ALBERTA

Danielle Smith Calls Robocalls Fine A 'Black Eye' But Says Didn't Impact Vote

05/29/2013 07:39 EDT | Updated 07/29/2013 05:12 EDT
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EDMONTON - Alberta parties, a southwest Alberta MP and the Edmonton company at the heart of a number of provincial and national robocalls investigations have been fined by the CRTC.

Alberta Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith acknowledges a fine levelled for illegal robocalls during the last Alberta election is a "black eye" for her party.

But she scoffed at suggestions from the governing Tories that the calls had any impact on the final outcome of the vote.

"We regret the errors and we have owned up to them, but in no way could anybody reasonably argue that these types of administrative oversights manipulated the election results," Smith said Wednesday.

"To suggest as much ... is frankly ridiculous and also a little bit desperate."

The Wildrose party was fined $90,000 by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission for making the automated calls in 2011 and 2012.

The party broke the rules by not identifying who was behind the push-button, voter-intention poll calls and not providing a call-back number.

The governing Progressive Conservatives have asked the chief electoral officer to investigate whether the automated calls changed the results in closely contested ridings won by the Wildrose.

"The most important question that must be asked and investigated is: 'To what extent did the illegal behaviour affect Albertans' right to vote or changed the election results in any Wildrose-Alliance-Party-held constituency?'" Tory cabinet minister Doug Griffiths asked in a letter released Tuesday.

"The right and ability of Albertans to vote in a manner that is unimpeded and free from illegal activities is critical to ensuring our democratic institutions and processes are respected and trusted."

But Smith called the violations highly technical.

"Obviously this is a pretty big black eye for our party so they are taking full advantage of it and fully expect that from a political opponent," she said.

She pointed out that the CRTC made similar findings against other political parties.

The commission announced Wednesday that it has dished out a combined $369,000 in penalties as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the use of robocalls.

The federal Conservatives and NDP, Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, Liberal MP Marc Garneau, Conservative MP Blake Richards and Edmonton-based RackNine Inc. were all fined for various offences in addition to the Wildrose.

The regulator also hinted that more fines are coming.

"The fact that everyone is doing it is no excuse to justify the fact that we were incorrect," she said.

"But the fact that so many were doing it really did demonstrate that the regulator did need to step in and take a pretty broad investigation."

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