MONTREAL — A polling company employed by the federal Conservative party has been censured by the marketing research industry for a telephone campaign it conducted a year ago in Mount Royal riding that led some to think Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was resigning.
An independent three-member complaints panel struck by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) concluded that the member firm, Ontario-based Campaign Research Inc., violated provisions of the MRIA’s Code of Conduct and Good Practice.
The MRIA received seven formal complaints from people who had been polled by Campaign Support, at the time a division of Campaign Research, in the fall of 2011.
Campaign Research was hired by the Conservatives to identify potential voters in Mount Royal, which has been a Liberal stronghold since the 1940s.
The callers were instructed to follow a script identifying themselves as working for Campaign Support on behalf of the Conservative party. They then were to ask if Prime Minister Stephen Harper could count on their support in “the upcoming election.”
If the call recipients asked what election they were referring to (a federal election had been held the previous May), they were to say: “Some people are suggesting that the current MP may retire, so we’re calling on behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada to ask you if you would consider supporting the Conservative Party of Canada if there is a byelection.”
Cotler, the MP since 1999, was adamant at the time that he was not stepping down. Incensed, he made a formal complaint in the House of Commons, claiming his ability to carry out his parliamentary duties had been impeded by what he viewed as a misinformation campaign by the Tories.
Speaker Andrew Scheer did not find a breach of privilege for technical reasons, but called the phone campaign “reprehensible.”
The MRIA’s sanction of Campaign Research also relates to public statements made by the company’s head in the extensive media coverage of the issue.
“The complaints panel concluded that through its acts, omissions, and public statements, Campaign Research violated Principle 2 [Public Confidence]… and that the firm has likely diminished public confidence in the marketing research industry,” the MRIA announced on Nov. 28.
The sanction of censure is basically a public reprimand, and is one penalty lighter than suspension from the MRIA.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Liberal Leader Bob Rae said in the House of Commons that the Conservatives must now cut all ties with Campaign Research, which he criticized for its “underhanded tactics” in Mount Royal.
He also wanted to know from the government who wrote the script used in the phone calls.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan responded indirectly that Scheer’s ruling last December had resolved the matter.
“It is a settled issue insofar as the internal management of a private sector marketing organization,” Van Loan said. “That is not a question for this House.”
In a statement, Cotler said he feels “vindicated” by the MRIA’s finding.
“Today’s decision is a vindication of the wrongdoing that occurred, and amplifies the finding of the speaker [Scheer] that these tactics were ‘reprehensible’.”
Cotler still wants an apology from the Conservatives, something they have declined to make up until now.