Deb Matthews said she is “outraged” that a well-known Conservative would attach his name to a letter misdirecting Liberal Party supporters away from the correct polling station in this Thursday’s (June 12) election.
Matthews, the incumbent in London North Centre, made the allegation outside of a rally for London West PC candidate Jeff Bennett on Tuesday (June 10) — one attended by PC leader Tim Hudak. Hudak did not take questions for the media during his appearance.
However, Tim Gatten, the person whose name is attached to the letter — and who is a former Conservative candidate and senior constituency assistant to London North Centre MP Susan Truppe and a current board member of the PC riding association in London North Centre — vehemently denied the accusation. In fact, Gatten was moved to tears when asked about the allegations, saying he was in no way part of an attempt at misleading the public.
“It’s simply not true. All I did was lend my name to the (Nancy) Branscombe campaign; they were going to send out letters to supporters,” Gatten said. “The letter that went out apparently, and I don’t know all the details, it was a volunteer, it went into the wrong envelopes, went to the wrong area, and there you go,”
The letter in question was delivered to “at least two people we know of,” Matthews said, individuals who also happened to have Liberal Party signs on their lawns.
In supporting her allegation, Matthews pointed to the by-election in Niagara Falls last February where a letter authorized by the PC campaign directed voters to an incorrect polling location. At the time, a PC party spokesperson said the letter was the result of an “administrative error.”
Matthews said it is “impossible,” to her mind that the letter was sent out in error, reiterating she couldn’t understand how the same mistake could be made in two different ridings.
“It was clearly directed at Liberal Party supporters telling them to vote in the wrong place,” Matthews said. “It is completely unacceptable, it is immoral, it is unethical and it is illegal. This is a robocall-type tactic.”
Jeff Lang, campaign manager and chair of Branscombe’s campaign in London North Centre, said Gatten and other board members in the riding association were asked if they would lend their names to correspondence that was to be sent out to supporters.
The letter says Gatten plans to drive to Ridgeview Community Church for the opening of the polls at 9 a.m. on Thursday. For at least one of the letter recipients, Matthews said, that would represent at least a 15-minute drive away from where they live.
Lang said a volunteer had “mislabeled” some of the letters, which he estimated numbered “60 at the most.” He also pointed out Ridgeview Community Church would be Gatten’s poll on Thursday.
“We certainly were never misdirecting anyone to a wrong polling station,” Lang said. “And anyone who knows Tim would know he would never be a part of that.”
Lang said the campaign would be “hand-delivering” the reprinted letters to the correct recipients Tuesday (June 10) evening.
Having already made an official complaint to Elections Ontario, Matthews said she was asking both Hudak and Branscombe to explain how the letter could have been sent out.
In addressing the accusation, Gatten, questioned what he would have to gain from misdirecting people. He added that any such behaviour would be far outside the kind of integrity he is known for and the allegations were personally hurtful.
“It is breaking my heart. I have run in three elections in this town, and every election I have run in, all I have had is my integrity,” Gatten said. “I have never done anything wrong and this is killing me; it is just bizarre.”