Tory use of Republican strategists may have violated Elections Act

Once again Section 331 of the Elections Act has reared its ugly head.

Under section 331 (Non-interference by Foreigners), it is illegal for a non-resident to directly participate in election campaigns in Canada.

"No person who does not reside in Canada shall, during an election period, in any way induce electors to vote or refrain from voting or vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate unless the person is (a) a Canadian citizen; or (b) a permanent resident," the act states.

In 2004, this section came to light when U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore came to the Toronto International Film Festival and urged Canadians not to vote for the Harper Conservatives.

During the 2011 election, Canada's Green Party cited section 331 when they asked their Australian counterparts to take down a YouTube video endorsing Elizabeth May's Greens.

Now, journalism students at Brock University claim the Harper Conservatives are in violation of the section for allowing U.S. Republican strategists to work on two Tory campaigns.

In an article published last week, Jeremy Colangelo claims PJ Wenzel and Matthew Parker - director and CEO of Ohio-based Front Porch Strategies, respectively — directly participated in the successful election campaigns of associate defence minister Julian Fantino and MP Rick Dykstra.

Reviewing their Facebook and Twitter posts, Colangelo surmises that the two Americans worked in the trenches for Tory candidates in 2011, going door to door and openly campaigning for the two candidates.

"Matt and PJ headed to Toronto tomorrow to campaign for Conservative Candidates!" Front Porch Strategies posted on their official Facebook page on April 18, 2011.

"Nothing like getting in the trenches with terrific people who are going to make a difference once elected."

There was also this tweet from the firm's twitter account, @FPStrategies,  on April 20:

"Knocking doors for MP Rick Dykstra. People don't like liberals here!"

While the Conservatives have admitted to using Front Porch to conduct telephone townhall meetings, Colangelo says having Front Porch on the front lines may be illegal.

In an interview with the Vancouver Observer, Jim Ross, the company's consultant in Canada suggested there was no wrongdoing.

"They were in Ontario for a day and a half (in April), for the purpose of acquiring new clients," Ross said.

"They knocked on doors for roughly an hour with Rick, traditional canvassing to identify support. While waiting for a delayed meeting they made roughly 30 minutes worth of phone calls for Minister Fantino, again to identify support.

"Other than teleforums, brief incidental volunteerism as described above over the course of a day and a half that was mostly spent trying to acquire new clients. There was no other involvement."

According to lawyer and Calgary Sun columnist Stephen Lautens, there appear to be no prosecutions under section 331.

"Elections Canada may determine [the section] means one thing, but again the ultimate decision about interpretation and application belongs to the courts," he wrote.

"Regardless, there are valid policy concerns involved in ensuring that Canadian elections are conducted in Canada by Canadians when it comes to directly "inducing" voters to support or reject any candidate. Elections should not be subject to the influences of a foreign satellite economy or policy, or the party that can hire the most cross-border muscle to work on their behalf."

(CP photo)