Sunday, May 26, 2013

Part 4: Conclusion of robocalls investigation still leaves serious questions for Elections Canada

For the past few months I've covered extensively the responses from Elections Canada in regards to their investigation into the possible robocalls conducted in the 2011 federal election.

Their responses (and lack thereof) have been shocking.

Investigators who have publicly donated money to the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois hired to investigate another political party, in precise violation of Elections Canada's own political neutrality rules.

Investigators hired with no business addresses, no phone numbers, and no websites.

Contracts for investigation services increased by thousands of dollars without justification.

Investigators hired by purposely avoiding the competitive bidding process.

The deck was purposely stacked against the Conservatives, and in such a public manner that they were assumed guilty until proven innocent.

Here, for the fourth and final part, is Elections Canada's latest response to my Access to Information requests:

“This request is made further to [my original] ATI request A-2012-00071/GB:

1. What work did the Nuclear Safety Commission bill Elections Canada for in relation to the robocalls investigation?

2. How were the contracted investigators chosen to work on this case?

3. Why was the March 12, 2013 to March 31, 2013 contract for 7147660 Canada Inc increased by almost $30,000?

4. What are the names of individual employees contracted to work under the contracts given to: John Dickson Professional Corp, SH Neville and Associates, Raymond Lincourt and Associates, and Raymond Chabot Grant Thompson?

5. Is there a projected time frame of when the investigation will be completed? In other words, will these contracts which expire on March 31, 2013 be renewed past that date?

6. Why do the contracts for this investigation all seem to be in the odd amount of $78,444.35?”

Unfortunately, judging by their previous responses, you can already guess that Elections Canada’s responses won’t be responses at all.

Question One
Brennan Ouimet, a Nuclear Safety Commission employee, was hired under the Interchange Canada policy in October 2008, which allows public servants to take on a temporary assignment with another public, private, non-profit, or international organization.  The exchange is supposed to encourage the public servant’s professional development and assist the receiving organization by giving them a qualified, experienced person.

Ouimet’s formal title is that of Investigator for Elections Canada, and under the interchange agreement, Ouimet’s remuneration continues to come from the NSC, even though Elections Canada reimburses the NSC.  (This is why it appeared the NSC was billing Elections Canada for robocalls investigations services.)

Ouimet’s contract also specifically states that he shall not engage in any federal or provincial partisan politics or activities.  Which is strange, since that is Elections Canada’s policy but it hasn’t been applied to any other investigator.

It’s actually refreshing to receive such a thorough and up front response from Elections Canada – almost like that’s exactly what they are required to do by law!

However, some questions remain.  Particularly:

  1. What was Ouimet’s role at the NSC?
  2. Why was he chosen to participate in the Interchange Canada program?
  3. Did Elections Canada request Ouimet specifically, or did the NSC offer up Ouimet to any department that wanted him?
  4. When does this temporary assignment end (he’s been a temporary investigator for almost five years now)?

Question Two
By sole source, apparently, as Elections Canada once again cited their sole source rationale from December 2012.

In other words, it is becoming ever clearer that Elections Canada has no intent (did it ever?) to hire the most qualified, competent, and best-valued investigators to conduct a thorough, neutral, and complete investigation into robocalls during the 2011 federal election. They would much rather hire who they choose without the slightest regard for appearance, qualifications, or a meaningful conclusion to the robocalls investigation.

Question Three
“No records were located for this part of your request.” However, it was likely due to “an addition of hours to the contract.”

Nothing in writing justifying a $30,000 salary increase? What a great deal!

Question Four
The particulars of this request were withheld in accordance with the personal and confidential financial information exclusionary clauses of the Access to Information Act.  However, they would state the positions hired and the salaries for those positions (under the Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton contract):

Project Manager: $7,500.00
Senior Auditor: $36,000.00
Auditor: $29,250.00
Auditor: $48,750.00
Audit Support Specialist: $11,700.00
Audit Support Specialist: $37,050.00
TOTAL: $170,250.00
+ Travel and Living Costs: $19,750

Question Five
Another non-answer.  Elections Canada provided three letters dated March 4, 2013 in which the Commissioner of Canada Elections extends the contracts of Ace Thouin Consultant Inc., 7147660 Canada Inc., and Raymond Lincourt & Associes by one month, to the end of April 30, 2013.

If this really is a response to the question I asked, does this mean the robocalls investigation concluded on April 30, 2013?

Question Six
This question has puzzled me since the beginning, and Elections Canada has done nothing to answer the question.  They once again referred to the pricing table for investigators hired to investigate the robocalls.  But, as I have asked before and will continue to ask, if investigators are paid to a maximum of $70,000.00 including travel, why are so many of the contracts at $78,000+?

Back to the odd amount of $78,444.35 – why?  As one commenter suggested, did someone have a $706,000 budget and split it nine ways ($78,444.35 * 9 = $705,999.15)?  Or a $2 million budget, meaning they could split it 25 ways ($78,444.35 * 25 = $1,961,108.75)?

Or, was it something more sinister, where they purposely kept the contracts below $80,000.00 to avoid a rule or extra requirement?

Yet, beyond the odds stacked enormously against the Conservative Party of Canada, they were amazingly cleared of any wrong doing by a federal court judge:

It's astonishing that, despite their committed and obvious attempts to throw everything possible at the Conservative Party - "anonymous" tips, accusations, and outright fabricated quotes - Elections Canada must have now wasted well over $1 million investigating a fantasy.

Canadians deserve answers.  And they have deserved answers for the past two years.

Those answers need to come from Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer.  They can start with:

1. Did Elections Canada investigators completely botch the investigation, meaning they could do nothing but declare that no wrong doing took place?

2. Or was this an unfounded witch hunt from the start, and after two years of Canadians asking questions without any response Elections Canada was forced to finally admit it had nothing against the Conservative Party?

Answers to those questions are desperately needed for all Canadians who just witnessed the enormous $1 million + waste of chasing a fantasy.