03/01/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 04/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Ontario Election Robocalls: Liberals, NDP Allege Dirty Tricks In Provincial Campaign


TORONTO - Some of the alleged dirty tricks used in the 2011 federal election campaign also surfaced during the Ontario election, the province's finance minister said Thursday.

A constituent in Windsor told Dwight Duncan she received a so-called robocall on Oct. 6 — election day in Ontario — saying her polling station had been moved.

The woman, a retired nun who did not want to be idenfitied, told the minister via email that she quickly realized her poll was in her apartment building as usual.

"I received a phone call alerting me that our voting site had been changed, but it turned out it had not been changed," read the email.

"It’s a clear indication that there were robocalls into Windsor," Duncan said in an interview.

"And when the person is named Sister, I won't use her full name, I can't imagine she's not telling the truth."

Elections Canada is investigating reports that voters in Guelph, Ont., received calls directing them to the wrong polling station during the federal campaign.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says allegations the Conservatives were behind the misleading and harassing calls are nothing but a smear campaign by the NDP and Liberals.

In Ontario, Liberal and NDP politicians are reporting other incidents of misleading robocalls.

Ontario Liberals, who were reduced to a minority government, say they were targeted in several ridings with robocalls suggesting they were going to set up a provincial gun registry as the federal registry was wound down.

"In rural Ontario that's a real red flag," said Peterborough Liberal member Jeff Leal.

There were also calls in several Liberal-held ridings suggesting the Ontario government was going to make it easier for a woman to get an abortion.

Leal said his 12-year-old daughter came home from school saying classmates received calls at home claiming "your dad is a baby killer."

"My daughter was pretty upset and told her friend: 'I know that’s not true about my Dad,' " Leal said.

Environment Minister Jim Bradley said there were robocalls claiming to be from rival NDP candidate Irene Lowell telling people not to vote Bradley, who has represented St. Catharines since 1977.

Lowell was so upset about the calls she went to Bradley's office to tell him she was not behind the dirty tricks. Bradley said he never suspected the New Democrats were paying for the calls.

The New Democrats also filed a complaint with Elections Ontario after another one of their candidates was the subject of automated phone calls trying to deter voters from supporting them.

Neethan Shan, the NDP candidate in Scarborough-Rouge River, was targeted by robocalls in his native Tamil language that party officials say threatened voters with jail time.

"Any time when voters are being tricked into either losing their vote, then you have to question what our democracy is coming to," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said his party had not heard any complaints about robocalls targeting Tory candidates, nor did they engage in any of the dirty tricks.

All parties used automated calling machines to get out their vote, and that's all the Conservatives did, said Hudak.

"When I heard about this I checked with my campaign team to verify," he said. "We looked through our scripts, and no, we did not engage in any of those types of activities."

Most politicians were reluctant to say who they think is behind the dirty tricks, but Ontario Liberal Party vice-president Christine McMillan made it clear she thinks it's the Conservatives.

"We are concerned by reports of an alleged voter deception scheme employed during last year’s federal election, and troubling questions about the potential involvement of companies closely connected to the PC Party," McMillan said in an email.

The dirty tricks really turn off voters, said Leal.

"Contrary to what some others believe, it is having a real detriment on people voting in elections," he said. "They’re tired of it."

Documents show the Ontario Progressive Conservatives spent over $2 million in recent years to hire Responsive Marketing Group, one of the companies contracted by the federal Tories during the 2011 election.

PC party spokesman Alan Sakach said RMG was hired by the provincial Tories to help get out the vote.

"We hired them to help us fundraise, identify Conservative supporters in the last election and encourage those supporters to come out and vote on election day," said Sakach.

"We didn't engage in any of this nonsense."

Neither Elections Ontario nor the Ministry of the Attorney General would say if any complaints had been filed regarding the provincial campaign or if there were any ongoing investigations.

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