By Jessica Lovell
Guelph federal Conservative candidate Marty Burke is standing behind his campaign team and denying knowledge of who was behind the infamous Pierre Poutine robocalls.
“I have absolutely no knowledge of who made such calls or how and why they were made,” said Burke in an email sent Saturday.
The calls, credited to the alias Pierre Poutine, were made to local voters and told them, incorrectly, that their polling stations had changed.
“I do not believe there is any connection between these calls and any member of our hard-working, dedicated campaign team. I would be shocked to find out otherwise,” Burke wrote in response to Tribune inquiries.
The comments are some of very few that Burke has made to media since the fraudulent calls misdirecting voters in the May 2011 election began gaining widespread national media attention earlier this year.
Since then, around 31,000 people have contacted Elections Canada to share their concerns about fraudulent phone calls and other wrongdoing in the election. Burke can now count himself among those.Two weeks ago, Burke sent a formal letter of complaint to Elections Canada concerning an automated call to Guelph residents about Burke’s views on abortion. Liberal incumbent Frank Valeriote has admitted the call came from his campaign, though it was not explicitly identified as a Liberal call.
“It appears to have broken several EC laws as well as CRTC laws. For this reason, I filed a formal complaint requesting that Elections Canada investigate this matter,” said Burke of the call.
Since then, he has also been in touch with Elections Canada to weigh in on the Pierre Poutine calls, although he may not have had too much to say.
“A week ago, I volunteered to make a witness statement to Elections Canada with regard to these calls in order to aid their investigation,” he said. “This led to a brief meeting at which I had very little information to offer.”
Burke said he decided to speak publicly about the calls “after first assisting Elections Canada and in order to counter allegations and innuendo being spread by others.”
His belief is that the two robocall situations are being handled as separate incidents by Elections Canada.
Burke’s wife, Patricia Burke, was also involved in the meeting with Elections Canada, which took place March 12.
She volunteered to speak out, because she was working in her husband’s campaign office during the campaign and on election day, she said in an email.
“I told the investigators how a Conservative supporter came into our office in the morning and started yelling at me, because he had received a call directing him to a different polling station and the number that the call came from was our office number,” she said.
She went on to say that her husband’s deputy campaign manager, Andrew Prescott, calmed the man by telling him that no one from the campaign office had called Conservative supporters to redirect them to a different polling station.
“Andrew took the information from the man and shortly thereafter sent out a call to our supporters telling them not to believe the false call redirecting them to a different polling station,” she said.
She told investigators that the office phone lines had not been working properly on election day, with calls that got through being hard to hear due to a continual busy signal on the line.
Patricia Burke also provided investigators with a copy of a May 3, 2011, Guelph Mercury story describing the misleading election-day phone calls.
The story describes both live and automated calls that went out on election day, May 2. It claims Burke’s campaign was the first to respond to the bogus calls, and it quotes Burke’s communications director, Michael Sona, as saying that Conservative supporters were on the receiving end of the calls.
“The EC investigators were interested in the May 3, 2011, Mercury story because they were unaware of this information and they were interested in my statement,” said Patricia.
Here is Marty Burke’s email to the Guelph Tribune:
Here are my comments on the two illegal robocall circumstances in Guelph:
Illegal poll location robocalls- I have absolutely no knowledge of who made such calls or how and why they were made. I do not believe there is any connection between these calls and any member of our hard-working, dedicated campaign team. I would be shocked to find out otherwise. A week ago, I volunteered to make a witness statement to Elections Canada (EC) with regard to these calls in order to aid their investigation. This led to a brief meeting at which I had very little information to offer.
Illegal, anonymous smear robocalls- Two weeks ago, hard evidence came to light that an illegal, anonymous smear robocall was sent to thousands of Guelph households two days prior to the election concerning my position on the abortion issue. The content of this recorded voice message are now well documented. It appears to have broken several EC laws as well as CRTC laws. For this reason, I filed a formal complaint requesting that Elections Canada investigate this matter- you have this complaint. After this illegal message was made public, Guelph Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote confessed that his campaign had created and sent this message throughout Guelph.
I decided to speak publicly about these calls after first assisting EC and in order to counter allegations and innuendo being spread by others.
It is my understanding that the two robocall situations are being handled as separate incidents by EC.