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Opposition leaders vow to maintain pressure on Tories over alleged dirty tricks

The opposition politicians were out in force Saturday fanning the flames created by the election robocall scandal, while the Conservatives offered up their own victim of dirty tricks, an MP who won his seat in a landslide.

Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, who is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, issued a statement Saturday saying his supporters were targeted by deceitful callers in the lead-up to the May election.

“My own campaign in Peterborough was the victim of dirty tricks, with Conservative supporters harassed by late-night abusive calls, and our party condemns these acts,” Del Mastro, who trounced his opponents by nearly 15,000 votes, said in a brief statement.

Both NDP leader Nycole Turmel and Liberal leader Bob Rae raised the controversy while campaigning in the upcoming by-election in the riding of Toronto-Danforth. They vowed to keep the heat on the governing Conservatives.

Turmel said the scandal has eroded Canadians’ faith in the electoral process and a thorough RCMP probe is necessary to restore credibility in the system.

Rae told reporters the calls won’t be a “24-hour wonder” news story that will go away by Monday.

“It would appear from what we’re hearing that there’s lots more to come and it’s very important for everyone to see that we get to the bottom of exactly what happened in the last election,” he told a news conference.

Elections Canada and police are looking into reports that automated calls in as many as 18 ridings falsely advised voters that the location of their polling stations had changed. In other instances, voters received harassing late-night or early-morning calls that purported to be from an opposition campaign office.

The Tories said they will provide information regarding the incidents to Elections Canada and urged anyone with knowledge of the calls to “come clean immediately.”

The Liberals blamed the growing scandal on Harper, accusing him of fostering a toxic political culture.

“We are entering into a kind of Nixonian moment in our political culture, where all kinds of dirty tricks seem to be possible, all kinds of dirty tricks seem to be encouraged,” Rae said _ a reference to tactics used in the early 70s by Republicans under then U.S. President Richard Nixon.

The Conservatives have insisted they ran a “clean and ethical campaign” _ but the left open the possibility of a rogue operative being involved.

There were various media reports Friday that Conservative staffer Michael Sona resigned in the aftermath of the automated calls controversy, even though there is no public evidence he had any link to the matter. Neither his reported departure _ nor whether there was a connection to the robocall controversy _ could be confirmed.

Both Turmel and Rae said the scheme was too broad and complex to stem from one lone agent.

“We don’t believe one person did it alone _ too many ridings are affected by this,” Turmel said.

The Liberals are demanding an emergency debate on the issue in the House of Commons on Monday.