Probe launched into AFL robocalls

The Alberta Federation of Labour is being investigated by Elections Alberta after conducting a provincial telephone poll decrying the Wildrose Party.

In a robocall telephone poll that called 1.54 million Albertans from April 17 to April 18, the federation asked "do you support or do you oppose the Wildrose plan to use taxpayer money to subsidize corporate, for-profit health care?"

If someone misses the call, a taped message is left by AFL President Gil McGowan pleading with conservative-minded voters that "if you care about medicare, Wildrose is not the answer."

Elections Alberta says it has received numerous complaints against the AFL about the calls.

And the Wildrose Party is alleging the poll breaks laws that require third-party advertisers to be registered with Elections Alberta. Violators of the law can face fines of up to $100,000 in court.

"We have opened a file and will determine if the AFL was in compliance or not in compliance," said Drew Westwater, a spokesman with Elections Alberta.

In 2008, the Progressive Conservative government imposed a gag order to stop organizations like the AFL — who represent several unions and employee associations — from advertising during a provincial election.

"Instead we conducted a poll, which is not prohibited under the legislation," said McGowan.

"It's our position that we did not violate the legislation because it clearly allows organizations such as ourselves to conduct polls."

McGowan said the poll showed 57% of the 27,000 respondents do not support the Wildrose platform for health care.

While the poll and voicemail message highlights the faulty policies of the PCs while advocating against the Wildrose, McGowan said they never state the non-partisan organization supports any party in particular.

But they do.

Prior to the election, the 29 union presidents represented by the AFL asked for a breakdown of each party's campaign platforms.

After that, it was determined the NDP platform was the most beneficial and the AFL decided to actively advocate for the election of NDP candidates on their website.

Elections Canada asked the AFL to shut down their website during the election because of their support for NDP candidates. The AFL refused, however, and McGowan challenged Elections Alberta on the issue.

"We think it's ludicrous that organizations should be forced to shut down their website during an election campaign," he said.

"It was an outrageous restriction of freedom of expression."

McGowan said the poll wasn't conducted on behalf of the NDP.

"We did it because we thought the Wildrose is getting a free ride in terms of their plans for the privatization of health care," he said.

"If Danielle Smith and her party get elected and move forward with the promises they made, it will be the end of medicare as we know it.

"For us, it's really important that progressive voters support parties and candidates who really believe in medicare and will go to the wall to defend it."

McGowan said they have received nearly 80 responses to their poll — half of which are complaints against the AFL for conducting the poll.

Audrey, a 73-year-old Riverbend resident who didn't want her last name published, said she received two calls from the AFL and doesn't think they have any business conducting a robocall campaign.

"They've got nothing to do with this election," she said.

"I'm sure their members can have their own opinion but I just don't think they should be involved in trying to find out whether you're voting for Wildrose or the PCs on the issue.

"They're not supposed to support parties or tell their members who to vote for."

The Wildrose said it will be filing an official complaint with Alberta's chief electoral officer.

Edmonton Sun, Thurs Apr 19 2012
Byline: Matthew Dykstra

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