification system, or CIMS, out of similar concerns about the power the party wielded at the local level.

"If they get mad at you and don't want you to access your own data, you're done," Mark said. "I figured that out right off the bat and said I don't want to be under their control, so I just quit basically."

Mark spoke out about the controversial practice as the government faces questions surrounding the robocall controversy.

The selection of Canadians for phone calls that misdirected them to non-existent polling stations during the last election is a key element of the voter-suppression affair. There's no evidence the Tories or any other party was engaged in voter suppression, but questions have been raised about the systems they use for pinpointing and contacting voters.

Mark says every time he or his staff would meet a constituent and get their phone number, they were expected to log the information and any details, including the person's political leanings and personal interests.

He says the party had control over the nationwide database. An MP and his staff were at the mercy of headquarters, Mark says, because they had the power to allocate and revoke database passwords.

"I always have thought independently, even with (election) signage at home," Mark says. "I always knew that I had to do my own thing, because... they can control you 100 per cent, and that's exactly what happened with CIMS."

A young Conservative staffer has recently been fighting suggestions he's behind misleading calls placed in a Guelph, Ont., riding during last spring's election. Michael Sona, who worked on the local Conservative campaign, has said he had nothing to do with the calls.

The opposition has suggested Sona could not have had the level of technological sophistication and authority to pull off a series of robocalls.

Mark retired after losing a mayoralty race in Dauphin in 2010. He caused some waves when a short time afterward he suggested the Tory party handled the nomination process in his riding in an undemocratic way.

Mark said he ran his campaigns in a traditional fashion, choosing not to make use of CIMS. "I always believed you live and die by your track record."

The Tories didn't respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday, Canada's chief electoral officer said he's received 700 specific complaints of fraudulent or improper phone calls placed during last spring's election.

In a statement that seemed designed to set the record straight, Marc Mayrand emphasized investigators have been looking into the robocalls since they first heard of them after the May 2 vote.

"Since then, over 700 Canadians from across the country have informed us of specific circumstances where they believe similar wrongdoing took place," Mayrand said.

Another 31,000 people have voiced their concern to Elections Canada about the robocalls, most of them using online forms produced by third parties.

Mayrand emphasized Elections Canada is equipped to undertake the probe. Some critics, including the Liberal party, have called for a public inquiry into the automated calls.

Mayrand also said that because of privacy rules and the presumption of innocence, his office does not comment on its investigations.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2012 A5

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