Robocalling election results into question

Another Yukoner has contacted Elections Canada after receiving a misleading robocall just before last May's federal election. Tom Parlee answered the phone to an automated message informing him his polling station had changed due to higher-than-normal voter turnout.

Another Yukoner has contacted Elections Canada after receiving a misleading robocall just before last May’s federal election.

Tom Parlee answered the phone to an automated message informing him his polling station had changed due to higher-than-normal voter turnout.

So the Whitehorse resident called the Yukon returning officer, who informed Parlee his polling station had not been moved.

“I thought it was odd,” said Parlee.

Then the robocall scandal hit the news and Parlee immediately called Elections Canada.

“I hope a thorough investigation happens because I don’t want this to be dismissed,” he said.

It’s a sentiment shared by Yukon Conservative MP Ryan Leef.

“If these calls occurred, I hope we get to the bottom of it,” said Leef from Ottawa on Tuesday.

“And if there are things I can provide Elections Canada to help expedite the investigation, I will do so. I am pushing (Elections Canada) to demonstrate all the things I can do to show we ran a legal, ethical, clean campaign.”

Information about misleading robocalls in the Yukon first surfaced on Leef’s Facebook page.

The Nardi household received a call two weeks before the election asking if they were voting Conservative.

They weren’t.

Then, just a few days before the election, the Nardis received another call telling them that their polling station had been moved from the Hidden Valley School to the Hootalinqua Fire Hall.

It didn’t make a lot of sense so they checked online and discovered that, in fact, voting was still taking place at the school.

“It’s one of those things you just shrug off,” said Bob Nardi in a past interview with the News.

But after the robocall controversy surfaced, “the light went on,” he said.

The Nardis contacted Elections Canada about the misleading call, but they still wanted more answers. So Nardi posted his experience on Leef’s Facebook page.

But his first post didn’t make it to Leef’s wall.

So Nardi tried again.

This time his post remained on Leef’s page for just over two days before it too disappeared.

“I don’t remove posts,” said Leef.

“You can look down my long list of Facebook comments and see plenty of disparaging remarks. So I would never have removed Mr. Nardi’s comments.”

Only the administrator or the person who put up the post can remove it, said Leef, who said he contacted Facebook to find out if there was any way someone else could have deleted Nardi’s post.

“And I am the only administrator, so there are only two options, and I can say absolutely, without exception, that I didn’t remove the posts. So, you can read between the lines on that.”

“I would have responded,” added Leef.

But the week Nardi posted on his page, Leef was hunting in the bush with his son and “was nowhere near a computer,” he said.

Leef thought it was a good time to get away, during the NDP leadership race, and before the House resumed to release the budget.

“I said watch, all hell will break loose when I go, but this is one of the last things I thought would break loose.”

Leef hasn’t responded to Nardi, but he did see the post.

Someone emailed it to him.

“Mr. Nardi has an honest, legitimate question and concern,” said Leef.

But Leef’s campaign manager Michael Lauer begged to differ.

“I assume that since you are an employee of the Yukon Employee’s Union, that you were working on the NDP campaign in the last election,” Lauer wrote to Nardi on Facebook.

“I find it rather interesting that the two people to publicly come out and say that they were called 11 months ago both had ties to another campaign and both would have gone straight to the media when it happened to try and raise issues to support their campaign at the time,” he said on Facebook.

But Nardi says he had nothing to do with the NDP campaign nor does belong to that party.

“This story has moved from the robocalls themselves to attacks on the constituents who reported them,” said Nardi.

Lauer also singled out Sylvie Leonard, another Yukoner who received a misleading robocall just before the election informing her that her polling station had moved.

But Leonard had already voted during the advanced poll and paid little attention, until the scandal made national news months later.

Leonard is married to Jean Francois DesLauriers, who ran for the NDP in the last territorial election, something Lauer was quick to point out on Facebook.

Lauer has since apologized to Nardi for his comments.

But he was not the only one attacking Nardi.

Conservative blogger Dean Skoreyko sent an email to Nardi’s work address, despite the fact Nardi’s personal email is available on Facebook.

“And (Skoreyko) copied it to my supervisor at work,” said Nardi.

“If that isn’t an attempt to intimidate, what is?”

Nardi also scoffs at the claim that he deleted his own posts from Leef’s Facebook page.

“Of course not,” he said. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”

At least five Yukoners say they’ve received misleading robocalls in the lead-up to the last election.

“I encourage people to come up with as much data and information for Elections Canada as they can,” said Leef. “Then let’s air it, let’s put it out there and find out who did it.”

The simplest way to do this is call up Northwestel and get a record of the numbers that called the Nardis the day before the election, said Leef.

“If I were him, I’d provide that information,” he said.

Impossible, said a Northwestel operator on Wednesday morning.

“We don’t track local calls,” she said. “And if it was a long distance call, the only way there would be a record of it was if it was a collect call – then it would show up on your phone bill,” said the operator. “The only calls listed are ones you paid for,” she said.

Leef’s campaign employed Responsive Marketing Group Inc., a company hired by 95 Conservative campaigns during the last federal election.

In the lead up to the election, RMG staff were asked to read scripts telling selected voters that Elections Canada had changed their voting locations, according to three former RMG employees interviewed last month by the Toronto Star.

One employee was so concerned that something was amiss, she said she reported it to her supervisor at the RMG site, to the RCMP office in Thunder Bay, Ont., and to a toll-free Elections Canada number at the time, according to the Star.

Annette Desgagne, 46, said it became clear to her – after so many people complained that the “new” voting locations made no sense or were “way the hell across town”- that the live operators were, in fact, misdirecting voters, the Star reported.

On its website, RMG says: “Whether it’s raising more money or winning more votes: Bottom line … we get results.”

Leef’s campaign paid RMG $8,143.80, according to his candidate financial report, filed with Elections Canada.

“We used robocalls,” said Leef. “But there is confusion about robocalls, which are legal, and misleading calls, which is electoral fraud.”

Leef employed RMG for “voter identification and to get people to go out and vote,” he said.

“It’s a recorded script that says something like, ‘Hi I’m Ryan Leef, your Conservative candidate … on election day I hope I can count on your support’- Click.

“There was no discussion about polling, or polling stations or anything like that,” he said.

“There was nothing that constituted misleading or illegal calls.”

This week, the Council of Canadians asked the Federal Court of Canada to overturn the election results in seven ridings across the country where misleading calls may have kept voters from the polls.

The Yukon is one of them.

Leef says that’s “preposterous.”

“It’s a politically opportunistic strategy that won’t gain ground,” he said.

The ridings were chosen because electors came forward and the margins of victory were comparatively small, meaning there is reason to believe the misleading calls could have changed the election result, Council of Canadians lawyer Steven Shrybman told the National Post.

To date, there have only been two Yukoners who have contacted elections Canada about misleading robocalls, according to Leef.

But Elections Canada refused to comment on its ongoing investigation or confirm these numbers when contacted by the News.

“Not to minimize it, but two calls are not swinging an election,” said Leef.

“I recognize there are some people in the territory who are not happy I was elected,” he added. “And it was a close election, but it’s a shame … they’re just finding whatever strategy they can find to unseat results they don’t like.

“Now they’re suggesting illegal calls shaped the election,” he said.

“But they’re not willing to accept perhaps these calls came from another party, or they came from a rogue individual who nonetheless needs to be held accountable. It could have been a Conservative, Liberal, Green or NDP supporter, or someone who just doesn’t believe in electoral system,” said Leef.

“But right now all fingers are pointing at me, because I won the election.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at