MONTREAL — Mount Royal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler feels vindicated now that the Conservative Party has acknowledged that it authorized the spate of partisan phone calls to his constituents in November.
But the battle is not over yet.
Where he and the Tories continue to differ is exactly what was said by the callers, who represented themselves as pollsters, during those conversations.
The Conservatives maintain they were trying to identify supporters and have not broken any rules. The proposed scenario of Cotler’s resignation was not an outlandish one because rumours of Cotler’s resignation have been circulating since he was first elected in 1999, said Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan.
Cotler maintains that, according to the numerous testimonies from those called that his office has received, they were falsely told that a byelection was coming soon because he was stepping down.
The Conservative admission came after Cotler provided the House of Commons with what he described as further evidence that the party is behind the calls.
On Nov. 22, Cotler rose for a second time on a question of privilege to press his case that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should investigate the matter. He first raised the matter Nov. 16 and is awaiting a ruling by Speaker Andrew Scheer.
In that first intervention, Cotler identified the Ontario-based polling firm Campaign Research as responsible for the calls, and noted its ties to the provincial and federal Tories.
Cotler now cites a quote since then from Saulie Zajdel, the Conservative candidate in Mount Royal in the May 2 federal election: “I have nothing to do with it. It is a party thing.” It is contained an interview published Nov. 18 on the website iPolitics.ca, which describes itself as independent and non-partisan.
Since the election, Zajdel was hired as a regional aide to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Christian Paradis.
Cotler also quotes Conservative Party spokesperson Fred DeLorey from the same article as saying the party “does not comment on operation matters,” when asked about the polling.
“To my mind, [this] implies some level of involvement,” Cotler said.
A list of people known to have received the calls, which spoke of an “impending” or “imminent” byelection, has already been submitted to the House. Some were told by the caller that they were acting on behalf of the Conservatives or Prime Minister Stephen Harper and that their support was requested, he said. Cotler’s office received one report from a Hampstead household that it was solicited for a financial donation to the Conservatives for the “byelection.”
Cotler, who denies that he is vacating the seat, reiterated that the calls are not only false and causing confusion, but are impeding his ability to perform his duties effectively, which constitutes a breach of privilege, according to parliamentary rules.
After this latest foray, he received support from Bloc Québécois MP André Bellavance and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
“As the honourable member says himself, if there is a rumour in his riding of a byelection, the honourable member becomes a lame duck,” Bellavance said. “We have to shed light on what is happening.”
May said, “I suggest that this is mischief-making at a local level in relation to a member’s intentions and to the member’s good standing… Mr. Speaker, your ruling on this kind of unhelpful, deliberate misleading of the electorate, which is clearly anti-democratic at its very base, will put it to rest and make it stop.”
Asked how many calls of this nature Cotler’s office is aware of, his aide Howard Liebman said: “I have no way to know for certain. We know only that the calls were across the riding, as we had reports from all over.”
Households in bordering NDG and Westmount are also known to have received the calls, he added.