by Matt Faulknor Friday October 29, 2010

Politics and the power of social media, this week at Queen’s Park! Also, courtesy of Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation, the perils of social media. 

Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Social media can be a very effective communication tool for politicians. Think Obama and the 2008 presidential election. Weeks prior to the election Barrack Obama had 2,071,473 “friends” on Facebook. On his dedicated YouTube brand channel he had 100,000 subscribers and his videos were viewed 17.1 million times. His online numbers dwarfed those of his competitor, the Republican nominee John McCain. Although YouTube subscribers and Facebook “friends” don’t necessarily translate into voters, the McCain-Obama online number gap was indicitave of the Obama campaign’s ability to effectively get their message across. When controversial sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened to derail their campaign, team Obama posted to YouTube Obama’s thirty-seven minute long speech on race. Very quickly, Obama’s rebuttal to his former pastor attracted 5.3 million viewers. With the help of social media, team Obama effectively killed the controversy.

Social media allows politicians to reach greater audiences, of course. Using these tools, however, isn’t just a good way of making the message more accessible, it can also make the message more intimate, more immediate, personal, presumably honest, and that can be very valuable.

For example, here’s Premier Dalton McGuinty’s tweet from late Thursday, October 28th, “Off to China for 7 days to strengthen trade ties and create #Ontario jobs.” Hours later he tweets, “In Shanghai. 14hr flight. Got a lot of work done. Gotta learn how to sleep on a plane.” The same basic information (Premier goes to China on trade mission to promote investment in Ontario) can be found on the Government of Ontario’s official Newsroom website. In tweet form, however, the message loses its impersonal tone. On Twitter it’s as if the Premier is speaking directly to us, he has made it known that he is working hard on our behalf by going to China, he admits to having trouble sleeping on the plane, and thus, he is offering us the opportunity to commiserate and better appreciate his efforts.

Likewise Lisa MacLeod, Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean-Carleton. At 4:16 PM on October 27th MacLeod tweeted “I cannot wait to see my daughter tonight...boy I miss her!” and then 48 minutes later “Thank you Darrin Phipps from @porterairlines for getting me to Ottawa earlier than I thought I could!” The thought of a busy Ontario MPP stuck at a Toronto airport, trying to get home to Ottawa for the weekend so she can see her daughter, and being grateful for the airport service provided her, is humanizing. It makes Lisa MacLeod more relatable, she’s just like one of us.

While writing this blog I found a great site called which posts Tweets from Members of Ontario's Provincial Parliament.

Social media creates a more direct link between politician and citizen. A politician can tweet or post his or her thoughts in real time and send them out to the world. These thoughts often appear unscripted and unfiltered through the usual communications team of aides and public relations people. This, as was proven by Glenn Murray, Ontario's Minister of Research and Innovation, can also be a problem.

On Saturday, October 23rd, Glenn Murray posted the following comment on Twitter:

"If u vote Ford u r voting for bigotry.”

Minutes later he re-tweeted:

“Ford, Hudak and Harper — the trifecta of Republican-style, right wing ignorance and bigotry.”

In the Legislature on Wednesday, October 27th, Murray explained his tweets, claiming he was responding to attacks on his family and friends during Toronto’s mayoral race. “We experienced three days of unrelenting, hateful, homophobic attacks postering the neighbourhoods gay and lesbian people live in; mailouts denigrating the characters of my friends, my neighbours and their children; and attacks on the radio on the legitimacy of gay and lesbian families,” he stated. FYI, Glenn Murray is an openly gay man.

The radio ad in question was a pro-Rob Ford anti-gay ad targeting mayoral candidate George Smitherman. It appeared on a Tamil radio station, CTBC- Canadian Tamil Broadcasting Corporation. The ad can be heard here on YouTube. In it, two Tamil men discuss the Toronto mayoral election. “We have a religion, a culture... Take Rob Ford… he is married to a woman,” one man says to the other. In case you were unaware, mayoral candidate George Smitherman is married to a man. It is not clear who was behind the ad. Rob Ford’s campaign team denied any responsibility.

@RobFordTeam (the official Twitter account of the Rob Ford campaign) wrote:

"I do not condone the recent Tamil Radio ad. I support diversity & have no issue with others' lifestyle choices."

Not appreciating being called a “bigot” for something he didn’t do, Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak demanded an apology. Eventually, Glenn Murray did just that. He stood in the legislature and said, “I should not have used the word. I should not have used the word in reference to the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister or the mayor-elect of the city of Toronto. I have apologized. My poor choice of words has distracted us from a substantive issue. The real issue for me is the use of homophobic smears in the final days of this week’s municipal campaign.”

So, what do you think of Glenn Murray’s Twitter comments? What do you think of his apology? Do you follow politicians on Twitter or Facebook? Let us know by commenting below.

Also this week, more questions about the Auditor General’s Report. On Wednesday, October 20th, Jim McCarter, the Auditor General of Ontario, released a thirty-two page report concerning the use of consultants in hospitals and Local Health Integration Networks (or LHINs). The Ontario PC party are calling his report eHealth 2.0. In response to the Auditor’s report, Health Minister Deb Matthews and the Liberal government quickly introduced tough new anti-lobbying legislation. This week at Queen’s Park, opposition says the legislation isn't tough enough. If you're interested in lobbyists and the Government of Ontario, check out this Agenda debate produced by coworker Mark Brosens.

Also, a First Nations’ emergency. Since last January there have been 3 murders, 61 assaults, 47 arsons and 73 drug-related incidents in the First Nations community in Fort Hope, Ontario. The Eabametoong First Nation Chief and council went so far as to declare a "state of emergency". Howard Hampton, former Ontario NDP leader and current NDP MPP for Kenora Rainy River, wants to know what the Ontario government plans to do about this crisis.

And finally, Ontario is aiming to become a world leader in producing and exporting clean water technologies. Environment Minister John Wilkinson elucidates.

Watch the show, this Sunday at 4:30 PM. You can also watch it online at Feel free to leave a comment or suggestion.
Queen’s Park This Week, is a half hour summary of Question Period that is assembled using clips from the Queen's Park legislative assembly proceedings. The program summarizes the primary issues and discussions that have occupied the provincial legislature over the course of the week, and allow Ontarians to obtain a kind of "executive summary" of the proceedings every week that the house is in session.





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