When Mike Duffy was arrested and charged for writing off one too many receipts at the government’s expense, he promised that in the midst of his trial, he was going to be dropping some bombs concerning insider knowledge of the Prime Minister’s Office. The fireworks have been somewhat muted, but for those that have still been smelling something fishy in the Robocall scandal had their paranoia pay off last week when Duffy seemed to indicate that the Conservatives were behind the Robocall prototype in 2008 in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
To recap briefly, in 2008, NDP candidate Julian West withdrew from the race after the deadline to take his name off the ballot had passed. Someone then paid for robocalls in the days before Election Day reminding NDP supporters to get out and vote for Wells, which ended up securing him over 3,600 votes. Meanwhile, incumbent Conservative candidate Gary Lunn beat Liberal candidate Briony Penn by just over 2,600 votes.
The assumption has been that the robocall was designed to take votes away from Penn since much of the NDP vote would have likely gone to the Liberal with Wells out of the race. According to Duffy, that was the plan all along, and it was the Conservatives that came up with it.
As covered by CBC, Duffy, while on the stand, related a story about a trip to British Columbia in September 2009, one of the 31 expenditures he’s on trial for billing to the Senate. Prior to the trip, Duffy had a meeting with Lunn, who was already concerned about his re-election prospects, and Molson lobbyist David Angus. Let’s let Duffy pick it up from there.
“He’d had a close call during the previous election and it was only through the divine intervention of [late campaign manager] Doug Finley’s black ops group at Conservative headquarters that he managed to get himself re-elected,” Duffy told the court.
“Basically what happened was that they used robocalls to misdirect NDP voters, to split the vote and allow Gary Lunn to win,” Duffy said.
“He knew nothing about it, except that they phoned him afterward and said ‘You’re welcome Gary.’ He said ‘What?’ [They said], ‘We got you in’.”
The Saanich-Guelph Islands incident has been frequently referenced as a “test run” for the fake robocalls in 2011 that affected upwards of 200 ridings, but were most pronouncedly felt here in Guelph. The comparisons between the calls made in 2008 and 2011 are uncanny, with people identified as non-supporters in the Conservative database being targeted. Michael Sona, a staffer for the campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Burke here in Guelph, remains the only person charged and convicted in the robocall scandal.
Will that change now? NDP deputy national director Karine Fortin has written to Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté to reopen the investigation after Duffy’s revelations. A Guelph group petitioned Elections Canada and Côté back in the summer to re-open the investigation, which was closed last year due to lack of evidence.