Elections Canada glitch affects Gomery Inquiry

Questions about campaign contributions raised during the Gomery inquiry into the scandal-plagued federal sponsorship program led Elections Canada this week to make a quick fix to one of its financial Web applications.

When former

Prime Minister Jean Chretien testified before Justice John Gomery earlier this week, he was at a loss to explain a discrepancy between forms filled out by his own riding officials and Elections Canada data about donations made by Montreal businessman Jacques Corriveau and his companies to the Liberals’ 2000 campaign. Chretien’s riding officials said the Corriveau contributions totaled $5,000, while data pulled from Elections Canada’s Contributions and Expenses database showed a total of more than $13,000.

In a letter to Justice Gomery that was released to the public on Wednesday, Elections Canada chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley admitted the discrepancy was based on a programming error.

“The contributions to Mr. Chretien’s campaign are accurately reported in the section on the Elections Canada Web site dealing with his campaign return.” Kingsley’s letter said. “However, when searching across all such reports under a contributor’s name, an error results in the total amounts contributed. In Mr. Corriveau’s case, as in the case for Mrs. Corriveau, the correct amount is $1,500 each for the 2000 general election.”

Elections Canada spokeswoman Miriam Gennaro said the flaw would have created similar discrepancies for information in the database related to campaign contributions made between 2000 to 2003. This was not merely limited to the Chretien campaign. 

“Within that sort of global search, it would have affected all contributions to all candidates of all political entities,” she said. 

Gennaro was unable to provide more technical details on the nature of the programming error, or about the applications Elections Canada uses to compile its database.

Elections Canada provided election results online for the first time in 1997, when it worked with Ottawa-based Global-X-Change Communications Inc. (GlobalX), a Microsoft Solution Provider, to create a suite of Web applications. These not only included up-to-the-minute results for all 301 federal ridings but a “What’s my Riding” feature for voters to obtain information about their riding candidates and polling station locations; and on-line registration for special ballot or out-of-country voting.

The initial system was set up on Windows NT Server platform running IIS 3.0, with MS Access 97 as the database. Custom applications were created in Visual Basic 5.0.

GlobalX was later acquired by Toronto-based OnX Enterprise Solutions, which was awarded a $2.4-million contract to upgrade Election Canada’s applications and host its Web site. OnX’s work on the project won the firm an award from Microsoft in 2001, but Elections Canada later moved the work to Qunara, a privately-held Internet service provider which later became part of Allstream.

“The (applications) have probably been developed further since then, but I haven’t looked at them in years,” said Sheldon Pollack, OnX’s CEO.

Calls to Allstream were not returned at press time.

In an Elections Canada report published last June, Kingsley said the Allstream partnership would improve “the delivery of services and information over the Web to employees, returning office staff, the public and other stakeholders. Upgrading and standardizing desktop software at all locations greatly improved our ability to communicate electronically internally and with our clients.”

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