February 27, 2012 / 10:34 PM / in 6 years

Conservatives pressed over "dirty tricks"

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservative government came under increasing pressure on Monday to explain what the opposition said were dirty tricks the Conservatives used during last year’s election to cut into the number of votes going to other parties.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 14, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Opposition parties allege the Conservatives made phone calls that directed opposition supporters away from the correct polling stations. They also charge they made rude calls impersonating the Liberals to turn voters against them.

“When is the prime minister going to take some degree of personal responsibility for what has taken place?” demanded interim Liberal leader Bob Rae in the House of Commons.

On Saturday, Rae told a news conference that he had no doubt the so-called dirty tricks had affected the election, in which the Conservatives won their first majority in the House since the 1988 election.

“We deny such activities, and I challenge the Liberal Party to provide information to Elections Canada if such information exists,” Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House.

The Conservatives won 166 of 308 seats - an 11-seat majority - in the election, but on Monday the small Green Party questioned the government’s legitimacy.

“The big question: is this a strong, stable illegal majority?” Green leader Elizabeth May asked on her Twitter account, as she called for a public inquiry.

The opposition parties say they had heard reports of voter interference in some three dozen of Canada’s 308 electoral districts. The Conservatives captured six of them from the opposition by margins of 300 to more than 4,000 votes. The allegations remain unproven.

The Conservatives said Elections Canada, the agency that oversees elections, had had to change 127 polling sites in the last 25 days of the campaign, and that they regularly arranged for phone banks to place calls to inform their supporters of the changes.

However, the Ottawa Citizen reported on Thursday that in at least one district, in Guelph, Ontario, calls in which a recorded voice identified herself as being from Elections Canada misdirected voters to a downtown polling station where parking was scarce.

The paper said Elections Canada had traced these calls back to an Edmonton-based voice-broadcast company that channels a lot of calls for Conservatives. That company says it does not monitor outgoing calls made by customers, and it is cooperating with Elections Canada and the police. The Liberals held onto the Guelph seat.

Rae asked the House on Monday for an emergency debate on the issue, but Speaker Andrew Scheer, a Conservative, rejected the request because Elections Canada is already investigating the complaints.

Elections Canada has said it was looking into several complaints surrounding crank calls to discourage voting for a particular party or to incorrectly advise electors of changed polling locations, but that it has no comment on individual cases.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway

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