UVic professor claims voter suppression promoted at conservative campaign school

·Politics Reporter

While the Conservatives continue to deny their involvement in the robocall scandal, stories linking Conservative insiders to "dirty tricks" continue to surface.

The latest link is courtesy of John Fryer, a member of the Order of Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria.

In the wake of the robocall scandal, last week, Fryer penned an open letter describing a campaign school he attended two years ago, at the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy.

"In January, 2010, my UVic inbox had an e-mail invite from a democracy centre to attend a campaign school. Intrigued, I signed up for the three-day event," Fryer wrote in the letter published in the Globe and Mail.

"Topics covered included voter identification. Discussion ensued about suppression techniques. Instructors explained voter suppression tactics were borrowed from those used by the U.S. Republican Party. Many kinds of suppression calls were canvassed. Another instructor gave detailed explanations of how robo-calls worked, techniques for recording messages, plus costs involved.

"Instructors made it clear that robo-calling and voter suppression were an acceptable and normal part of winning political campaigns."

In a later interview with Emma Pullman of the Vancouver Observer, Fryer claims that in a question and answer session, attendees discussed voter suppression tactics. They talked about posing as a member of another party, and about making rude calls at inconvenient times as a strategy to get the supporter of another party to not go out and vote for their candidate.

Pullman did some research into the so-called "campaign school" and found several Conservative links.

"The event's star-studded slate of speakers included former Press Secretary to Stephen Harper (and current President of Sun Media) Kory Teneycke and David Akin, the National Bureau Chief for Sun Media," Pullman wrote in a column published Wednesday.

"Other headliners were Stephen Taylor, founder of the Blogging Tories, and Dimitri Pantazopoulos, a former pollster for the federal Conservatives, the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Party who is now the Principal Secretary to Premier Christy Clark."

Pullman claims the school was organized by Fraser McDonald of the Manning Centre in addition to Richard Ciano and Nick Kouvalis, both founding partners of Campaign Research Inc.

According to a recent Ottawa Citizen article, Campaign Research did work for at least 39 Conservative candidates in the last election, and was paid nearly $400,000 for the work.

Campaign Research was also the firm implicated in the campaign against Irwin Cotler. In December, the company allegedly placed misleading calls to the Liberal MP's constituents falsely claiming he was resigning his seat.

There is no indication, however, that Campaign Research was in any way involved in the robocall scandal.

For their part, Liberal blogger Warren Kinsella says Kouvalis is denying Fryer's story.

"Some [that were] present [at the campaign school] are calling Prof. Fryer a liar," writes Kinsella.

"Check out [Fryer's] C.V. — I'm not sure I'd want to play a battle of the reputations with this gentleman."