Sunday, February 24, 2013

Elections Canada contracting guidelines broken in hiring of partisan robocalls investigatiors

Last week I revealed that many of the investigators hired by Elections Canada to investigate the robocalls case have made donations to the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois. These donations, anywhere from an individual donating $300 to an entire firm donating $12,660, demonstrate clear and decisive support for a political party - at the very time when neutrality and non-partisanship are essential to conducting a fair and balanced investigation.

And Elections Canada agrees.

Anyone conducting business or contracting with Elections Canada is subject to their Procurement and Contracting Guide (Version 1, September 1, 2011).

Included in that Guide is this section (emphasis added):

13.6 Political Partisanship

Due to its mandate, Elections Canada must conduct its activities in an impartial manner and must be seen to be politically neutral. In some cases, in order to achieve such political neutrality, it is necessary to restrict contractors who provide goods or services to Elections Canada from being engaged in politically partisan activities and from performing work for or on behalf of a political party, a candidate or a person, body, agency or institution with politically partisan purposes or objectives where the performance of such work raises a reasonable apprehension of political partisanship. In these cases, the solicitation document and the contract include an avoidance of political partisanship clause.

There you have it.  Elections Canada's own guidelines prohibit political partisanship where it is necessary "to achieve political neutrality."

I can't think of any circumstance where political neutrality is more essential than when Elections Canada is investigating another political party for supposed potential crimes which could carry significant fines and/or jail time.

Yet we have known Liberal and Bloc Quebecois donors being awarded a $214,700 contract - the largest contract I've come across to-date - to investigate the Conservative Party.  Does that sound "politically neutral" to you?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Part 1: Elections Canada refuses to explain Access to Information findings

A disturbing number of questions are arising from my Access to Information findings released last week, but Elections Canada is refusing to answer any of them.

The Access to Information response reveals several suspicious transactions taking place under Elections Canada's "robocalls" investigation, which has cost Canadians $780,000 to-date.

For instance:

1. Why did the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission bill almost $58,800?  What business do they have in researching supposed phone calls made during an election?

2. Why did 7147660 Canada Inc – owned by Tom Ritchie – have its contract increased by almost $30,000?

3. Why was an additional $56,217.50 awarded to Ritchie for October 1 to March 31, 2013 on a sole-source basis, that is, with no competition whatsoever?

4. How did Elections Canada advertise for, screen, select, and hire these investigators, especially considering most of them seem to be paper companies with no websites, email address, or phone numbers?  What steps were taken to ensure these investigators were non-partisan, neutral individuals?

5. What justification was given for the Commissioner’s Office to outsource one of its primary responsibilities (investigation and enforcement) to private contractors?  Why could this investigation not be handled in house?

6. What are the qualifications of the individuals working the investigation?  Are these analysts, investigators, consultants?  Do they have a technology background?  An auditing background?  Former detective?

7. Why are most contracts in the odd amount of $78,444.35?

8. Does Elections Canada intend to extend these contracts past their current March 31, 2013 end date?  Or will the investigation be completed by then?

These are all important questions which could and should be covered under the existing Access to Information request.  It was, after all, through my original request that I've uncovered this information.

But apparently not, according to Elections Canada.  Clarifying the ATI request is not the job of the ATI department, says the ATI department – it’s the job of the Media Relations department.

So I went to the Media Relations department who, not surprisingly, said they could not respond on the specific details of an ATI request - that was the job of the ATI department!

Media Relations did, however, send me this helpful webpage for "background information" on how Elections Canada works... it's the Commissioner's "About Us" page.

The run around led back to the ATI department, which said they would not further research or explain my ATI request; the information I was given was all they would give on that specific request.  If I wanted an explanation, I'd have to file another request, costing another $5.00 and three months of waiting.

The purpose of Access to Information legislation is to, well, have access to information!  But what good is that information if it can't be put in context or explained or defended - something it seems most departments should be eager to do in order to avoid misconceptions or misinterpretations of that information.

That is clearly not the case at Elections Canada.

Never before have I made this request, but if this is the game Elections Canada wants to play, then sobeit.  We're on the brink of something huge here and they're purposely dragging their feet.  The only way this investigation - the true investigation - can continue is with the money to make repeated ATI requests.

It's only $5.00, but it will add up quickly.

Furthermore, Elections Canada reserves the right to a) ask for more money if there are lots of documents on a request or; b) separate one ATI request into several separate requests, each costing money and taking more time to research and respond to.

There are two ways you can help:

1. Make a donation here to keep this investigation going:

2. Submit your own ATI request, pay the $5.00, and let me know your findings.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Have robo-costs tripled in the past 5 months?

On September 5, 2012, Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor reported the cost of the robocalls investigation was "only" $240,000.  That included "casual employees, investigators, and other expenses" since the story broke in February 2012.  This was broken down into $83,000 for 13 casual employees to handle "the influx of calls," $95,523 for John Dickson, a private contractor and former RCMP investigator, $10,421 to Thomas Ritchie, $19,313 to Andre Thouin, and $2619 to have Bell Canada set up this basic HTML webpage.

Yet, as I've clearly shown, the bill to-date is $780,000 and counting.

Why the difference?  Did Elections Canada release different data to Maher and McGregor versus to me?  Or have the costs really tripled in the course of five short months?

Liberals and loan repayment

Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau says OSAP students shouldn't have to begin repaying their loans until they've found a job paying at least $40,000.  Because if there's one thing the Liberals know, it's how to avoid repaying loans...

Robocalls investigators have donated money to Liberals, Bloc Quebecois

New information reveals not even the private contractors hired by Elections Canada to investigate the possible 2011 "robocalls" are neutral, non-partisan individuals.

Information on who the private contractors conducting the "robocalls" investigation are is scarce, but the very fact that Elections Canada has outsourced one of its vitally important responsibilities to private firms is shocking.

It is even more shocking that such responsibility has been delegated to paper companies: private companies with no website, no phone numbers, and no email addresses, which only seem to exist in the eyes of Elections Canada. Google searches bring up nothing more than Elections Canada's listings of contracts (and perhaps the odd LinkedIn profile).

Certainly the least Elections Canada could have done before hiring these private contractors was to ensure they were hiring neutral, non-partisan individuals. Especially with the odd and significant amount of recurring $78,444.35 contracts, Canadians deserve to know that their tax money is being put towards professional, neutral individuals.

 But that's not the case according to a search of Elections Canada's contributors' database.

 A search of the sole contractor involved in the robocalls investigation with a website - Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - reveals that many members on their board of directors have donated money to the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois - the same parties which have the most to gain in propagating any sort of "robocall" voter conspiracy myth, ramping up the rhetoric to the extent that some members are now being sued for slander and libel.

In July 2008, Emilio Imbriglio, Chair of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, donated $300 to the Liberals. In January 2009, he donated $1000 to the Michael Ignatieff leadership campaign.

In February 2010, Eric Bergeron, Assurance Partner, donated $375 to the Liberals.

 Marc Bergeron, Vice President of Recovery and Reorganization, donated $287.79 to the Liberals in June 2007; another $340 in August; and another $250 in December.

Lynda Coache, Assurance Partner, donated $255 to the Liberals on February 28, 2010.

Martin Deschenes, Assurance Partner, donated $405 to the Liberals on February 28, 2010 and $400 to the Bloc Quebecois on June 8, 2011.

Eric Labelle, Tax Partner, donated $465 to the Liberals on February 28, 2010.

Jocelyn Renald, Vice President Management Committee, donated $300 to the Liberals in December 2008. 

It is unclear whether any of these individuals have a direct involvement in the current robocalls investigation, however the firm has been given a $214,700 contract to conduct its investigation. This is the largest robocalls contract I've come across to-date, so at least the company, if not its employees, would be neutral, right?

Wrong. In 1999, when businesses and unions were allowed to donate to political parties before the days of the Liberal's AdScam and the Conservative Party's Accountability Act to address that Liberal corruption, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton donated $4406.48 to the Liberal Party. And another $1000 in 2000.

In 1998, Grant Thornton, the apparent head office of RCGT, donated a staggering (and odd) $12,657.18 to the Liberals.

They also audited the 2004 books for the Marijuana Party of Canada, although the party barely received $11,000 in donations (I guess the rest went up in smoke).

During the 37th general election, the company gave $450 for the re-election of Serge Cardin, a then-sitting Member of Parliament for the Bloc Quebecois and a currently-sitting Parti Quebecois Member of Provincial Parliament. They also gave $500 to support his opponent, then-Liberal candidate and now City Councillor Jean-Francois Rouleau. What better way to make friends with both the sitting Bloc Quebecois MP and his Liberal challenger than to just donate money to them both?

It is startling that Elections Canada did not properly vet the neutrality and worthiness of allowing yet another partisan investigator (after Andre Thouin) onto this investigation. These are not small amounts of money, and throwing thousands of dollars behind a leadership contestant or political party indicates strong, decisive support.

Canadians are well on their way to spending $1 million on this "robocalls" investigation. What has that investigation dug up or accomplished? So far, nothing.

How can Canadians have confidence in any of this investigation when the very investigators have a strong, clear, undeniable political bias?

If this investigation has uncovered anything, it needs to be laid bare immediately. Otherwise, this rank investigation needs to be swiftly thrown out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Who profits from the robocalls investigation?

My recent Access to Information request revealed that Elections Canada has spent almost $780,000 chasing the fantasy that Conservatives robocalled Canadians into voting in the wrong places in the May 2011 federal election.

But despite such a ridiculous theory being disproven time and time again – by journalists, bloggers, and first-hand campaign staffers – Elections Canada continues to investigate.

There must be some driving force behind continuing this investigation even with such damming evidence that nothing illegal (besides the Liberals’ robocalls in Guelph, of course) actually took place.

In my previous post we learned that the Commissioner’s Office spent $192,203.48 on “Investigators’ Fees and Salaries.”  So who are these investigators?

John Dickson Professional Corp - no website, no contact information – billed over $113,000 as the largest investigator in the robocalls investigation

SH Neville and Associates - no website, no contact information – billed $18,270 to-date. Awarded a $78,444.35 contract from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

Raymond Lincourt and Associates – billed $39,617 to-date.  Awarded a $78,444.35 contract from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - the only investigator with a website which offers a clear listing of their board of directors – billed $19,238 to-date.

7147660 Canada Inc – owned by Tom Ritchie – billed over $12,005 to-date.  Awarded a $78,444.35 contract from March 12, 2012 to March 31, 2013 which was then bumped to $102,174.35.

Al Mathews – the Elections Canada Investigator – has incurred $4,220 in investigation expenses beyond those listed elsewhere in my previous post (e.g. travel).  This is also beyond his normal salary.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – billed $58,780.29.  Wait, the Nuclear Safety Commission?  In regards to misleading automated phone calls during a federal election?  Why?

And, the best for last: ACE Thouin Consultant Inc – owned by Andre Thouin – has billed over $33,284 for his investigative services in this matter.  He was awarded a $56,217.50 contract for October 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.   For 2011-12 he was awarded $76,273.87; on March 12, 2012 he was awarded $78,444.35; in 2010-2011, he was awarded a contract with Elections Canada worth $78,708.  Back in 2005-2006 he had a $23,075 contract with the RCMP.

Does the name Andre Thouin sound familiar?

Thouin is the same Elections Canada employee who led RCMP officials (and plenty of media) to Conservative Party headquarters to execute a search warrant regarding the “In and Out” debate.

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 But Thouin is not an employee of Elections Canada, rather an independent contractor.  He’s not listed as an employee on the federal government employee directory and he’s filed returns as an independent government contractor for the past several years.

Are you connecting the dots yet?  An independent contractor with a known history of dragging media into legal investigations - to Conservative headquarters for sensational propaganda shots - is now working for Elections Canada on an investigation into whether the Conservatives illegally robocalled Canadians.

In what other democracy would you throw an obviously partisan individual into the middle of an investigation that must remain neutral?  And then allow him to bill Canadians over $33,000, no less?

Could Elections Canada really not handle its own investigation?  It had to outsource one of the Commissioner's primary mandates to private firms who are anything but neutral?

Furthermore, how did Elections Canada a) decide on which contractors to hire; and b) how much those contractors would be paid, considering the robocalls investigation was not a foreseen Elections Canada expense?

And finally, why have the investigators all seemingly been given $78,444.35 contracts?  That's an odd number, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The $780,000 (and counting) question: when will Elections Canada stop chasing a fantasy?

Isn’t it strange how that anti-conservative robocall conspiracy has all but disappeared from the media in the past few months?

For instance, the last Maclean’s article on the subject was on November 30, 2012, which was just an update on the federal court proceedings led by the left-wing Council of Canadians.

Even Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher, the robocall conspiracy front men for the past year, have gone silent, choosing instead to complain that Harper’s security costs too much or writing about Harper's to-be-released hockey book.

Indeed, almost 12 months ago I wrote that “the only thing we know is that we know surprisingly little, and we most certainly cannot label any one party or person as being responsible.”  That was a year ago, and the statement holds true today.

We still know someone, somewhere, made some suspicious calls in Guelph, Ontario.  Since then, we have seen trumped up charges being pushed by left-wing organizations, call centre employees who have been revealed to be lying, half truths and “anonymous sources” reported as reliable, Elections Canada admitting they have no evidence against the lead suspect,  and the Guelph Liberals – yes, the Guelph Liberals – being the only party to-date fined for illegal robocalls.  The allegations have entirely crumbled.

Of course, there’s also that often forgotten statement made by Elections Canada summarizing the 2011 election:

“There was no conduct reported that would bring into question the integrity of the election result overall or the result in a particular riding. Although misconduct was reported in several ridings, there is no complaint that it affected the final result. There is some speculation in the media that the dirty tricks may have affected the result in some close contests.”

Even though these allegations have been thoroughly debunked and Canada’s robocall front men have switched to reporting about the RCMP and hockey, Elections Canada continues to investigate.  And a response to an Access to Information request shows their investigation has cost Canadians $780,000 to-date (and counting).

Note 1: These are costs beyond Elections Canada's normal operating budget.  They already have directorates and branches which handle enforcement and investigations - these are additional costs pertaining specifically to the robocalls investigation.
Note 2: This is only Elections Canada. It does not include the RCMP or CRTC, which have also been involved in the "robocalls" investigation.
Note 3: "Secondment" employees are federal employees who are temporarily moved to work for another government department.  It is unclear whether the salaries reported here are additional to their salary earned at their employing department.

Since the fall of 2011 Canadians have been inundated with absurd claims of an illegitimate federal government which misled Canadians away from their right to vote.  Claims of those evil conservatives doing anything to win.  Those claims were debunked months ago, yet Elections Canada continues to investigate - wasting Canadian taxpayers' time and money.

How much more money will be thrown into the pit of chasing fantasies?  How much more will be spent by the end of 2013?  By the end of the investigation?

Who is profiting most from this investigation? Stay tuned tomorrow to find out...