Municipal politics became the subject of robocall intrigue last month when constituents in St. Paul’s reportedly received an automated voicemail urging them to support subways.
Resident Steven Gaber said he received a robocall on his voicemail system urging Gaber to threaten to pull support for his councillor if his councillor didn’t support a subway plan. The call came days before council voted on a light rail plan for Sheppard Avenue East.
At first, Gaber thought he was listening to a sales pitch.
“I wasn’t paying much attention to it because I don’t pay attention to those kinds of calls then I suddenly realized what they were talking about,” said Gaber. “And it was about the subways and the vote coming up at council.”
Gaber said the message indicated he should support subways, and then urged him to contact his councillor, who happens to be Josh Matlow. According to Gaber, Matlow was not mentioned by name in the message.
“They told me to contact my councillor and let them know that should they not vote in the correct direction, with the mayor — that I should threaten that I will not support them in the next election.”
As far as Gaber knows, no one was identified in the message.
It was going on 30 to 40 seconds when he deleted it, Gaber says, adding in hindsight he wished he had saved it for Matlow. Instead he sent an email describing what he had heard to the councillor’s office.
Shortly after learning of the incident, Matlow says another constituent mentioned to him that she had also received a robocall addressing the same matter.
The council vote, which took place March 22, followed months of heated debate over whether to build light rail or subways. The matter has caused divisiveness at council, pitting Mayor Rob Ford and fellow pro-subway councillors against those who favoured a light rail plan.
Matlow said he’s not making much of it, but he’s curious to know who funded the calls.
“There’s lots of issues debated at city hall, but the very fact that there’s an alleged robocall means that somebody had some money to put behind this,” he said. “So that’s interesting.
“That being said, though, this is arguably the most contentious issue that we’ve debated at city council this term.”
The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, who had launched their own robocall campaign around the time Gaber said he received the robocall, denied any responsibility.
“We launched a robocall campaign last Saturday but in no way did we target any city councillor and certainly did not encourage our supporters to threaten politicians with electoral defeat,” said coalition president Matthew McGuire in a statement posted on their website March 16.
One of Ford’s staffers also said the mayor’s office had nothing to do with the robocalls.
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