Preston Manning calls for more ethics training in wake of robocall affair

03/09/2012 12:23 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The patriarch of the modern-day conservative movement in Canada is calling for better ethical training for campaign workers in the wake of the robocall scandal.

But one-time Reform party leader Preston Manning also cautions against pointing the finger for the scandal at the Tories, saying the problem is much broader.

Manning condemned the idea of campaigns using robocalls to harass voters or divert them to the wrong polls.

"I've spent my life trying to get people to participate more in the political system and trying to vote more," he said on the sidelines of a conservative conference sponsored by his Centre for Democracy.

"And the fact that there would be people out trying to work in the opposite direction is deplorable."

Elections Canada is investigating instances of voters being directed to non-existent polls in the riding of Guelph, Ont. A Conservative party worker connected to the campaign there has since resigned.

The election agency has received 31,000 calls, faxes and emails from Canadians reporting other suspected instances of interference with the voting process. The opposition blames the Conservatives.

"If you try to link these things to any one party, it's a mistake," Manning said.

"If you just target the solutions at one party ... this is far broader than one party."

He said all parties should be worried.

"The public hardly even distinguish between them. When these things are done, it just discredits them."

Manning said part of the problem lies in the fact that young Canadians are sent to political training schools in the United States where politics is far more aggressive.

Preventing those tactics from taking over the Canadian political process requires a new approach, he said.

Stricter oversight of campaigns by their managers and by Elections Canada, could be one solution, he said.

"I actually think the more effective thing is preventing it in the first place and that involves ethical training," he said.

Manning's centre already offers training for campaign workers.

The man responsible for running the Conservatives' national campaign last year insisted Friday that his team ran a clean campaign.

Guy Giorno said the Tories focused on identifying and mobilizing their own supporters, not going after other parties' voters.

"Any party that has time for any of the other shenanigans is not a well-run campaign," Giorno said.

The large role played by technology in campaigns today is also an issue, Manning said.

"These technologies are available to all political people and you will have rogues in your organization that might employ those technologies," he said.

"You can find illustrations of people who play close to the edge in every political party."

Liberals said Friday they don't believe it was a rogue operative at work.

"Somebody was spending tens of thousands of dollars on this completely inappropriate way to manipulate an election," said Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc.

"I have every reason to think Elections Canada will pursue this until the end and we hope that charges are laid and I say charges in the plural because at the end, it's not credible to pretend that it's one person, 22 levels below some campaign manager in some riding who came up with this idea."

The NDP said that the issue isn't going away.

"Sometimes, you know, Ottawa can become a bubble and people don't recognize what's going on but this is a story that people are coming to me and talking to me about, not the other way around where I'm having to say do you know what was happening in here or on X?," said New Democrat MP Glen Thibeault.

"People are talking to me about this. So this is going to be a story that's not going to go away."