Robo-call firm used for town hall

Okanagan Coquihalla MP Dan Albas contracted Rack 9 for last year's telephone town hall meeting

Dan Albas wants everyone to know that though he had dealings with Rack 9 Media, he did not hire them to do robo-calling for his campaign.

The robo-call scandal, where automated calls were made in some areas harassing voters or misinforming them of polling station locations, proved to have a long reach when the Okanagan Coquihalla MP’s name showed up on a list of elected officials who had been in touch with Rack 9.

Albas admits that calls were made from his campaign to the company at the centre of the robo-call scandal. Those calls, however, were to arrange the telephone town hall meeting he hosted during the 2011 campaign, not to book their automating calling service.

“I tried to address the issue up front by making a statement so that people could know that a media story done nationally was not factually correct,” said Albas. “My purpose in using Rack 9 Media was to facilitate greater interaction and to make myself more available and accountable as a candidate to people throughout the riding.”

Rack 9 was chosen, according to Albas, simply because they were a Canadian company offering the service. This technology, Albas said, is relatively new and, while common in the U.S. is less so in Canada.

“I wanted to use a Canadian company and Rack 9 is based out of Edmonton,” said Albas.

Nor, Albas said, has he tried to hide the connection to Rack 9. The $4,683.65 price tag for the town hall meeting is listed on the statement of his campaign expenses, though it does not show clearly in the online version at Elections Canada. There is, however, a reference stating “see attached” in the amount of $33,563.03, a list of expenses not posted individually. That list, Albas points out, includes a line item for Rack 9.

The telephone town hall was an invaluable tool, according to Albas, and, judging from the feedback he received, was appreciated by the constituents. But, he continued, the concept of robo-calls should be reviewed, not just in terms of the political arena, but also sales and marketing.

“I do believe we need to have a good look at the concept of robo-calls in general, and not just political ones. There is an increasing amount of robo-calls related to sales and marketing. We need to look at increased regulation in this area or at least a general review,” said Albas. “We can’t have a situation where anonymous interests influence our democratic process. That’s something we need to show zero tolerance for.”

Albas stops short of supporting the call for a public inquiry, however.

“We need to wait for Elections Canada to complete their investigation and learn all the facts involved,” Albas said. “If there were wrongdoings, then we should support Elections Canada in their efforts to root it out. If that means calling the RCMP in, that’s completely at their discretion. Elections should always be fundamentally fair, open and as democratic as possible.”