Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Robocall affair MP sorry for attacks on firm

Didn't mean to suggest 'illegal' acts

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OTTAWA -- Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin has issued a written apology to a Conservative voter-outreach company.

The apology appeared on Martin's website Tuesday, six days after he made comments on a national TV show about Responsive Marketing Group in connection with the robocalls issue.

"I did not intend to impugn any notion of illegal behaviour to RMG. In that sense, my statement was ill-advised," Martin wrote.

RMG is a Thunder Bay, Ont., firm that made calls for the Conservative Party of Canada during the federal election last spring. A media story in February quoted employees of RMG as saying they worried they made calls in which they give people wrong information about polling stations.

In a statement Feb. 29, RMG denied that was the case and said the only calls RMG made were to Conservative supporters. Calls made to let people know their voting station had changed were made in instances where the voting station had in fact, been moved.

Elections Canada confirmed more than 100 polls were moved prior to election day.

Martin is also being sued by Racknine Inc., the Edmonton telephone marketing firm whose services were used to misdirect voters during the spring election in at least one riding.

Racknine has co-operated with Elections Canada and CEO Matthew Meier has said the firm was unaware it was used for such calls. Racknine has helped track the identity of "Pierre Poutine," the alias adopted by the person who set up the calls using a disposable cellphone.

Racknine is suing Martin and the federal NDP for defamation.

Tory baffled by blame

THE young Tory in the spotlight of the robocall scandal told co-workers on Parliament Hill he was stunned to learn he'd been named in connection with fraudulent calls in the Ontario riding of Guelph by unknown senior figures in the party.

Anonymous Conservatives have fingered Michael Sona, singling out him alone among a group of workers on the campaign of Guelph candidate Marty Burke, but a source says Sona had no reason to believe Elections Canada was interested in him until he was named by unidentified senior Tories in a T.V. report.

The agency never interviewed Sona until after his abrupt departure from his job in an MP's office on Feb. 24.

Sona was working as an aide in the Parliament Hill office of Toronto Conservative MP Eve Adams. He said he was stunned to hear his name tied to the robocalls scandal and offered his resignation. Adams initially refused his offer, a source said, but after Adams spoke to Jenni Byrne, the Conservative party's campaign manager in last year's election, Sona's resignation was accepted.

The party denies Byrne played any role in Sona's departure.

"It's not true," said spokesman Fred DeLorey in an email on Tuesday.

He said the party does not know Sona was involved in any wrongdoing.

Grits turn in robocall info

THE Liberal party has given Elections Canada samples of its robocall messages and scripts for live calls to voters during last spring's election campaign.

In a letter Tuesday to the watchdog agency, Interim Leader Bob Rae said the party has recordings of all its campaign robocalls and will make them available if needed for the investigation into alleged electoral fraud.

And he's called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives to be equally transparent.

"If the Conservatives truly have nothing to hide, they would follow the lead of the Liberal party and supply their documentation on the robocalls they conducted to Elections Canada immediately," Rae said.

Elections Canada is investigating thousands of complaints about fraudulent robocalls in which someone purporting to be calling on behalf of the agency misdirected voters to non-existent polling locations. It's also looking into harassing live calls purportedly made on behalf of an opposition party but that appeared aimed at alienating that party's supporters.

Opposition parties have accused the Tories of masterminding a widespread, vote-suppression scheme.

-- staff / the news services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2012 A5

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