09/18/2013 09:40 EDT | Updated 11/18/2013 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia NDP gave polling firm wrong names of rival candidates in two ridings

HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia NDP provided a polling firm it hired to survey voter preferences during the election campaign with the incorrect names of two opposition candidates in two ridings, party officials said Wednesday.

NDP campaign manager Jill Marzetti said the party mistakenly gave Forum Research the wrong name of the Liberal candidate when it conducted a telephone poll of residents in the riding of Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River.

Marzetti said the NDP provided the Toronto-based company information based on a dated list of potential candidates.

"Unfortunately in the case of Truro-Bible Hill, we missed updating for that particular candidate," she said in an interview.

Elections Nova Scotia has launched an investigation to determine what happened in that case, and Marzetti said party officials have discussed the matter with the elections watchdog.

"We've said this is an honest error because of not having the right list," she said.

Marzetti said NDP officials were checking into a similar problem in the riding of Timberlea-Prospect. A party spokesman later confirmed that the name of the 2009 Progressive Conservative candidate instead of the current Tory contender was given to Forum Research for a telephone poll it conducted in that riding.

Marzetti said NDP officials would call those voters who took part in the surveys, apologize for the error and provide them with the correct names of the candidates.

During a campaign stop earlier in the day in Halifax, Premier Darrell Dexter was asked whether his party was trying to suppress the vote by using faulty polling information.

"Of course not," he said. "Polling is expensive and it's a very precious resource and nobody would waste it in that fashion."

Liberal candidate Kelly Regan said she wasn't buying the NDP's explanation, adding that the Liberal candidate in the Truro riding, Barry Mellish, was nominated well in advance of the Sept. 7 election call.

"To me there is no reason why that (mistake) would have happened," said Regan.

The Liberals later confirmed Mellish was nominated on Feb. 24.

Regan said the misidentification of candidates is particularly significant in this campaign because people can vote on any day leading up to the Oct. 8 election by going to their local returning office and writing their chosen candidate's name on a blank ballot.

Tara Erskine, the chairwoman of the Progressive Conservative campaign, said the party was considering filing a complaint with Elections Nova Scotia over what happened in Timberlea-Prospect.

"I don't know if it's a mistake or a coincidence, but it's certainly worth investigating," Erskine said.

At his campaign stop in Halifax, Dexter announced that the NDP would help cover the costs of hearing aids for up to 6,000 low-income seniors if it is re-elected. He said the party would set aside $4 million annually for the program beginning in the spring of 2016, and it would provide a maximum of $500 for one hearing aid and $1,000 for two for each person eligible.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie was in Sydney Mines where he reiterated his party's plan to cut the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points, a move he says would save each Nova Scotia taxpayer almost $1,800 over four years.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said his commitment to spend $2.6 million on early childhood support services — a promise previously highlighted in the party's platform — would be used in early intervention programs for children up to six years of age with special needs.