A Conservative-linked phone campaign to voters in Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's Montreal riding has prompted the industry association for market research firms to move ahead with a complaint resolution panel.   

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association is striking a panel on Campaign Research, the firm that handles voter identification and other research for the Conservative Party of Canada, after six members of the public and one member firm logged complaints about the phone campaign.

Campaign Research made calls to voters in Mount Royal, where Cotler has been the MP since winning a 1999 byelection.

According to a constituent who spoke to CBC News, and to Cotler's staff, the callers falsely told them Cotler was stepping down and a byelection was imminent.

Nick Kouvalis, a principal at Campaign Research, told CTV that wasn't in the script.

Robocalls 'definitely of concern'

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association is a voluntary organization, but has a complaint resolution process for issues with its member firms.

Brendan Wycks, head of the association, says Campaign Research had 30 days to discuss its work in Mount Royal with those who complained and try to resolve the complaints. It wasn't able to do so, and the association is now moving to strike a three-person panel. The panel can recommend one of three options:

  • Censure.
  • Membership suspension.
  • Expulsion.

Wycks says reports of automated calls, or robocalls, in Guelph, Ont., in the last federal election are "definitely of concern."

"There is sort of a public perception that there is a bit of a connection between what they're doing and legitimate marketing research," he said. "There's no direct connection. What they're doing couldn't be more remote from legitimate statistical science-based marketing research and survey research."

The calls in Guelph claimed to be from Elections Canada and directed voters to the wrong polling stations. Elections Canada doesn't keep voters' phone numbers and communicates through other methods if there are changes on election day.

Wycks says Racknine, the call centre through which the robocalls were placed, is not now a member and never has been.

He says his association's members aren't permitted to do that type of political advocacy and voter intention work because it's in essence telemarketing and sales.