Was the 2008 campaign in Saanich-Gulf Islands the pilot project for robocall voter fraud?

I think so. Defeated Liberal candidate Briony Penn thinks so. Do you remember that election?

The Conservative candidate was incumbent Gary Lunn. Penn was the Liberal candidate, Andrew Lewis was running for the Greens and the NDP candidate, Julian West, had had to withdraw from the race. By the time West withdrew it was past the deadline for the NDP to find a new candidate. West’s name stayed on the ballot.

As voting day approached it looked like it was neck and neck between Penn and Lunn. In fact most polls placed Penn slightly ahead. With a non-candidate for the NDP, a few days before the election only one percent of voters said they were planning to vote NDP.

Then the night before the election, something unprecedented occurred. Fake calls flooded the homes of voters who usually supported the NDP. The calls purported to be from the NDP. In fact, the “spoofed” number that appeared on the call display was the home fax number of a member of the local NDP executive. The call sounded like a commercial for the NDP. Get out and vote! (You can listen to a recording of the actual call on my MP website elizabethmaymp.ca.)

The NDP went from the expected 1% in earlier polls to nearly 6%, 3,667 votes. Gary Lunn was re-elected by 2,625 votes, and Penn defeated.

There were immediate calls for an investigation. The local NDP denied any knowledge of the calls. In fact, the local volunteer whose number had been used as a false trail for caller I.D. felt he was the victim of identity fraud. The NDP, the Liberals and a non-partisan group, Conservation Voters of B.C., all brought forward detailed complaints to Elections Canada and the RCMP. In reporting on the issue, the Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin interviewed Will Horter of Conservation Voters of B.C.:

“Mr. Horter, having organized some robocalling himself on environmental issues, is well familiar with them. They’re expensive and they require a target list, a voter I.D. list, a call centre and a lot of expertise. The Conservatives, he said, had the most sophisticated voter identification operation in the country.

“Mr. Giraud, the Lunn campaign manager, was categorical: “Nobody has ever asked me to do dirty tricks.” But it’s conceivable they were done without his knowledge. The party had a separate team, he said, that worked on swing ridings. It’s also possible the Conservatives weren’t the source at all.” (Lawrence Martin, “The curious case of Saanich-Gulf Islands,” Globe and Mail, March 1, 2012)

The RCMP told complainants it could not track down the source of the robocalls because they came from the states. In my view, the authorities dropped the ball. If they had pursued and uncovered whoever was behind the calls, the widespread fraud in 2011 might never have happened.

For the record, I do not believe for one second that Gary Lunn was implicated in any way. I do believe that whoever was behind the 2008 calls in Saanich-Gulf Islands was operating to advance Conservative Party goals, and was likely a participant or mastermind in the 2011 voter fraud.

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