February 23, 2012 / 7:58 PM / 6 years ago

Harper says unaware of alleged vote suppression

IQALUIT, Nunavut (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday he was unaware of allegations his Conservative party had used dirty tricks to suppress votes to help win last year’s federal election.

The allegations come at an awkward time for Stephen Harper, whose government is due to unveil a tough budget shortly, which will cut public spending. The Conservatives came to power as a minority government in early 2006, promising to crack down on sleaze in Ottawa.

Last May the Conservatives narrowly won a majority of seats in the House of Commons - some by very thin margins - which gave the party a secure four-year term and allowed it to start pushing through its wide-ranging right-of-center agenda.

Voters in several constituencies complained about automated phone calls designed to prevent them from casting their ballots.

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper said some of the calls had falsely told people their voting stations had been changed. Others, supposedly from opposition parties to their supporters, were insulting.

The Citizen said a probe by the independent Elections Canada agency into possible wrongdoing in 18 constituencies had traced some of the calls to an Edmonton, Alberta, call center which had been used by Harper and other Conservative candidates.

“I have absolutely no knowledge of any of these calls but obviously if there is anyone who has done anything we will expect they will face the full consequences of the law,” Harper told reporters during a visit to the Arctic territory of Nunavut.

Last year senior Conservatives pleaded guilty to overspending on advertising in the 2006 election campaign that brought the party to power.

Pat Martin, a legislator with the official opposition New Democratic Party, said the calls were an affront to democracy and urged the Conservatives to reveal all they knew.

“Did they really win that last federal election? Or did they achieve their razor thin majority by cheating? ... (This) looks to be the largest electoral fraud in Canadian history,” he told a news conference in Ottawa.

Elections Canada declined to comment. The call center in question told the Ottawa Citizen it had no idea its servers had been used for wrongdoing.

Jenni Byrne, the Conservatives’ national campaign manager in 2011, said the party was not involved with the calls and “would never tolerate such activity”.

Writing by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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