It is often said Canada has no “founding theme” – no founding story. Unlike America or France with their revolutions, or India’s non-violent independence struggle, Canada is often described as a “nation of regions” brought together as an English colony.
Is this true? Has it ever been true? What does bind Canada together? How do we self-identify?
What do we have? What is our founding story? Does Canada have a “founding mythology”? Yes, we do. But… it is not one of revolution, rebellion and civil war. Not such ‘romantic’ notions at all (no matter what our current government tries to define with much expenditure of public funds). Rather, ours is a story of a nation born of coming together – sometimes passionately. We speak of “nation building”. Our “two solitudes” lie together in relative marital bliss. Sure there have been some rough patches, but we’re still here. Through all of the struggles our founding spirit of cooperation has been the glue which binds.
In today’s modern, well-developed Canada, we tend not to discuss the building of the nation. We seem to be smitten with more leisurely pursuits – Hockey Night in Canada, War of 1812 re-enactments, getting our Tim Horton’s badge, etc. Sure, we discuss politics at times. We try to exchange ideas and create debate. Yet, despite our attempts, the public seems more engaged in the dog and pony show that is Question Period – and our Mainstream Media endorses and spotlights it.
How does the modern Canada begin to engage the electorate – the citizenry?
South of the 49th, we see some semblance of an answer. President Obama and the DNC used an impressive array of Social Media and online measures to engage the population. The Democrats were able to draw out groups who were often marginalized or left out of the public discussion. Their focused campaign brought results in 2 elections, with resounding victories.
Media – and now Social Media – do help Canada come together. The ability to have a discussion – a conversation – across vast distances in real time allows us to ideas at a level never before imagined. Today politicians don’t have to board the CPR and “whistle stop” across the land to get an idea across. They travel primarily for the traditional ‘flesh pressing’ and photo-ops, and the advantage of saying ‘I was there’. The key ideas and platforms we discuss today are delivered by sustained media campaigns over the ‘airwaves’, but increasingly over the ‘ethernet’ – the World Wide Web.
An online opportunity exists for parties which seize it. We have – up to now – seen varied degrees of success online by Canadian parties. The American Democrats tend to lead. In Canada we tend to follow suit – even if a few years after the States. The federal parties all use Social Media to some extent. Part of the Conservative Party’s targeting campaign uses it, even if they still rely heavily on TV ads, direct mail, and robocalls. The NDP has established a solid web presence, but has also maintained a solid network within organized labour. The Liberal Party – while perhaps not having been the best at targeting voters in the past few elections – has quite likely the largest “online army” of bloggers, tweeters, and volunteers.
Typically the progressives have been more active online – perhaps driven by the need to organize easily, without huge budgets. One only needs to look at the success of the ‘Twitter’ Arab Spring, or Occupy to see what can be done with little or no money. Progressive parties also tend to have to find alternatives to mainstream corporate media. Conservatives tend to be less inclined to join the online discussion. There certainly are many Conservative blogs and websites, but at an organized political level our federal Conservative Party had to hire staffers for jobs that other parties had volunteers for. This isn’t the intended grassroots groundswell that created movements like occupy – and it is something a lot of laypersons don’t understand about success marketing and selling your brand on Social Media.
Canadian moderates – or Liberals – have been online for quite some time. Liblogs.ca is a liberal blog aggregator which hosts the top liberal blogs in Canada. ProgressiveBloggers.ca is another moderate blog aggregator (although it also has a fairly active left wing and green contingent).
Blogging is an important Social Media activity, and a very important part of sharing a message, and promoting a message. Blogs can be the key to both ‘offence’ and ‘defence’ in a campaign. Blogs can be used to ‘feed’ the MSM, since they are where the MSM does research and appropriate most of their stories. Most journalists these days will admit they find a lot of their stories online via tweets, or simply by ‘discovering’ breaking blog stories.
There is, however, much beyond blogging – the ways we tie it all together with message – which will take us to the next level. What we are seeing right now from the very organized Justin Trudeau campaign is a great example of where we can be. The Trudeau Campaign – spearheaded by a novel Social Media team (led by online marketing pioneer – Tara Hunt) – has been successful in effectively doubling the size of the Liberal Party of Canada membership/supporter base. Using innovation and a lot of solid outreach, and engaging Canadians in REAL conversations, has helped the campaign to it’s current position as frontrunners. The campaign has taken advantage of great technology like Google Hangouts to create HOA (Hangouts On Air) – live YouTube feeds of Google+ Hangouts.
The key to all this is that you get your ideas out, in a world where the Mainstream Media MIGHT give you 15mins. What keeps your message in the public eye? What ensures people have time to hear your message unfiltered? What we’ll see in the months ahead, and leading into the late 2014 or 2015 Federal Election will answer those questions, and show a new level of engagement of the Canadian electorate.
Herman Thind, BSc., OOST,
Certified Social Media Strategist.
Herman is a community advocate, consultant, and a student of all things political. He was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and grew up across Western Canada.