Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chart of the week

Click to enlarge. (Source)

Elections Canada was largely singled out for budgetary savings, among all the Agents of Parliament in the Harper/Flaherty budget. When it is in the midst of a 200 riding-wide investigation across the country to determine what happened with harassing and misleading phone calls that may have misdirected voters, with electoral consequences:
Mayrand was unable to provide specific details on the investigations out of concern for fairness and privacy, but he added a few new pieces of information:

-- 800 complaints being examined by the commissioner of Canada elections come from 10 provinces and one territory;

-- The complaints cover 200 ridings; and,

-- The commissioner opened 250 files, and several complaints can be lumped together in a single file.
Sleeper cut to the Auditor General in 2014-15 as well, just in time for 2015 election season.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday night

This is just over 3 minutes because it's a preview but it's so good! 40,000 listens on Soundcloud in the last day, the kids love it.

Have a good night!

What should a future Liberal budget look like?

Paul Summerville took a shot at answering the question, in this speech that you can read at his site: "A 21st Century Liberal Budget." So if you're feeling a little put off or out of sorts today after yesterday's Flaherty budget, maybe the best remedy is to start thinking about and working on a future alternative economic plan. I recommend reading Paul's thoughts for that reason in particular.

It is meant, as he says, to provoke discussion, it is not a hard and fast plan. Some of it may be controversial. But it is a useful exercise to start moving the Conservative framed Overton window back toward a new Liberal way of thinking for the future.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Flaherty to seniors on #OAS

At the 1:30 mark and onwards, Flaherty gives an answer on his OAS age eligibility increase that is receiving some attention tonight. Two callers to the CPAC call-in show that ended at 10:00 p.m. EST remarked on Flaherty's comment being rude. In tone, the way he emphasized the word "poor" may have drawn attention to what he was saying. Basically, he said that those who would still need OAS at 65 will have to go on provincial assistance, i.e., welfare. He said it so matter of factly and without any sensitivity. The kicker is this:
The long-rumoured change is already raising concerns about generational fairness, as well as the impact it will have on Canada’s poor.

It also applies to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a benefit geared to low-income Canadians that is administered as an add-on to OAS. Ottawa is promising to compensate provinces for the fact that this change will impose two years of additional welfare costs for Canada’s poor, though welfare is generally less generous than the combination of federal OAS and GIS.
That's the choice that Flaherty has made and presented, in the above interview, so condescendingly. As if just making the necessary financial arrangements with the provinces in order to hand off this burden is the central point.

As pointed out repeatedly today, however, there will be a few chances to turf the Conservatives prior to the OAS eligibility change kicking in.

The greatest show on earth

The big budget circus happens today. The big item, not to be lost sight of among all the other baubles that will be in the window, is in the headline here: "Conservative's budget to reset retirement at age 67." It's a legacy choice by Stephen Harper, he will be the Prime Minister who raised the pension eligibility age. It will be couched and massaged and people will be assured that it is down the road and it won't affect anyone even nearing retirement. But it is a massive, cultural economic change and it is likely to remain an ongoing symbolic issue representing the choices this Conservative government makes.

Polls when this change was first rolled out as a possibility showed overwhelming opposition. Yet the government has done relatively little to campaign in favour of their choice.

What seems to be on offer in terms of sharing in the pain are cuts to parliamentary office budgets and no longer allowing business class seats on MP flights under 2 hours. It appears there will be pension changes for MPs as well.

It is likely, however, that there will still be lots of Canadians, approaching retirement age, who are wondering just how much they trust Stephen Harper with, say, the CPP eligibility age as well. Who are wondering, hmmm, where will I be working when I'm 65? Wondering whether they'll even be able to be employed at 65. Or, wondering whether someone will keep them on or hire them in their sixties. Even those who are not near retirement but who are struggling to save for retirement may find themselves starting to think about the role of government and what they want it to do in Canada. Do they want it rolled back on matters like this that constitute a public trust? We will be finding out. And see the polls linked to above.

"[B]ack office stuff," says Flaherty on the cuts. Even a "prosperity" budget, say others. Stay tuned for today's big sales job.

Late night

If you missed it, this was one of the top political videos from the U.S. today, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush protesting on behalf of Trayvon Martin on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by wearing a hoodie and sunglasses. He was eventually removed. It is a surprisingly emotional video as Rush's voice rises.

Gail Collins has a good column tonight on the gun control issues in the U.S. that she views as worthy of a discussion, to add further context. She views the hoodie discussion as a bit of a sideshow. I'm not sure Rush would disagree with her on the need for the U.S. to debate greater gun control but Rush's protest was not just about hoodies, his protest was about racial profiling. There are plenty of worthy discussions arising out of this tragedy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Conservative Senators bring the optics on budget eve

Conservative Senators are complaining today about news that they'll be losing a cafeteria in one of the buildings in which Senators work, the Victoria Building. Former Conservative party president, Don Plett, unfamiliar with the phrase "entitled to their entitlements" apparently, said this:
“What a bad, bad idea. The Victoria cafeteria was for the Senators and staff,” he wrote in an email, apparently unwilling to eat his lunch with MPs and House of Commons staff.
Stated as his Conservative government prepares to wield a budget with $7 billion in cuts, to fall on public servants and raise OAS age eligibility to 67, nothing like some priceless optics to set the tone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Harper's latest F-35 big 180

Harper yesterday:
While the government isn't giving any guarantees Canada will buy the F-35, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the country will remain involved in the stealth fighter project to ensure Canadian companies can continue participating.

"We have received literally hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for the Canadian aerospace industry. This is not a trivial matter," Harper said at the conclusion of a major summit on nuclear security in Seoul on Tuesday.

"We haven't yet signed a contract, as you know. We retain that flexibility. But we are committed to continuing our aerospace sector's participation in the development of the F-35."
Harper early in 2011:
Harper delivered a sharply partisan message that his opponents would cost the area jobs if they cancelled the program. He illustrated his point by surrounding himself with aerospace workers.

“Contracts like this are not a political game,” Harper said, speaking from a blue podium with government Action Plan slogans perched around him.

“It is about lives and, as you well know, it is about jobs.”
With thousands of aerospace jobs in the region, Harper made it clear that those workers will play a central role in the Tory campaign.

“I do find it disappointing, I find it sad, that some in Parliament are backtracking on the F-35 and some are talking openly about cancelling the contract, should they get the chance,” Harper said at the Heroux-Devtek plant in Dorval.

“Cancelling a contract that way would be completely irresponsible. The opposition parties must stop playing partisan games with these crucial contracts.”
Any questions?

Update: Speaking of aerospace jobs, if a certain someone cares as much as he used to protest...

7 Robocon lawsuits filed

The latest from McMaher: The Council of Canadians has launched legal challenges of May federal election results in seven ridings, on behalf of electors living in those ridings. The ridings are: Don Valley East (Lib Ratansi defeated by Con, 890 votes), Winnipeg South Centre (Lib Neville defeated by Con, 722 votes), Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar (Con Block won by 538 votes), Vancouver Island North (Con Duncan won by 1827 votes), Yukon (Lib Bagnell defeated by Con by 132 votes), Nipissing-Timiskaming (Lib Rota defeated by Con by 18 votes), Elmwood-Transcona (Con Toet defeated NDP incumbent Maloway by 300 votes). All won by Conservatives. Their rationale for choosing these ridings:
The ridings involved in Council of Canadians cases were chosen because electors came forward and the margins of victory were comparatively small, meaning there is a reasonable basis to believe the alleged irregularities changed the result, Shrybman said.

"We think we have some good evidence about how effective robocalling is but on our evidence, a 6,000-vote margin would be hard to overcome."
The proceedings are under section 524 of the Elections Act (and see sections following on further procedures):
524. (1) Any elector who was eligible to vote in an electoral district, and any candidate in an electoral district, may, by application to a competent court, contest the election in that electoral district on the grounds that
(b) there were irregularities, fraud or corrupt or illegal practices that affected the result of the election.
So, they have filed these applications within the 30 day limitation period. The application procedure is less cumbersome, time-wise and in terms of procedural burdens, than a trial, so this process could be more expeditious than what we're used to in recent federal legal adventures like in-and-out.

Note that under s. 526, the applicants have to serve the Attorney General of Canada (Nicholson) with the applications and the A.G. is entitled to take part in the proceedings (529). Other parties who can participate in the proceedings are named in 526, the Chief Electoral Officer, candidates in the riding, and the returning officer in the riding.

A possibility that the lawsuits offer is court ordered production of phone records or other documents:
The organization hopes that it can use its lawsuit to discover the volume of deceptive or fraudulent calls in other ridings, by convincing a judge to order phone carriers to turn over records showing how many calls were placed into each riding from numbers associated with suspicious calls.
That possibility might penetrate some walls. RMG, for example, was a listed expense for four of the Conservative candidates in ridings above: Vancouver Island North, Yukon, Elmwood-Transcona, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar.

Robocon is not going away any time soon...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Change under Mulcair

Just wanted to note this nugget in a CBC report on NDP changes now that Mulcair is leader:
B.C. MP Peter Julian will be caucus chair and Anne McGrath will remain chief of staff during the transition before leaving in June.

But Brad Lavigne, who was the party's national director and principal secretary to Layton and Turmel, told the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau he is leaving his positions immediately. Lavigne said he made the decision before Christmas.
Lavigne, who by all accounts has been a significant force in the NDP's rise under Layton, was being cited by Ed Broadbent last week as someone who he hoped would continue to play an instrumental role going forward:
Broadbent named those in Layton's inner circle whom he believes deserve the credit but who may have no future in the party if Mulcair is chosen leader: Topp, who served as Layton's national campaign director, chief of staff Ann McGrath, principal secretary Brad Lavigne and Raymond Guardia, who ran the Quebec campaign for Layton.

Guardia is now Topp's national campaign director. McGrath and Lavigne have remained neutral in the leadership contest, serving as chief of staff and principal secretary respectively to interim leader Nycole Turmel.
He said it "does indeed" worry him that some or all of Layton's team will be sidelined if Mulcair wins, given the apparent contempt the front-runner feels for them.

"These are good, fine, dedicated, competent people ... I'm sure many of them are concerned when you have one of the leadership candidates who's doing very well making these kinds of comments. If I were in one of those positions, I would be concerned."
That sounded like a very contingent situation as set out by Broadbent last week.

A new leader, of course, should have the right to have their own key staffers in place, it would be uncomfortable and possibly unworkable if they could not. Staffers aren't the primary consideration for a party's leadership. But, they're key players. And it looks like the NDP are losing two of their best, Lavigne and McGrath.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday night

Gareth Emery feat Christina Novelli - Concrete Angel (Original Mix) by garethemery

Have a great night!

NDP Convention - Day 1

Don't know how coherent or value added this will be after a day of tweeting, thought I'd try to get a few things down here.

First of all, impressions on the afternoon's "showcases" of the candidates, as the NDP termed them. There were a lot of supplemental activities (floor demos, introductory speakers, videos) surrounding most of the presentations and I think those choices may have been overdone, at least from the perspective of someone sitting here in the hall. It's hard for me to say since I'm a critical observer, maybe the enthusiasm shown on the floor resonates with some delegates, don't know.

My impression, though, was that less was more. In that regard, Cullen who spoke first seemed to set the tone on that score. Now whether what he said was memorable enough, that's another question. And I don't recall much French speaking from him either. He did manage to use all his time wisely though and without interference.

Can't say the same about Mulcair or Nash. Their floor shows really interfered with their speeches. Not really as huge a problem for Mulcair, who is by all accounts ahead. Even though his time to speak was seriously eaten into, he managed to speak powerfully, par for the course for him. He rushed though. Neither of these problems would make much of a difference for him, I think.

Nash's time was similarly eaten up and she needed to fast forward through her teleprompted speech as a result. The speech was indeed fast forwarded, possibly intentionally, but it just didn't seem to stop at any place she could pick it up. It appeared, from in the hall, that there was a bit of a stumble there and she had to ad-lib. Not so sure how that appeared for those who were voting at home but it didn't look comfortable from here. [I have a few tweets on what happened in my tweet stream (@impolitical)]

Dewar was strong in his speech, again surrounding his presentation by a bit of a wacky floor show, at least, I think that's a fair word to use in the wake of having Charlie Angus singing on stage as a central part of your presentation. Very novel but I actually think that may have worked, reinforcing the heartfelt nature of his candidacy.

Topp had an interesting afternoon. I wonder if he threw a wrench into people's thinking at all. He was very good in French, one of the better on that fronts, of the afternoon. He has some teleprompter ability issues, not surprising given his background. Not an over cluttered speech. Went by his room earlier, there seems to be a bustling around him.

Singh and Ashton did fine, won't spend too much time here since they're not top tier by all accounts. Primo video by Singh that candidates everywhere might want to note. Ashton made a strong speech, have to give credit to a young woman for an unwavering kind of speech at a crucial moment like that.

Whether any of the speeches or presentations will change minds at this point, maybe to those paying close attention. The substantive themes all blended together, it's very hard to differentiate among them policy wise, save for some of the better known initiatives like Cullen's cooperation pitch.

It is seeming to be a well-run event thus far and well-attended. Think the action is more so on Twitter, tune in to the #ndpldr hashtag there.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sure looks like a shadow MP from here

My, it was just a few short weeks ago that Heritage Minister James Moore was making a windy case in defence of his department's hiring of Saulie Zajdel, the Conservative candidate who lost in the riding of Mount Royal in the May election. Here was Moore:
But Moore bristled at the suggestion that his employee was behaving like a second member of Parliament.

"No, not at all," Moore told reporters, when asked about Zajdel's role during a visit to Montreal. "It's not political at all. There's no political involvement, it's entirely a ministerial staff function."
Sure, Zajdel is just a great guy to have at the community level, doing purely ministerial staff things. As it turns out, there is more to the story. Canadian Press follows up on Mr. Zajdel's activities with this report today that doesn't square with Moore's assurances: "The 'shadow MP', his salary, and his pub stop with PM Harper." Let's see, what is the purely ministerial staffer up to?
He spoke publicly in Cotler's riding about Canada's relationship with Israel; he attended some events with Prime Minister Stephen Harper including a happy-hour pub stop; and he revealed he earns less than the "six digits" he hopes for.
Zajdel, meanwhile, has remained active in the riding since starting his government job in the fall.

He spoke about his department's programs a few weeks ago during a lecture at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors in Mount Royal, which has a large Jewish population.

Zajdel's one-hour talk, attended by around 25 people, was advertised in local newspapers and on the Cummings website as "How the Federal Government Relates to Israel."

He began his talk by discussing his department's heritage-related services, unrelated to Israel, according to two people in the room.

Then he told the seniors' audience he was going off the record, so they could have a private chat about Canada's relationship with Israel.
Yep, he went "off the record," but apparently full on into the publicly advertised topic of the event, "How the Federal Government Relates to Israel." Sounds quite political and not so ministerial staffer oriented.

Mr. Zajdel, if he wants to be a political candidate for the next 3 years, should not be drawing a salary from the taxpayers of Canada and the Conservatives should put a stop to it.

P.S. This is part of a pattern in Mount Royal, Conservative candidate Neil Drabkin ran against Cotler in 2006 and came second with 17.9% of the vote. He was subsequently hired to work in Stockwell Day's office before returning to challenge Marc Garneau in Westmount.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The day after Toronto-Danforth


OK, so it wasn't Seabiscuit after all. That's part of a campaign and trying to swing momentum your way toward the end. This was, as everyone recognized, a very tough riding for Liberals to come back in given the circumstances of the by-election and the result ultimately bore that out.

Liberals did improve the vote share so there's something to build on there, for sure. The increase in the vote share by about 10% is worth some consideration, particularly given the circumstances and where no other candidates grew in their percentages. Also notable, the difference in the raw vote counts, which narrowed.

Also to be built on, the Gordon campaign's values-based emphasis. There was a real effort here to do something different, to try to connect with voters in a different way that would have more resonance. To speak a little more to the heart than the head. It would have been interesting, for that reason, to see this race played out in a more typical electoral context where, say, both leading candidates had been nominated around the same time and of course without the surrounding emotional backdrop. It looks like the seeds of some success were sown, but in the circumstances, just could not fully bloom.

Congrats to all who ran and worked in the campaign for their candidate of choice.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


"We're right on their heels."

Somebody's having fun! As elections should be.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

F-35 insanity: The movie reel

Is this a "tactical retreat" as the Globe very generously frames the Fantino backtrack on F-35s this week? Is Harper admitting he was wrong? It's hard to believe anything this government says on this file. Their approach has been heavy-handed throughout. From the first day of the ludicrously showy roll-out, the choice of the F-35 has been presented as an inevitability. They did extensive public relations efforts across the country. They presented the F-35 as imperative for the aerospace industry and attempted to use it as a political hammer in the Montreal area (so much so that the Bloc rolled over at one point). They bludgeoned critics, from Alan Williams to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, all of whom have been proven correct at every turn. Politics and p.r. have been the Conservatives' priorities.

After a very tough month, with unprecedented backlash over their plans for internet surveillance, when they are mired in the robocon investigations, as a budget approaches, they now shift and suggest they're getting religion on the F-35. We'll see. Their silly, hypocritical conduct throughout the course of this very serious purchase has left them with very little credibility. See delightful video above.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Liberal spark in Toronto-Danforth

A Liberal spark? What on earth is she talking about? Well, cynics, this post is not for you. Beware, earnestness ahead.

I have posted two communications pieces here that Toronto-Danforth Liberal candidate Grant Gordon has produced for his campaign. There's a video where he gives an impassioned pitch about why he's running and what he wants to accomplish. There's also an embed of the most recent literature that the campaign is distributing.

In both pieces, I would submit, Gordon is speaking great language for Liberals. Gordon is speaking the language of empathy, community and responsibility. Watch the first bit in the video, where he says: "We need to help people, right here, right now...We have to be a community. We have to help each other. We have to show Stephen Harper what true Canadian values look like. People helping people." Canadian values! Yes, progressive Liberals speaking about what Canadian values are! More please!

Then he goes on, in the video and in the literature below, to articulate what those values mean. How he's going to take actions that put those values to work in the riding: Addressing the problem of kids going to school hungry; a mentoring program for youth unemployment; a 'Buy Local' campaign (among other targeted solutions) to aid small businesses who are struggling in the riding.

This focus carries through in the lit piece as well. The "People. Planet. Profits." slogan captures well what Liberals are about. Blessedly, there's no talk of centrism here, no resort to typical tired platitudes. This is Campaign Lit 2.0 that is fresh. What the heck are the empty half pages about, I asked myself. I think it's that he's not trying to jam essays that won't be read into your mail slot. It's like a visual puzzle people are invited to figure out. He can get the message done in half the page. With clarity. It's fun. "What planet is Mr. Harper planning to live on?" "Does Mr. Harper give a buck about your family?" "Created the FLICK OFF global warming campaign...will tell Mr. Harper to FLICK OFF on a daily basis."

What is going on here? Is it possible that someone in Canadian politics is trying to make people interested in voting again? Challenging them. Giving them something to raise their eyebrows about. Yes, by all means, more fun in our politics please! And that's not to say it's fluff. The serious messages on the environment, child care and pensions come through. But it sure helps when it's not a chore to take a look when people constantly tell you how busy they are and how they don't have time for politics. It's not the same old, same old.

This is also not to say that this candidacy is just about communications strategy. All of that is a reflection of the candidate, sure. But if you watch and listen to Gordon, he's done a very good job in this campaign in showing that he could be a solid MP. He seems comfortable, has an ability to connect with people, there's some natural politico skill there. He's a real community guy. It's not an accident that all the campaign videos are shot on the street, he's comfortable there. I don't think the Liberals could have hoped for better in terms of a candidate running in Toronto-Danforth post-Jack Layton.

Wanna do politics differently? Challenge the national conservative narrative boldly and in a positive, interesting way? These are the types of people we should be electing from the progressive side of the spectrum.

A fresh new voice - Grant Gordon - Campaign Literature

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Elections Canada's new Robocon hires

"Elections Canada hires 14 new 'frontline' staff to examine more than 31,000 complaints on voter suppression issue."

Ramping up staff, part of that flexing of whatever is needed:
"The Commissioner of Canada Elections has the authority, during periods of high volume, to contract additional resources or call upon other law enforcement agencies, such as the RCMP, to lend assistance and expertise," Enright said.
Who knew the Conservatives would be creating jobs in the election fraud examination field...

Charitable activities?

Why hasn't the Manning Centre's charitable status gotten more attention? CRA's own guidelines on political activities raise some interesting questions. For e.g.,
Under the Income Tax Act and in common law, an organization established for a political purpose cannot be a registered charity. The courts have determined political purposes to be those that seek to:

further the interests of a particular political party or support a political party or candidate for public office;
If you review the Manning site, their School of Practical Politics is devoted to training conservative political activists:
With voter turnout at an all time low, the political process needs to be demystified and reinvigorated. By drawing on years of political experience, and some of the brightest minds in the conservative movement, the Manning School of Practical Politics aims to: Train future political leaders at the grassroots level, Teach key campaign skills to improve the quality and effectiveness of grassroots activists and Help more conservatives get elected

The Manning Centre believes that the conservative movement’s most important resource is its people, and that as a movement we must invest more in our grassroots activists and our future leaders.
See also this page.

Their conference on the weekend included such agenda items as "How can we win political campaigns promoting a reduced role for government?"

Recall during the Ontario provincial election when that one video of David Suzuki walking with Dalton McGuinty caused such a huge ruckus from right wing commentators over the Suzuki Foundation's charitable status. Seems like the Manning Centre, with the goal of helping more conservatives get elected, among other things, might warrant some scrutiny of its own.

Update (6:00 p.m.): Dave recently raised the issue of the Manning Centre's charitable status as well, in the context of a Manning op-ed a few weeks back.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Building democracy

Update (3:35 p.m.).

Here was Preston Manning speaking to the media yesterday on voter suppression:
Speaking to reporters, Manning said all parties should be worried about robocall vote-suppression during the 2011 election that directed some voters to the wrong polling stations and which has Elections Canada investigating complaints of voter fraud.

“I think it’s deplorable, those types of tactics. I’ve spent my life trying to get people to participate more in the political process, for them to vote more, and the fact that people are trying to work in the opposite direction is deplorable,” Manning said.
What happened at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy last night:

One of the principal reporters who has brought the vote suppression tactics that Mr. Manning deplores to the attention of the Canadian public was booted from Mr. Manning's conference. Hypocrisy? Check. That's one heck of a democracy centre he's got going there.

Let's take a look then at the most recent McMaher reporting from Thursday night then, to see what might be getting under the skin of the Manning Centre types. How about these two paragraphs?
In the federal election, RMG worked for 98 Conservative campaigns and worked for the party's national campaign, too, although the party will not say how much it paid to any of its vendors. Knowledgeable insiders estimate RMG does $10 million to $15 million worth of work for the party in a year.

Local campaign managers and candidates normally had no control over the work of RMG, even though they were receiving services from it for which they were billed, sources say.
That $10 to $15 million amount that is reported there, based on knowledgeable insiders, is pretty astounding. Given that the paragraph indicates that "the party will not say how much it paid to any of its vendors," these numbers could raise eyebrows, even within the Conservative party. Is it an expenditure made by the Conservative Fund and reported to the National Council of the Conservative Party? Presumably it would be made by the Fund if RMG is their main fundraising source. [Conservative Party Constitution 9.2 "Conservative Fund Canada shall submit quarterly financial reports and an annual audited financial statement to National Council."]

$10 to $15 million is a very large expenditure for a political party in Canada to be making to one company alone. If it is a spending decision made by the Conservative Fund, consider that the Conservative Fund is said to be run by Harper and his hand-picked board: "The party's fundraising arm, the Conservative Fund, meanwhile, has only a handful of members, all appointed by Harper. "The reality is that the leader controls the party through the Fund." (This also raises all kinds of governance questions about the Conservative party that could be delved into.)

Further, consider the $10 to $15 million numbers in light of the filings made by the Conservative party in 2011 indicating that they raised about $23 million last year.

Note also, from this report, an estimate of how much RMG made during the 2011 election:
The call centre earned more than $1.4 million, billing close to 100 local Conservative campaigns for services leading up to the May 2011 election, according to returns filed with Elections Canada.
If RMG is making $10 to $15 million a year in work with the Conservative party, the election dollars represented just a small fraction of their income from the Conservatives. The more lucrative work is whatever they do the rest of the year and beyond the election. Since RMG is a private company, there is no way to gauge what percentage of their revenues is represented by the work they do for the Conservative party.

On that second part of the excerpt above: "Local campaign managers and candidates normally had no control over the work of RMG, even though they were receiving services from it for which they were billed, sources say." That might give more impetus to the new in-and-out questions that have been raised to date. There may be an issue, again, over whether the expenditures should have been attributed to the national party rather than the local candidate accounts.

Update (3:35 p.m.): Maher tweets:

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday night

Have a good night!

Early evening robocon

Polling on election fraud's going to happen, might as well take a looksy: "Canadians split on who's to blame for robocalls: poll." From Ipsos, it is said to be a "blended telephone and online poll this week of 3,154 Canadians..."(1001 telephone/2153 online). While the headline is playing up a "split," this isn't good news for the Conservatives given the high threshold in the statement that respondents are asked to express agreement or disagreement with:
In the survey, people were told there had been accusations that some people working for the Conservative party in the last election "made calls to supporters of other parties and either pretended to represent their party of choice and deliberately harassed them or to deliberately confuse them about which polling stations to vote at on election day." The pollster also told respondents that Harper and senior Tories had said they had "nothing to do with these calls."

The survey found that 50 per cent of Canadians agree with the statement that "these accusations are true and the Conservative Party had a co-ordinated campaign to deceive Canadian voters with misleading telephone calls in the last federal election."

By comparison, 47 per cent disagreed with the statement, while the remainder said they did not know.
50% are willing to express agreement with a very certain statement pinning responsibility on the Conservatives for a co-ordinated fraudulent campaign. Beyond the facts that are piling up and pointing to one party, that probably speaks beyond the current events to the Conservatives' track record on democratic issues and an unwillingness in a majority not to give them the benefit of the doubt. A political party that cares about its integrity and public perception shouldn't be happy with that 50% result or the notion that there's a "split" in the poll.

That 47% would not agree is not necessarily a flat no, exoneration result. I would imagine saying yes to a co-ordinated campaign to deceive people out of their vote could be a hurdle for many people still piecing it together.

There is another response in the poll that bolsters the view that many may just be in holding mode: "Sixty-eight per cent of those polled said if the Conservatives are found to have conducted the misleading robocalls, there should be new elections "in the ridings where it happened." By comparison, 32 per cent disagreed with that course of action."

In any event, as we know, facts are what are important in this unfolding mess and opinions won't factor into those ongoing investigations. Today's latest on what those facts are turning up is more bad news for Conservatives:
Automated phone calls that directed people to the wrong polling stations in the last federal election may have overwhelmingly targeted older voters, the Toronto Star has learned.

Elections Canada investigators sifting through a flood of complaints that have emerged about dirty tricks in the spring 2011 campaign have started to notice this pattern as they call individuals to verify details of the suspicious phone calls they reported receiving.

Most of those who received an automated phone call telling them their polling station had been changed say they were contacted early in the campaign by the Conservative Party and indicated that they would not be supporting their local Tory candidate.
Dave is piecing it all together on why that news about targeting older voters is important, go read.

Late night

A little late night horror story for you. John Doyle had a great column on the movie, which will be on HBO this weekend.
Much of Game Change (airing Saturday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.), a must-see, devastating portrait of Palin and the McCain campaign, is about the allure of celebrity and the injection of showbiz stratagems into U.S. politics.

But is it all true? Or is it fiction? “Yes it’s all true,” Danny Strong, the movie’s writer and co-executive producer, said on the phone last week. “Everything in it is verified. The book on which it’s based [the bestselling book of the same name, about several American presidential campaigns, by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann] is based on eyewitness accounts. The book has not been debunked, as the Palin camp has claimed.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Conservative phone call harassment on tape

Listen to the tapes here. A former employee of RMG said things like this: «Oh, vous n'êtes pas un conservateur? Nous ne voulons pas parler à un socialiste ou à un séparatiste.»

The former employee of RMG has been let go, here are the apologies:
Le collecteur de fonds Don Duke s'est comporté de manière «inacceptable», reconnaît le Parti conservateur. Et la société Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) s'excuse «sans réserve» aux membres de la formation qui se sont frottés à ses méthodes musclées.
Note one of the calls mentions Ignatieff, so this could have been during the election, it's not clear.

It gets worse...

Late night

The historical backstory behind the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster. What a great little film. (h/t)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Harper reverses on new audit powers for Elections Canada

"Tories agree to new audit powers for Elections Canada."
The Conservative government has reversed course and now says it will support an NDP motion to give Elections Canada increased audit powers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has battled the federal elections watchdog for much of his political career, told the House of Commons on Wednesday his government will support new legislation within six months -- as proposed by the official Opposition.

New Democrats and Liberals have been making hay of the fact a Conservative-dominated committee last month formally turned down a recommendation by the chief electoral officer for new investigative powers.

Marc Mayrand wants to be able to compel political parties to back up their financial statements with receipts and details -- a power currently held by all his provincial counterparts.

The Conservative committee rejection was used by the opposition parties as damning evidence against the government in the context of Elections Canada's growing investigation into fraudulent election phone calls.
What a difference 24 hours can make.

Well done to Bob Rae on this, his 3 consecutive questions to Harper yesterday on this issue, to which Harper obfuscated, produced late Tuesday scrambling by the Harper crew and now today, the backtrack. The NDP motion tomorrow put the pressure on too, of course.

The robocon scandal be powerful. The Harper gang is worried about how they're coming off...

Today in party leader or Prime Minister?

This is nicely done, leader or Prime Minister, Manon Cornellier asks:
Il y a moins de deux semaines, le 23 février bien précisément, Postmedia News révélait qu'Élections Canada menait une enquête sur des appels frauduleux faits dans la circonscription de Guelph et que sa première piste l'avait mené jusqu'à une entreprise spécialisée dans les appels automatisés proche des conservateurs. Les allégations dans cette affaire sont graves. Le message enregistré, faussement attribué à Élections Canada, n'avait qu'un but, détourner les électeurs de leur véritable bureau de scrutin.

Le jour même, à Iqaluit, le premier ministre Stephen Harper est interpellé par les journalistes présents. Sa réponse, donnée sur un ton neutre, se limite à nier toute participation de son parti à ce stratagème et à dire qu'il s'attend à ce quiconque a enfreint la loi en subisse toutes les conséquences. Il n'émet aucune condamnation sentie de cette atteinte directe à l'intégrité du processus électoral. Il ne s'engage pas à déployer toutes les ressources nécessaires pour faire la lumière dans cette affaire.

Ce n'est qu'hier, 13 jours plus tard, qu'il a finalement dit aux Communes qu'il jugeait «totalement inacceptables» les gestes posés dans Guelph. Sinon, lui et ses secrétaires parlementaires n'ont eu, depuis deux semaines, qu'une seule préoccupation, défendre leur parti.
Ce qui nuit aussi a leur crédibilité est leur refus de partager l'indignation générale devant ce qui pourrait être un cas unique de fraude électorale.

M. Harper est chef de son parti, mais aussi le premier ministre de tous les Canadiens. Et un premier ministre a le devoir de défendre l'intégrité du processus électoral et du système démocratique sur lesquels repose la légitimité de son gouvernement.
Exactly! That is indeed the story of the deficient Harper performance of the last few weeks in the House of Commons. As noted here, Harper is likely using words such as "unacceptable" now to describe the Guelph situation as he is watching public opinion develop, this week's damning Angus Reid poll for example, cited at the link as well.

Here's one other thing a Prime Minister should be doing...saying yes to the Chief Electoral Officer when he asks for a basic power of investigation while the integrity of the electoral system is under fire. Should be a no-brainer for a Prime Minister who puts the national interest - and not his party's - first. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Final word: Tories lose in-and-out all around

The Conservative party and the Conservative fund were fined and pleaded guilty to exceeding the national party spending limits in late 2011. Today, there is news that the Conservatives are withdrawing their civil appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada: "Tories ditch 'in-and-out' case at Supreme Court." This means that they lost criminally and they lost civilly. They broke the law and have paid for it. Their 2006 election win will be forever tainted by the criminal and civil results. Wear it well, Conservatives.

This Conservative spin today is just so wrong:
"This has been a long-standing administrative dispute with Elections Canada over whether certain campaign expenses should be counted as local or national," Fred DeLorey, Conservative party spokesman, said in a statement to CBC News.

"We are agreeing to disagree and will be dropping our appeal to the Supreme Court. We are amending our return under protest to reflect this."
You lost, pal. You don't get to have an opinion on what the law is and say you are agreeing to disagree. In dropping their appeal, they are admitting that the Federal Court of Appeal ruling stands. It is galling that the governing party makes a statement like that. And the elections laws in this country are not trivial administrative matters. They are foundational democratic principles that the Conservative party continues to writhe against.

Their constant public relations effort just affirms that they are a party like none we have seen before. They thumb their nose at the law like it is just another political issue to be finessed. So brazenly hypocritical to their supposed law and order platitudes. Ultimately, attitudes like that are what lead to scandals like the election fraud mess in front of us.

This civil case took a lot of chutzpah for the Conservatives to bring, never forget that:
Elections Canada looked into the expenses and said the Conservatives violated campaign financing rules by moving $1.3 million in and out of 67 ridings to pay for national ads. The manoeuvres allowed the party to exceed the campaign spending limits and allowed candidates to claim rebates on expenses that weren't incurred, the agency said.

Candidates can be reimbursed by Elections Canada for 60 per cent of their expenses and the national parties can make claims for 50 per cent of their expenses. Elections Canada refused to issue the more than $800,000 in total rebates to the Conservative Party and the party then sued to get the money.
Got that? They sued to get taxpayer reimbursements for local candidates as a result of purely national money having gone in-and-out of local accounts, sometimes for just a matter of hours. So that their local candidates would gain those moneys for future political endeavours. Anything to win, anything to get a leg up, irrespective of the taxpayer dollars at issue.

In terms of some of the substance here, it does mean that the principle that spending limits for the national campaign are separate and apart from the local campaign and must mean something, to put it very generally, is maintained.

That could mean Conservative expenses will be looked at again by Elections Canada, arising out of the 2011 federal election. There are some questions that have arisen over generic spending allocations in local campaigns that may not be connected with local expenses, but rather, national.

In the bigger picture, what is clear, and what we have been experiencing for the past few years, is the challenge that a greatly resourced political party presents to the Canadian political landscape on so many levels. It can drag out legal proceedings well beyond an issue's ripeness and lessen the opportunity for political accountability. The Conservatives were able to do so with their 2006 transgressions. Next time? Given current events, their luck may just be running out.

The plausible deniability angle

That is what John Ivison is tackling in his latest column where he opines that the Conservatives' voter identification database system, CIMS, is a key to unravelling the robocall scandal. In the wake of Guy Giorno's very strong push back against the notion that the Conservative party's national campaign had anything to do with any of the misdirection, impersonation, harassing calls, etc., it's not surprising to see a watertight compartments theory of the Conservative campaign being considered.

It would go along the lines of this excerpt in the column, with a few comments on it below:
The strong suspicion among people familiar with the Conservative campaign is that the voter suppression effort may be the work of a rogue telemarketing company, employed by one or a number of riding associations to identify Conservatives and then get out the vote.

The most frequently mentioned company in connection with this regard is Toronto-based Responsive Marketing Group, which worked on the national campaign, particularly the 75 ridings on the Tories’ “target” list.

Yet, the consensus among those on the inside is that RMG will be cleared of any wrongdoing. For one thing, the company does not make robocalls. For another, it is understood to keep recordings of every call it makes, which should make the Election Commissioner’s life easier as he probes allegations that RMG’s call centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., misdirected voters to the wrong polling station.

But there are other companies that had the motive — they would profit from a reduced opposition turnout — and opportunity — they would have access to CIMS across the ridings on which they worked.
It's interesting that there is a "consensus among those on the inside" that RMG will be cleared of wrongdoing and that this is making its way out into the media. There are said to be about a half-dozen or so companies who were retained by the Conservatives in the election. Why is RMG alone getting the benefit of this Conservative spin?

That would be likely because of the longstanding relationship RMG has with the Conservative party in relation to the management of CIMS. See Flanagan quoted in recent reporting on RMG's instrumentality to the Conservatives' ongoing database effort since around 2003. The relationship between the Conservative party and RMG appears to be very important, arguably vital to the lifeblood of the party, money. That's why it's a little funny that Ivison just refers to them as a company "which worked on the national campaign."

Indeed, there is a lot of money being raised in the Conservative constellation in Canada. As Ivison notes above, there are "other" companies who "would profit from a reduced opposition turnout." Not sure what the exact gist there is. Contractually they would benefit? Or just in the sense that the more Conservatives were elected, i.e., to a majority, the more business there would be. Presumably this point would apply to RMG as well, in the sense of the opposition parties being suppressed and the conservative side's long term financial benefit, hypothetically speaking.

On the substance of the point that RMG is likely to be cleared, there is that investigation that's going on with respect to the live operators and what they may have said to voters. The operators sounded sincere in their stories of repeated instances of misdirection. So we'll see. The fact that they don't make robocalls suggests that maybe where they did identification work for candidates, possibly another company came in to do a post-identification robocall. In Guelph, for example, the Conservative campaign retained RMG but also has been linked to RackNine

That doesn't seem to be the pattern in Nipissing-Temiskaming, which was named in a Star report last night as being a new site of an Elections Canada investigation. There, only one company, Alberta Blue Strategies, was retained by the Conservative candidate.

Will leave off here with Ivison's conclusion:
But the Conservatives have form in this area. They remain the Nasty Party for too many Canadians. Even if it’s eventually proven the national campaign did not instigate a widespread robocalls effort, the Tories will be found guilty by association, if a company they employed has been subverting democracy.

Rae on robocalls, the budget

From Monday's scrum...on wanting to make amendments to the Elections Act to require greater accountability, the need to retain documentation such as scripts, etc., in light of the ongoing scandal. The kinds of things we should be hearing from the government.

Plus a bit on the Cotler calls and Flaherty at the end.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Late night

If you're a Conservative, there's not much to be laughing about tonight.


Conservative MP blames Elections Canada

Today, straight out of the mouth of a Conservative MP: "Tory MP says Elections Canada to blame for robocalls."
"I suspect that at the end of the day, if Elections Canada has the resources to do a proper investigation, they'll find they're themselves significantly responsible," Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott said in a statement.

"That tech issues with marrying (Elections Canada) lists to available, electronic phone lists is part of the problem, and in a few instances there may have been malfeasance by one party or the other."
"Hired live phoners or automated calling systems are only as good as the data provided to them. You know the saying, 'garbage in, garbage out."'
Or, you know, could be that the problem is moreso the "garbage out." As in, live callers and recorded messages impersonating Elections Canada, who do not make calls.

Harper's MPs have brazenly attacked Elections Canada's impartiality in the past. The contempt that the Harper Conservatives have shown for Elections Canada could be a factor that may have played a part in this cheating scandal developing. If the government sows contempt for such a foundational democratic institution, after all, it's not surprising that people who are watching might get bright ideas such as impersonating Elections Canada officials.

The Prime Minister should not be allowing any of his MPs to be sowing doubt about Elections Canada at a moment when his party is under investigation by that body.

It is particularly rich to see this line from a Conservative MP when we have reporting tonight that Elections Canada specifically told political parties not to advise voters on the location of polling stations. The Conservatives did so anyway. Garbage out, garbage out.

(see also)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Putting a price on accountability

From Friday: "MPs question true dollar value of questions asked of government."

As budget cuts loom, and Parliament's budget itself has been floated as a target, this looks like a set up. Conservative MP Brian Jean asked in December by written question to the government how much it was costing to answer parliamentarian's written questions. Those questions are a routine method of getting detailed answers and holding the government to account. Not everything can be asked in Question Period. They are a normal feature of parliamentary governments.

The government replied:
The answer he got back: a little more than $1 million to respond to about 375 written questions since the current session of Parliament began last June — including $253,000 to answer one question from a Liberal MP and $139,000 to respond to a query from the NDP.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," Jean said in an interview. "It's getting completely out of hand."
You're probably shocked there at home that opposition MPs are being cited as having put the government to the most expense. The examples cited seem ludicrously high. And there's no word on how much Jean's written question on this whole matter cost.  

How the government is attributing expense to these questions is not explained. Are they billing staffer(s) out by the hour in order to come up with these numbers? Are they engaging external resources to answer questions? Why have we never heard of this budget issue before?

Besides, taking their figures on their face, $1 million for 375 questions is actually not bad. About $2,600 per question averaged out. 375 questions since the parliamentary session began...308 members of Parliament. Not excessive on that count either.

Getting into a cost argument with them over it only justifies this way of looking at government accountability though. Are they suggesting, in peddling this exercise publicly, that we should put a dollar limit on MPs right to ask questions? You there, MP Smith, you've reached your dollar limit in yearly questions! No more questions for you!

This is not really about cost, anyway. It's about a government that likes to dilute accountability mechanisms (see in camera committee meetings). It likely means that a parliamentary budget cut could be coming soon courtesy of a Harper government near you. That would be a bad look given the increasing fire the government is under. 

RMG call centre in Gatineau used during election?

Noted from a report this week in Le Droit, three Ottawa area Conservative candidates also hired RMG during the May 2011 federal election:
Les campagnes de trois candidats conservateurs de la région d'Ottawa ont versé tout près de 30 000 $ à l'une des firmes de sollicitation téléphonique soupçonnées d'avoir effectué des appels frauduleux aux dernières élections fédérales, a appris LeDroit.

Royal Galipeau et Pierre Lemieux, réélus députés d'Ottawa-Orléans et de Glengarry-Prescott-Russell le 2 mai dernier, ont tous deux fait appel à l'entreprise Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) pendant la dernière campagne électorale, démontrent les rapports financiers remis par leurs organisations à Élections Canada. Le candidat du Parti conservateur dans Ottawa-Centre, Damian Kostantinakos, a lui aussi effectué deux paiements à RMG.

La campagne de Royal Galipeau a versé la somme de 15 000 $ à l'entreprise, qui se décrit comme étant « la plus grande firme » de sollicitation téléphonique à oeuvrer dans le domaine politique au pays, « travaillant exclusivement avec les campagnes se situant à la droite de l'échiquier politique ».

Cette entreprise, dont certains des bureaux sont établis à Gatineau, est soupçonnée d'avoir communiqué avec nombre de partisans libéraux et néo-démocrates, pour les dissuader d'aller voter ou encore pour leur indiquer à tort que leur bureau de scrutin avait changé d'endroit.
A few questions arising from this mentions that there are RMG offices in Gatineau. Was the RMG call centre in Gatineau involved in the election on behalf of Conservative clients as well? Any others across the country?

Ottawa-Centre and Ottawa-Orleans are on the list of where calls have been reported. In Ottawa-Orleans, robocall impersonation of Elections Canada and misdirection of voters on election day in addition to fake callers misdirecting voters are alleged.

Also, it's interesting that there are a number of Conservatives across the country with neat $15,000 expenditures to RMG. See article above re Galipeau. In Quebec, 16/18 paid $15,000 (14 paid $15,000.01, 2 paid $15,000, so I'm ignoring the $0.01). In B.C., the amounts reported thus far vary, they paid more.

Recall that the in and out litigation (which is still on its way to the Supreme Court) established that local election expenses have to equate with value received:
"We agree, however, with the Judge and the CEOC that the amount reported for a candidate’s share of a pooled advertising expense cannot be arbitrary, or based solely upon the available room under each candidate’s spending limit, but must be reasonably related to the value of the benefits received."
Le Devoir's reporting this week (link above) raised specific questions about whether one candidate in particular had received value for his $15,000.01 (although the Conservatives very quickly denied). So when you see similar prices being paid to RMG by candidates across the country, similar questions come to mind.

Friday, March 02, 2012

About those election call tapes being reviewed

Updated below.

This was a report from CBC initially posted yesterday afternoon: "Election call tapes under review by Conservatives." The report was last updated early this afternoon. Here's the key excerpt:
The Conservative Party is reviewing tapes of every call made by the Responsive Marketing Group call centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., in the last election before Elections Canada investigators arrive next week, CBC News has learned.

Investigators are planning to interview the centre's staff, which the Conservative Party hired to make phone calls to identify and rally supporters in the 2011 federal election.

Conservative Party spokesman Fred Delorey denied that Conservative officials are reviewing the tapes.

"The Conservative Party is not reviewing tapes from the last election," he said in an email to CBC News.

And election commissioner William Corbett has assigned veteran investigator Ronald Lamothe, who was the lead on the in-and-out probe into 2006 election spending, to head inquiries in Thunder Bay, the Toronto Star reported.
An update(s) to the report today may have included the denial from Fred Delorey that Conservatives were reviewing the tapes.

Here's the Star report on it from Thursday:
As Lamothe heads to Thunder Bay to interview former RMG call centre workers, Conservative party officials have undertaken a massive project to review audio recordings of every call made by RMG staff on the party’s behalf in the last campaign, a source said. A spokesperson for the Conservative party denied that a review of the calls was taking place.
Source says yes, there is a review. Conservative party says no, no review. Huh.

An intention to expand the investigation to Thunder Bay was publicly revealed on Wednesday. Then cue Thursday's reporting, above, that the Conservatives were reviewing tapes. Friday morning, Elections Canada releases an official statement confirming the robocall investigation at large. As far as we know, Elections Canada is not on the scene there in Thunder Bay, yet.

Just noting the developments on this bit of the story in particular.

Update: Noted from the Postmedia report on RMG on Friday:
RMG issued a statement late Wednesday night asserting that it did not engage in voter suppression calls in the campaign and saying the company would contact Elections Canada to work with the agency.

Late night

Who knew a video of an Arctic research station, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut, could be so oddly compelling. Maybe it's the music. Maybe it's the circumstances where a key Canadian scientific research asset in the Arctic is denied the $1.5 million it needs to sustain its operation and will have to shut down.
That is largely due to the discontinuation of government funding to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which had been covering three-quarters of the station's costs, and the end to the International Polar Year program.

Drummond said the network has since applied for various government funding programs and has been turned down for all of them, despite the government's frequent assertion that the Arctic is a priority for Canada.
Matthias Schneider, a German researcher who leads a global network that uses data from around the world to understand atmospheric water cycle and its role in climate, said PEARL's closure will eliminate a "unique set" of High Arctic measurements "essential" to the global effort.

University of Toronto researcher Kimberly Strong said the end to those and other measurements come "just as our need for high-quality data in the changing Arctic is becoming ever more important."
It's scientifically valued. It's not expensive to run. Climate change is real. Should be a no-brainer. Yet Canada does not have $1.5 million for this institution.

See also:
Climate Progress
Liberal environment critic Kirsty Duncan's statement
Bob McDonald: "When PEARL closes, one third of the data from the High Arctic will be gone, making the climate models less precise."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Typical Harper in Question Period today

Update (11:45 p.m.) below.

We have citizens across the country, who are now being awakened to the context of a certain phone call they may have received during the May federal election. They may have received harassing phone calls. They may have received calls misdirecting them to the wrong polling stations. They may have heard messages from persons impersonating Elections Canada. Those citizens have spoken up already, in many cases, but are also speaking up here and now as the robocall controversy gathers attention. People are genuinely concerned about the prospect of election fraud having occurred in Canada. There are investigations going on by Elections Canada with the assistance of the RCMP, in Guelph and now in Thunder Bay.

But what is our Prime Minister doing? Digging up research on Liberals.

It's not very good research it turns out. He and Del Mastro and Poilievre tried to argue that harassing phone calls Liberal supporters received were from Liberal hired call centres, specifically, one in the U.S. That would account for the North Dakota telephone area code some voters saw, aha! But look:
The Liberals, Harper said in the House, have said people got misleading phone calls from numbers in the United States.

"We've done some checking, Mr. Speaker. We've only found that in fact it was the Liberal Party that did source its phone calls from the United States. So I wonder if the reason the honourable leader of the Liberal Party will not in fact show us his evidence is it will point in fact that it was the Liberal Party that made these calls," he said.
But the counterattack backfired when Conservative MPs mixed up two companies with the same name.

Pierre Poilievre and Dean Del Mastro pointed in question period to Liberal candidates who, they said, used a company based in North Dakota to make calls soliciting support.
The confusion centred on three call companies with similar names, including Prime Contact Group, based in Canada, and Prime Contact Inc., based in North Dakota.

A spokesman for Prime Contact Inc. told CBC News that the company has never worked for a Canadian political party or candidate and is not affiliated in any way with Prime Contact Group.

Harper said a third company, First Contact, routed its calls through the U.S. A number of Liberal campaigns used First Contact for calls during the 2011 election and in at least one previous election.

But First Contact owner Mike O'Neill told the CBC's Dave Seglins last April that someone was "spoofing" First Contact's numbers — projecting a fake caller ID — to impersonate his company.
"We've done some checking," said Harper. Spending their time wisely, as always.

Think the Prime Minister needs some sleep, he, his helpers and his partisan ops shtick were looking very tired in the Commons today.

Update (11:45 p.m.): The National covers the above:

Mystery budget on its way

The budget date was set yesterday, finally, for March 29th, possibly as a bit of a distraction from all things robocall. This should be good:
Flaherty said Wednesday the budget will not lay out in specifics where the government plans to find between $4 billion and $8 billion in annual savings over the next three years.

"There’s not going to be intricate detail," he told reporters in Ottawa.

"But there'll be enough information that it'll be comprehensible, that it will describe what we're doing in terms of the deficit reduction action plan, and much more than that, this is a jobs and growth budget."
Yes, the Flaherty budget kabuki dance continues. Flaherty said last week that it would be a "moderate" budget and not draconian. Economists in the past few days have backed up the point that there is no need for an aggressive budget in terms of cuts.

Then we had some publicity around a Nanos poll suggesting Canadians are ok with deep cuts. Not so clear that if enumerated cuts were put to respondents that they'd be so down with them. Which Nanos backed up: "The issue is that when you move from the idea of cuts to actual cuts that the appetite may diminish," he said." Still, the poll got lots of headlines suggesting Canadians support deep cuts. And then the next day, Flaherty announces his budget date.

Now it doesn't seem comprehensible that Flaherty could think he's going to be able to get away with not telling Canadians specifics about where the axe will fall. If we're indeed talking $4 to $8 billion in cuts per year, there will be great difficulty in masking how that's to be done. No matter how much they'd like to do so.

$4 to $8 billion out of a $265 billion budget doesn't sound like much as a percentage, which is the way Flaherty is presenting it. It's when you look at how that $265 billion is presently spent and then factor in the things the government has taken off the table (transfers to provinces/individuals: "We're not reducing transfers to the provinces or to people"), then look at what remains for cutting that proves difficult (scroll down to "Other Transfer Payments" and below on that page). It is why Flaherty would prefer to be vague.