Manitoba

People's Party candidate Steven Fletcher accused of taking voter data from Conservatives

Repurposed lawn signs are not the only thing People's Party of Canada candidate Steven Fletcher is being accused of taking from his former party.

Fletcher denies any wrongdoing and says the attacks are retaliation for his ascent in polls

Steven Fletcher, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister who is now a member of the People's Party of Canada, is being accused by his former party of stealing voter data. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Repurposed lawn signs are not the only thing People's Party of Canada candidate Steven Fletcher is being accused of taking from his former party.

The Conservative Electoral District Association of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley alleges Fletcher, a four-time Conservative MP and former cabinet minister, took electronic voter data that belonged to them.

CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter written by the EDA's lawyer, George Orle, dated Sept. 14.

"It has come to our attention that you have downloaded unauthorized copies of the EDA database and voter identification records and are using same in your campaign. This information is proprietary to the Conservative Party of Canada and you have no permission to use it or to access it," the letter states.

Fletcher is the candidate for the newly formed People's Party of Canada in the riding he once held; the Conservatives rejected his bid to run as their candidate.

As lawn signs began popping up, CBC News learned Fletcher is using signs from previous campaigns, which had been painted over to cover the Conservative logo.

The EDA said they already sent him a legal notice to return the signs and now have formalized it in writing. 

A sign for Steven Fletcher, used during the 2015 federal election when he ran as a Conservative, is being repurposed as he runs for the People's Party of Canada. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

The EDA said it also wants Fletcher to return all the promotional material, a portable speaker system, scanners, Canadian flags and other materials purchased with their funding.

"You have been told to return all this property and have ignored that response. The EDA regards this as theft," the letter said.

Fletcher said he didn't receive a letter until Sunday, and the hard copy arrived at his campaign office on Monday morning.

He said recent poll numbers suggest he could win the riding and that's why the Tories are homing in on him.

"It's all obviously false and just outrageous that they would sink to this level," Fletcher said in a telephone interview with the CBC.

An EKOS poll conducted from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9 suggests 24.5 per cent of voters were possible, likely or certain to vote for Fletcher in the federal election.

During his visit to Winnipeg on Monday, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer was asked whether there is concern about potential vote splitting between the Conservatives and the People's Party in Manitoba — specifically, in the riding where Fletcher is running.

"Not at all; people know this election is a choice between Justin Trudeau and myself," said Scheer.

Legal notice surfaces online

The letter had been posted on Twitter Monday night by Michael Diamond, a campaign strategist in Toronto who said he has no involvement in any campaign. Both Orle and the EDA deny leaking the letter, but Fletcher believes it's being done to sully his name.

"They're tweeting it around the country, so that speaks to the integrity of these individuals," he said.

Fletcher said for a party to talk about privacy, and then have their legal notice leaked, is ironic.

"The Conservative Party has a history of leaks. The EDA was in good shape until the latest group got control and they're leaking legal letters to non-legal people in Toronto," he said.

CBC News reached out to Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections, but neither entity is charged with regulating the alleged theft of voter data.

Under Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, there are requirements for political parties to have privacy policies, but there is no independent oversight body.

"[Privacy] Commissioner [Daniel] Therrien had raised a number of concerns with respect to C-76, including the need for independent oversight, which he believes is necessary to ensure that privacy policies are actual safeguards applied in practice," wrote a spokesperson for the privacy commissioner of Canada in an email.

Fletcher alleges voter list sharing

The association wrote that Fletcher had three days to comply, but when asked to elaborate on what would happen at the end of the day, a spokesperson for the EDA said it would be up to their legal team. The legal team said they will have a clearer course of action after speaking with Fletcher's legal counsel.

"We have no further comment at this point. The issue has been referred to our legal team," said the spokesperson.

Fletcher said if Elections Canada officials want to check the data he has, they can, but those making the allegations should be wary.

"If they would like to open the issues of voter lists, I hope they do because we will be able to demonstrate that it is in fact the CPC party who shares its lists with the PC party in Manitoba and the reverse is true," he claimed.

Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba CEO Keith Stewart denied the allegations.

"The CPC and PC Manitoba are two separate entities and there is no data sharing between us," he said in an email.

With files from Dana Hatherly and Ian Froese

now