POLITICS
02/27/2012 10:51 EST

Robocalls Scandal: Question Period Becomes Feeding Frenzy As Opposition Rage Grows Over Voter Fraud Allegations

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to distance himself from accusations Monday that his Conservative Party was responsible for widespread electoral fraud during the 2011 federal campaign.

NDP MP Pat Martin called allegations that the Conservatives are implicated in voter suppression tactics in as many as 34 ridings possibly “the most comprehensive election fraud in Canadian history.”

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The Liberal and Green parties asked for an emergency debate on the so-called robocalls scandal, but the Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer, a Conservative MP, ruled no debate was necessary since Elections Canada was looking into the matter.

The House did, however, unanimously pass a motion calling on all MPs to do everything they can to aid an investigation into alleged vote suppression during last spring's election.

The NDP motion asks all MPs to turn over to the RCMP and Elections Canada all information they have on the "despicable" phone campaign aimed at discouraging opposition supporters from voting. The motion also asks all parties to immediately turn over all documents related to the investigation.

Harper's Conservatives supported the motion, even though it is their party that's been accused of conducting the dirty-tricks phone campaign, in which voters in several dozen ridings were either harassed or given false information on the location of polling stations.

During a feisty Question Period, Harper challenged opposition parties to produce any evidence that his party was behind the “inappropriate calls” placed during the last federal election.

"If the NDP has any information that inappropriate calls were placed ... then I challenge that party to produce that information and give it to Elections Canada," he said.

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NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel said fixing elections meant by-elections should be called and she warned “people could end up in jail.”

“The Prime Minister must be tough on crime. Will he commit all the necessary resources to investigate and prosecute and put an end to vote suppression?,” she asked.

Liberal interim leader Bob Rae suggested opposition parties couldn’t hand over the information because the Conservative Party was sitting on it.

“It is the Conservative Party and the leadership over there which knows how much money was spent, which contracts were signed, what were the instructions given to the callers, what was the information provided. The responsibility for that is right over there. That is where it lies,” Rae said.

Harper responded that the Conservative Party sent Elections Canada “all the information it is required to report.” The Prime Minister also noted that the Conservatives have passed along information to Elections Canada about inappropriate calls that at least one of their local riding offices received.

The Tories are under fire in a growing scandal involving allegations of fraudulent and misleading phone calls that targeted Canadian voters. The "robocall" controversy, named for the use of automated phone systems, appears to be spilling over with renewed allegations that ‘live’ calls were also used during the campaign to dissuade voters from casting their ballot for a certain party, either by telling them to show up at the wrong polling station, annoying them with early mornings and late night calls or phoning them during religious holidays.

The accusations have included reports that callers at a telemarketing firm hired by the Conservatives were given scripts that gave voters the wrong polling station, the surprise firing of Tory staffer Michael Sonawho once worked in a robocall-affected riding and an Elections Canada accusation that the calls may have originated from a Tory-linked internet firm.

After an investigation by Postmedia revealed an Edmonton Internet company with Conservative ties, Racknine, was behind a series of robocalls in Guelph, Ont., Harper said last week he had no knowledge of the call. "If there's anyone who has done anything wrong, we expect that they will face the full consequences of the law," he told reporters during a visit to Iqaluit.

The Huffington Post Canada then reported that Conservative parliamentary staffer Michael Sona was fired. Sona, who was employed in rookie MP Eve Adams' office, also worked for the Conservatives in Guelph, Ont.

Sunday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay seemed to suggest that a rogue operator had been behind the calls and the issue was now dealt with and over. Despite the fact Sona was forced to resign, there is no public evidence linking him to the robocalls.

With files from The Canadian Press

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