LONDON, ONT. - Liberal Deb Matthews showed up outside a local PC candidate’s office on Tuesday to allege the Tories are sending out letters misdirecting voters to the wrong polling station on election day.
And later Tuesday, the Liberals alleged that another letter, sent from Toronto, directed an Ottawa resident to vote in the wrong spot. The party has filed an updated complaint with Elections Ontario and is demanding a full investigation.
The Tories charge that the Liberals are engaging in last-minute mud slinging, saying a volunteer made a simple error with the London letter, which went to 64 households and doesn’t actually tell anyone where to vote.
Matthews disagrees, calling the letter “unethical and immoral.”
“This letter went to people directing them to vote 15 minutes away from where they live. It is an obvious attempt to discourage voters,” she said at a London strip mall outside PC Jeff Bennett’s London West riding campaign office.
The Ottawa letter, routed through the same postal depot in Toronto as the London letter, was sent to a resident of Ottawa West-Nepean, the party alleged. The party said the Nepean letter “confused” a Liberal supporter by directing her to vote 1.4 km away from her home even though her actual voting station is right across the street.
Both letters are almost identical to ones sent out in the Niagara Falls byelection last February on behalf of PC Bart Maves’ campaign last February, the Liberal party said.
“And that time they said it was an administrative error,” Matthews said, alleging it is “inconceivable” this has happened by accident again.
Matthews, who served as the Ontario health minister in the Kathleen Wynne government, is the Liberal candidate for London North Centre. The letter, dated June 6, allegedly went to two Liberal supporters in that riding.
“This is a robocall-type tactic. It is unacceptable,” she said.
In the federal 2011 campaign, a voter suppression scandal arose over misleading robocalls misdirecting voters. A former Conservative staffer is currently on trial over that.
The Liberals have “urgently” complained to Elections Ontario.
The London letter was written by Tim Gatten, a member of the Tory riding association for London North Centre, explained Jeff Lang, who works for Nancy Branscombe, the PC candidate for the riding. He said a volunteer mistakenly sent some of the letters to Liberal supporters.
Lang said Gatten’s form letter urges Tory supporters to get out and vote: “Our plan is to drive together to the Ridgeview Community Church at 1470 Glenora Dr. for the opening of the polls at 9 a.m.”
The letter “might be confusing,” said Lang, but it doesn’t direct anyone somewhere they shouldn’t be. Gatten’s poll is at that church.
Nonetheless, Matthews is outraged.
“I believe in democracy. I believe in a good fight. But the notion that he would misdirect voters, taking away their right to vote, is completely outrageous. I’m asking Tim Hudak to explain what happened here,” Matthews said outside the mall.
Branscombe put out a brief statement apologizing for any inconveniences the letter may have caused the 64 households.
“Today I was made aware that letters from my campaign may have caused some confusion for residents of 64 households in the riding of London North Centre,” her statement said. “We are contacting these households to clarify.”
It is illegal in Ontario to stop a citizen from voting and the Ontario Elections Act can impose fines of $25,000 and two years in prison.