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On the recall of the B.C. Legislature, Vacancy tax and Political Expediency

Word came in this morning: on July 25th the B.C. Legislature will be recalled into a summer session to deal with, as the government puts it ‘ the housing crisis in Vancouver’. All the plans, holidays, attending conventions, long set meetings around the province – all ditched. Now, don’t get me wrong – Ministers, MLAs and staff should always be prepared for the unexpected, including a re-call, but that should be balanced with necessity. An emergency like a natural disaster, economic meltdown, constitutional crisis – those are justifiable reasons. A ‘Vacancy Tax’ is bottom of the list for reasons I will outline.

For context: Vancouver (not just the City of Vancouver, but the entire metro region) has a housing problem. It has been festering for years if not decades, but has exploded into an affordability crisis with tear down bungalows selling for millions. In June alone house prices rose over 16%. The rental vacancy rate is below 0.6%, (the consensus among many urban planners and housing experts is anything below 2% is a major problem). Companies, institutions, public sector services are all being impacted as they can no longer attract or retain employees simply due to housing affordability. The Mayor of Vancouver trying to tackle the issue and also lay blame, threatened the provincial government with a deadline: put in a vacancy tax by mid-August or we will do it ourselves. An interesting notion as the charter governing the city is provincial law so the ability of mayor and council to enact their own law is moot. The B.C. Liberal government blinked, and for however long it takes over the rest of the summer we will debate, argue, and eventually have a vote. This after the government was late in accepting it needed data, on foreign ownership and investment, of which we now have a truly irrelevant data set of house sales for 19 days in June. There is no real data on vacant homes, no definition on a vacant property and even the Mayor admits they have no clue on what the tax percentage would be, how it would apply and be collected, how properties would be monitored, and the ultimate end use of any collected taxes on how that would increase housing stock.

We are led to believe that a vacancy tax, in absence of any comprehensive housing policy, investment and legislation, will somehow magically solve the problem. Certainly, it might well be one tool in the kit, in fact a major power tool to dampen down speculation buying. However, it must be applied uniformly across the province. The legislation, at least what we have heard so far, will apply only to the City of Vancouver, pushing the real estate speculation market more emphatically across Metro Vancouver boundaries into Burnaby, Surrey, Richmond, and further afield (as is already happening) to Nanaimo, Victoria Kelowna and beyond.

Secondly, those who can afford a multi-million dollar tear down, to sit on it for profit, are unlikely to suddenly see the light and put it on the rental market. There are likely numerous ways to get around a definition of vacant, in fact I would bet there will be quasi-commercial services that will ‘lease’, hold or somehow occupy a property for far less than the tax cost, doing nothing to increase availability.

Thirdly, by all accounts, and again the data has not been even remotely collected, the majority of unoccupied properties are condos. Certainly, a vacancy tax could, in fact should, increase that supply, but it does little good for parents with children and multi-generational families requiring larger houses.

So why the rush to legislate? The City of Vancouver does not have a plan, only a vague idea and in fact say any new tax and/or bylaws will only be in place sometime next year. The provincial government can, in fact should, collect more data, do a review on the positive and negative impacts, look at how other jurisdictions have dealt with over-heated and speculative markets, and put together a comprehensive package of housing policies for a fall session. Rushed legislation is never good legislation. This is about the B.C. Liberal government making the appearance of quick action, when in fact the warnings have been loud and clear for years.

Rant over: let the summer games begin.

On Brexit – and Colossal Collapse of Reason

June the 23rd 2016 will go down in history as one the biggest collective lapses of reason. Answering the political messaging ‘dog whistle’ a majority of United Kingdom citizens, 52% to 48%, voted to leave the European Union. It is a decision that has ramifications well beyond the borders of the current UK and Europe, some of those felt early in the days following where the British Pound suffered a 13% loss and stocks reeled. The markets will settle quickly, our world may not.

For context. I am lucky to be born Canadian, from British parents. They were UK born and bred, emigrated in the mid-sixties to be teachers in rural Alberta. They reached the immigrant’s dream obtaining PHDs, new careers in universities and in business, and had me and my sister. One legacy for us kids: the right to British citizenship, and a passport. I used that to full advantage. In 1992, at the end of a back-packing trip through Europe, I parked myself in Brugge, Belgium: met my life partner, we had a son, created a business, and frankly lived the EU ideal of no borders. I was helping manning a hotel and bar till machine at midnight as the Euro was introduced – exchanging Belgian Francs for Euros – and in 1995 with the Schengen agreement all border controls dropped. It was a seminal moment leading a bike tour on that day when we crossed from Belgium to the Netherlands: no passport checks, just a sign saying welcome.

In 2005 we moved to Victoria, Canada – and have watched from afar, and in the new family home, recognized how the political conversation has changed. The #Brexit vote is simply the most recent manifestation of an anti-establishment outcry: in the EU with the rise of both right wing and hard left (France and Greece as examples), in South America, and in the US with the theatrical rise of Trump – interestingly THE Trump was in Scotland opening a re-vamped golf course on the day of the UK/EU referendum. His comments supporting the Leave vote magnifies how the misinformation, the dog-whistle on immigration, the simply idiotic messaging on the economy, has set the UK on a path to irrelevance. The vote itself also clearly shows the general electoral are fed up: In The UK, in the US, in Europe – we had it clearly in Canada provincially with Alberta going NDP after decades of a conservative government, then a sweep with the Federal Liberals in a general election. In the US Bernie Sanders is still not entirely done, and has pushed the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton far more progressive than her comfort zone, while Trump has turned the Republican Party into a denial of itself.

Brexit means the UK will have to eventually invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty: a painful leave process with no precedent. It means negotiating with not only the EU council in terms of overall treaties, but each of the 27 countries individually in terms of residency, taxation, pension and health care rights; airline landings, visas… should I continue? There are 1.3 million UK citizens living, working, owning property and/or retired on the continent – and about 2 million EU citizens in the UK who are doing the same only by right of EU provisions. As part of the common market the UK saw economic growth, one of the lowest unemployment rates, a higher education outcome, and huge inward investment. In that time London reaffirmed itself as a global financial capital, manufacturers like Nissan opened plants creating thousands of jobs and UK businesses small and large enjoyed the benefits of importing and exporting tariff free. That is not at risk – that is gone.

Politicians and Pollsters Lost the Plot

referendum-mapSkepticism over Europe is not new. It has been around since 1972 when the UK joined the common market but came to a head in the last general election when the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party had to shore up a vocal split in his own front and back benches by promising a referendum. At the time it seemed ridiculous to even imagine the voters actually following through with a Leave vote – the likes of Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, and Boris Johnson, the bumbling Mayor of London were seen as representing a minority view. Surely the Labour Party supporters, Unions, Liberal Democrats and sober minds within the Conservative Party would come out on mass for Remain? What seemed an easy if cynical ploy to unite the incumbent Conservative Party in the face of a general election has turned into a nightmare.

The pollsters and media are equally to blame. In the lead up to the campaign received wisdom, lack luster polling and an insular media were more about spouting rhetoric on ‘why go through an expensive, even stupid, exercise in direct democracy when everybody knows the outcome’. As every election is about the economy, and everyone KNOWS the economic future of the UK is within a united Europe, then the result is obvious. True enough if your focus group is based in London, a failure to thoroughly investigate the general mood assuming middle Britain would vote the same was their downfall. In the end, the majority voted against their economic interests clearly illustrating the referendum was about something else – immigration. Enter UKIP and The Boris whose blatantly racist rhetoric and miss-truths on EU regulations was amplified by right wing tabloids reveling in the ideal of a country-garden England which has never existed. Blame also resides with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party who came late and reluctantly to the Remain campaign. The campaign was so divisive it led to the violent death of Labour MP Jo Cox, killed by a man yelling Britain First.

Signs of worry should have started early in the campaign when the Leave vote started gaining steam – in some polls nearly 10 points ahead of Remain. It should have been obvious something far deeper than economic self-interest was driving voters. In fact, beyond the anti-immigration sentiment far stronger than insulated and isolated politicians imagined, was an equally vigorous anti-establishment protest. The referendum was as much an anti-status quo vote as much as anything else. If this sounds familiar it is – just look at the US presidential race.

Right up to voting day the pollsters had it wrong. A YouGov exit poll on the day, released just as polls closed had 52% to 48% for remain, the exact opposite of the actual result. Other polls had the expected result close, within a margin of error, but generally leaning remain. Comments from government officials and financial houses who conducted their own private polling in the final days had Remain as high as 57%, which explains the market shock (no one had factored in a #Leave vote) and the waking-into-a-nightmare look on the face of Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England, as he addressed the cameras in a failed attempt to reassure currency and stock markets.

Collective Consequences

The future is highly uncertain but the consequences have begun. The Prime Minister David Cameron had no choice but to resign, leaving the door open for Boris Johnson to take the lead of an even more divided Conservative Party. The Labour Party is equally fraught with at least one high level MP fired for questioning Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and many others resigning in disgust. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, is adamant on calling a new independence referendum (one that is likely to pass now) and has announced direct talks with the EU will start in the next few weeks, an initiative welcomed by Angela Merkel. Politicians in Northern Ireland are calling for a break with the UK, an unlikely scenario, but it places the UK influence in jeopardy.

Economically the signs are also ominous in the immediate term. Financial houses and banks in London have already announced lay-offs or moving positions to Europe. Morgan Stanley announced on the day 2000 job losses in London, HSBC announced 4000 positions moving by the fall from London to Paris. Even the most conservative estimates see over 70,000 jobs in financial services alone going in the next few months.

passportManufacturing will also take a hit – a sad irony for bell-weather city Sunderland who voted overwhelmingly for Leave, and whose local economy is deeply reliant on thousands of jobs with car and appliance companies. 80% of products produced by large manufacturers in the UK are shipped to EU markets, it is highly unlikely they can or will stay in the face of import tariffs and export regulations. Germany, Belgium and France will benefit as the investment exodus begins.

Other consequences notably not voiced during the campaign. The National Health Service is in desperate shape already and will be hard hit as many doctors, specialists, nurses and technicians come from the EU. Every single UK passport will have to be re-issued. Research grants from Anthropology to Zoology, of which the EU pumps in $100s of millions will not be renewed, or even pulled. Over the next few months the list will get longer, and more dire.

The EU itself is not in a mood to play nice. The referendum has empowered far right movements especially in France and The Netherlands calling for their own vote. EU leaders and officials have already demanded the quick implementation of Article 50, and will be brutal and unforgiving in negotiations. They need to demonstrate to exit movements across the continent the dire consequences of leaving. There will be no middle ground on freedom of movement and being partly in or out of the common market. You are either in or out – a reality echoed by the current UK Finance Minister who reluctantly admitted just that in the media. A blow to Leave voters who somehow believed they could ‘choose’ the best of the EU opportunities, and block what they believed were the worse.

A Generation Lost

youth-voteTragically it is the younger generation who have been betrayed by their elders. 75% of voters under 24 voted for remain. They viscerally know their future lies in open borders, freedom of movement and the opportunities of a common market. That is suddenly now lost to current and future generations. The UK will diminish: economically and actually. Scotland will leave, the financial powerhouse that is London will decline, inward investment will never match the outflow. The UK will never have the leverage as it is forced to re-write international trade deals as it did with the backing of a connected market topping 400 million. The best and brightest from outside the UK will no longer see Britain as a top destination, and the best and brightest educated in the UK will grab opportunities elsewhere. No wonder web searches for emigrating to Canada and Australia spiked in the hours following the referendum results.

The EU will survive, it might even become more united, politically and economically powerful, with a UK exit.

The lesson for liberal democracies everywhere is that politicians and parties driven by donors and insiders are at the mercy of an increasingly angry, disenfranchised and motivated citizenry. Voters who feel their immediate issues are not addressed by the political class respond to the dog whistle, fact free, messages of xenophobic, power hungry, wing nuts like UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Rational self interest goes out the window, the result is a country on the road to irrelevance.

Emotionally I have moved from incredulity, to anger to simple sadness. The country of my parents, the country of my heritage is no longer.

 

A Few Predictions for 2016

The annual predictions. What is in store for the world. Canada, British Columbia and Victoria in 2016 (this is satire)

1: Donald Trump sweeps the GOP nomination, wins the 2016 Presidential election and at the inauguration slowly peels off his face mask to reveal…… Stephen Harper. The case of the disappearing former Prime Minister is finally solved.

2: Trudeau wins every international People’s Choice awards, gets the swimsuit edition cover of Sports Illustrated and is only slightly disappointed when receiving ’best supporting actor’ trophy at the Oscars behind Gerry Butts and Katie Telford (who together win best director, producer, script writer…) for CBC’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ film on the swearing in of cabinet. In the follow up media scrum Trudeau says “ Hey, they feed the lines, I’ve got the abs’.

3: Use and possession of recreational marijuana becomes legal across the country. Canadian best online casino slots Taxpayers Foundation have a collective stroke over new line item on tax forms: an automatic rebate to everyone for ‘Munchies’. Save your pizza receipts.

4: B.C. Premier Christy Clark buys a Prius to ‘connect with the Greens’, and is immediately filmed running a stop sign. Though to be fair Ministers Rich Coleman and Bill Bennett were in the back seat yelling GO as they were late for a meeting with Petronas. RCMP have no comment.

5: Global news media finally implodes and completely gives up after Jeff Bezos declares ‘I lose less money blowing up rockets than maintaining the Washington Post’. Your mainstream TV news is now 24 hours of ‘that guy on Youtube from North Dakota with the latest conspiracy theory’.

6: As the arctic melts, Inuit are asking, ‘where the hell is Nestle?’ Why pump southern aquifers for bottled water when we have buckets of pure melting icebergs? Get it while you can folks, it’s a fire sale, won’t last.

7: B.C. Ferries dumps the entire comms staff and gives the public relations contract to their Twitter parody account.

8: Lynton Crosby gets a Knighthood … oh wait. that actually happened.

9: IS (or ISIL, ISIS ,,, whatever) rebrands yet again. This time as a lamb kebab chain. Gets a star rating from YELP for the spice mix. Internet shut down as a ‘facilitator of terrorism’.

10: Oil drops to $24 per barrel: every fossil fuel corporation suddenly goes geo-thermal saying, ‘ we know how to drill, we have the maps – sorry it took so long’.

Wishing everyone a happy 2016!

2015 Already? A Few Predictions

Hard to believe it is 2015. The past year has been one of upheavals internationally, nationally and yes, even locally. Who would have thought a relatively unknown jihadist group a year ago would have taken over so much Syrian and Iraqi territory sending a coalition, including Canada, back into Middle East conflict, or that in Greater Victoria a mayor with well over a decade in office would be out of his job by over 1000 votes. defeated by a complete political neophyte – that happened in Saanich, and was reflected in the City of Victoria. With all that upheaval in mind from the previous 12 months, here are some predictions for 2015. With so much in play in all levels of politics and media…

1: BC Ferries figures it is actually more economical under their financial projections to winch Vancouver Island 20km closer to the mainland to save on fuel costs. Then once again hedges oil at $120 per barrel for the coming year. BC Government heralds this as ‘enlightened management’.

2: SHAW Cable hikes fees another 10%, wonders why users revolt. Hires now ex- BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan as a consultant.

3: Pope Francis appoints a lesbian, transgender, atheist bishop as head of Opus Dei. Becomes a regular panelist on Real Time with Bill Maher.

4: Black Press finally buys out all latent print media in British Columbia, places Tom Fletcher as full editor in charge. Editor Tom immediately reserves all Op/Ed placements for the Fraser Institute – no one notices.

5: National Energy Board in a big ‘whoops’ accidentally releases pre-approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline dated August 2014. Subsequent followup…’ hey folks, look at our record, did you expect anything different?’

6: Christy Clark in a major announcement disbands cabinet. Places Rich Coleman as Minister of Everything, saying ‘look at the guy! He’s BIG – he can do liquor, gambling, LNG – all that great, wonderful, goochy stuff BCers love!!’.  Donate here…

7: As a surprise Christy Clark calls a 2 week 2015 fall session of the Legislature – one bill to be debated, making obeying stop signs arbitrary. ‘Just want to be prepared for 2017’

8: BuzzFeed buys out Black Press

9: Trying not to be recalcitrant, ISIS welcomes homosexuals and demands equal panelist time with Pope Francis on Real Time with Bill Maher

10: Jack Knox will have a better top 10!

Happy New Year!

When Journalists Become the News in the Age of Social Media

There is no doubt social media has radically altered the news room, and the entire journalism profession. While the vast majority of editors, reporters, writers and broadcasters have scrambled to fit in an entire new medium and audience into what is often an overwhelming schedule, a few (and growing number) have stood out, carving niches and new positions . In Canada we can look to CBC’s Kady O’Malley (@Kady) whose twitter feed on the daily drama in Parliament is an education; Andy Carvin (@acarvin) from NPR who curated and sorted on citizen media throughout the Arab Spring and

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys). Matthew is young, only 26, and just over year into a position as deputy social media editor at Reuters in New York, one he came to after stints as a reporter in California. His online presence: erudite, prolific without being overwhelming, searching and questioning, and often humorous, helped quickly build a large following, likely securing the job. One reason Matthew has risen among the ‘noted’ of online journalists: he connects. Not simply broadcasting his employer’s articles, he asks questions, responds – has even caught me out with a few corrections (grateful).

Which is why the news today a California court has indicted Matthew Keys, accusing him of supplying log in information for Tribune websites to Anonymous leading to a LA Times hack, has shocked many. (You can read the full indictment here). It is this Guardian article which provides more clues: one which I suggest everyone read before jumping to conclusions as to innocence or guilt. He has investigated Anonymous, identifying himself as a journalist, and now is caught up a a US legal system which recently has proved to be zealous in prosecuting alleged hacking cases.

Of course, for any journalist to become the news, and in a legal situation, is difficult personally, and for the organization who employs them: even more so in the age of social media, and especially when said journalist is responsible for that aspect of the job. What might be a matter for the California legal system spread quickly with reports on the indictment of Matthew Keys across the world, with, of course, social media weighing in.

I have never met Matthew Keys, though would do so in an instant, with pleasure.  We have connected on both Twitter and Facebook since 2010/11, had many conversations, shared news – and I’ve delighted in following a young, capable and ambitious journalist rising to a position of responsibility at Reuters, largely through his own hard work and keen sense of digital media. Although it is only a few hours since the news of the indictment, it is also worth noting that (so far) Reuters has neither suspended, or moved him to another position.

This is a cautionary tale, one everyone engaged in social media should watch – journalists,  citizen media, activists – even those who simply retweet a message. As much as media are catching up to the social media space, the legal system and law enforcement are far behind. We should all recede from judgement on this particular case until the facts unfold, but recognize there is nothing online, nor a shred of anecdotal evidence that Matthew Keys has been dis-ingenuous to his audience or employers: personally or professionally.

 

Punditry Explodes on #BCpoli

Updated: Events can outpace thoughts. Just after this post was published news came in that cabinet will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday in Vancouver. This raises a number of questions: is it a backroom rally to support Premier Clark, a big show of unity? Have senior party members received notice from a number of MLAs they will leave caucus if the Premier remains? Stay tuned…

Political communication, especially in a age of Social Media, is always fascinating, especially true when a major scandal breaks in the lead to an election campaign. We can look back to the recent US Presidential election with the #47percent tag (when the video of Mitt Romney talking about 47% of the population being freeloaders was released) as the seminal moment for the GOP demise, and now, here in British Columbia, Canada with revelations this week now tagged on Twitter as #EthnicGate and #QuickWins:

Could this be empty soon?

Could this be empty soon?

For a recap, an email chain was made public showing senior BC Liberal party officials and government staffers planning to potentially use government resources targeting ethnic voters to support the party. This is not only unethical, it is illegal and a violation of the separation between non-partisan government work on behalf of all citizens in the province, and political campaigning. Full details can be found here in Cassidy Oliver’s article in The Province newspaper. The result has been the resignation of Premier Christy Clark’s Deputy Chief of Staff (and long time adviser) Kim Haakstad, a full apology in the Legislature, and a potentially even more damaging investigation into the entire matter.

As the CBC’s Stephen Smart put it:

Add to this the BC Liberals are trailing double digits to the NDP in the polls, even being pushed to third place in some ridings by the BC Green Party; three Liberal riding association presidents have resigned in Surrey, twenty ridings have no BC Liberal candidates nominated, and a number of high profile MLAs have decided not to run in the upcoming election. When the “Ethnic Gate” scandal broke mid-week, Premier Christy Clark refused to return to Victoria from a speaking tour, leaving her deputies and cabinet to face the music, with some Liberal MLAs openly questioning her ability to continue as party leader.

Which leads to some interesting possible scenarios:

The provincial election is set for May 14th, with a 29 day ‘writ’ (official campaign period), however the Legislature is currently sitting with a number of bills going through debates and votes, including the budget. In fact, second reading of the budget is set for Tuesday March 5th – if the government is defeated in a budget vote it could lead to the opposition NDP calling for a no-confidence vote and an early election. As it stands now, the BC Liberal Party has a four seat majority, and four independent MLAs essentially holding the reigns of power.

One independent MLA, Bob Simpson, has said in answer to a question I sent him on Twitter, that he intends to vote against the budget:

Monday March 4th Premier Clark returns to Victoria for what should prove to be an uncomfortable and possibly career ending caucus meeting, while, as this article is being written, Liberal Party activists, donors, and organizers are meeting around the province to determine if she can stay on as leader – and what it means if she is deposed so close to the start of the campaign.

1: Caucus meets and (likely very reluctantly) decide to back the Premier and remain unified.

2: Premier Christy Clark decides to resign to avoid a caucus revolt.

3: A majority of caucus declare no confidence in the Premier leading to a snap leadership campaign and convention before the election writ period.

4: Five, or more, MLAs leave caucus to sit as independents, or join another party, making it more likely a Legislature no confidence vote on the budget would pass, leading to an early election.

The opposition NDP, with the current huge lead in the polls, are unlikely to want an early election as the sitting legislative period is an opportunity to continually beat up on the government and Premier Christy Clark. Ironically, a Liberal leadership campaign and convention, so close to the election might be the best chance for the Liberal Party to reverse a further slide in the polls. It would take the attention away from the NDP, redefine the party under new leadership, and likely bring back in jaded supporters – especially those who have fled to the BC Conservatives and Greens.

If some form of scenario two or three plays out it puts the NDP in an interesting quandary. The Legislature can continue to sit under the deputy leader while a leadership campaign is underway, but would the NDP call a no confidence vote so the Liberals are forced to run a simultaneous leadership AND election campaign? Certainly, these questions and possibilities are being bandied about this weekend among the leadership and organizers of all parties.

No matter the outcomes of Monday’s caucus meeting, the budget vote, and any other revelations over the next weeks, no one can say that politics in British Columbia is boring.  You can follow the conversations and public punditry using the Twitter tags #BCpoli – and the current discussion #QuickWin and #EthnicGate

2013 Predictions, or the Year of the Sneek

The 5th, or 6th year of doing a ‘Top Predictions’ blog for the upcoming year: inspired by the (ever expiring) Victoria BC Times Colonist journalist Jack Knox (@JackKnox), who annually regales us Islanders with his profoundly insightful prophecy. This year, a connection as the team at #YYJchat, of whom I am honoured to be a member, actually had our hero scribe as a guest – well done, we will never regain our reputations.

Looking over last year’s predictions jiggled the funny bone as a few made the zeitgeist – yep, Mayan Apocalypse certainly gained attention.

normal_happy_teaser_ad_copySo…. Here’s looking to 2013

1: Chinese year of the Snake: Snakes on a Plane….snakes in the grass…Washington State legalizes marijuana…B.C. in a big election…BC Marijuana Party wins! (stream of thought)

2: Social Media finally combines into an extremely useful, single platform called #PintYourFaceintoMyTube – marketers revel. Google adds a + version a month later.

3: Apple launches iPhone 6, 6.3, and a ‘mini-mini’ iPad (iPhone 4 revamped) all within 3 weeks, with midnight launches. Expectant buyer lineups combine and cause riots around the world.

4: US ‘fiscal cliff’ becomes a ‘cliff hanger’ lasting well into the the next Presidential election – which starts next week.

5: BC Ferries announces $50 million revamp of upper class lounges – though, these will be at terminals. Have a great meal, or 2 – even 3 – while you wait.

6: Lockheed introduces the F36, just to confuse Canadians.

7: Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece all apply to leave the EU and join the Canadian currency. Mark Carney has a giggle fit from London.

8: The Mayans were right, just a month off – it’s January 21st folks!

9: China notes buying and centralizing world iron/steel around Beijing is creating an earth magnetic wobble. Solution: buy these accredited sea sickness ginseng pills from our wonderful, safe and friendly factories.

10: In reference to #9, Harper notes Canadian potash exports help the global production of ginseng.

11: BC Premier Christie Clark goes for broke, and kisses a girl – though it turns out to be Katy Perry who crashed a fund raiser…even the NDP say ‘it could happen to anyone’. John Cummins …. ‘goddamn, why was I not invited?’ Jane Sterk kisses a sewage pipe, and that wins the election….

12: The Amazon cloud sever becomes sentient – John Grisham is forced into slavery to write novellas for Kindle.

13: 13th year of the new century: Blade Runner is looking like a soft landing!

and this is the year of the sneek: who gets your data?

Your comments, questions are welcome – have a great year.

Police Roadblock! Should you Post that on Social Media?

It is the  Christmas holiday season and the weekend where the first of the holiday parties start in business districts. Restaurants, hotels, bars love this time of year as so many harried workers and executives sign off from work for a night of eats, conversation and, well, drinks. Also the time when police ramp up their anti-drinking driving campaigns – yes, the road blocks are back. This is where social media, and frankly a conscience, matters both on behalf of the public enjoying a night out and the police who are there for public safety, and raising awareness.

However, a tweet from the Vancouver BC police department immediately raised my interest:

So, while Vancouver PD was asking people to send in photos and videos of the famous hockey riot, and then also asking the same audience to identify people from that material, they are now publishing a policy ‘don’t post’. This is the anti=thesis of social media, the ability for anyone at anytime to report on events happening in their lives. So, what if someone takes a photo and tweets – ‘Got stopped at X/Y cross road, passed the test – and kudos to Van PD on making our roads safe‘ vs ‘Hey folks – Roadblock at X/Y street, avoid the area‘? Either message increases awareness, and each is the same problem for the police department – identifying the location.

Fact is we are all journalists. That should not be hampered by any official body, it is a fundamental aspect of contemporary life that people have the ability to post the immediacy of situations via Twitter, allpokies.co.nz, Facebook – through status updates, photos and videos – using smart phones and tablets. For the Vancouver police department to even question that raises a more profound thought – why are they even raising the issue? Do they want control over Social Media accounts so nobody can post about certain operations?

Policing is built on trust, and certainly in terms of drink driving, speeding, cyclist and pedestrian awareness, the active road blocks; and further community awareness with school programs, community groups et al help. To ask the public NOT TO POST, to be controlled, and trying to control the public about raising that issue – well, that is simply a communication, and engagement, failure.

Recognize, no matter how large and powerful your organization, the public are far larger – and if they get their game up over an issue, you are beaten.

If you want the conversation, then let’s do it

Can Social Media Engagement Predict Elections?

The 2012 Alberta Provincial election was noteworthy as the vast majority of official polls predicted an upset win for The Wild Rose party, while in effect the incumbent Conservatives under Alison Redford won a comfortable majority. The final week of the provincial campaign saw pollsters and pundits echoing published numbers, yet in the background on social media a shift in sentiment was occurring. That was especially true on Twitter and Facebook in the important urban riding in and around Calgary.

Now Calgary is once again in the news as one of three Federal by elections to be held on November 26th. Considered a ‘safe’ Conservative seat a November 17th Forum Research poll for Calgary Centre shows the Liberal candidate Harvey Locke (30%) within the margin of error to beat Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt (32%) in voter preferences – albeit, the Forum poll has a very small sample size and there are very few other polls using the same methodology to use in comparison.

Can Social Media Indicate Voter Sentiment?

A problem with political polling in Canada is lack of consistent reports, mainly due to the expense with a relatively small population for polling companies and media organizations. In reality only Federal elections and those in more populated provinces receive the number, and variety, of polls with larger (therefore more accurate) sample sizes. Creating a comparison system like Nate Silver did with the 538 New York Times blog, to the humiliation of Republican pundits in the recent US Presidential race, simply is not possible in Canada due to a dearth of data.

Campaigns certainly are using social media, so how do the candidates compare in their use of Twitter and Facebook? Note – each candidate per riding is profiled below with their website, Twitter handle (followers and updates), and Facebook page likes. Number of Twitter updates is based on when they created their account, which in some cases was well ahead of the party nominations – so does not necessarily reflect updates during the actual campaign.

Calgary Centre, Alta.

Joan Crockatt (CPC)- website

Twitter: @Crockatteer: 2879 Followers, 10637 updates since June 2009
Facebook: 1347 Likes

Harvey Locke (LPC) – website

Twitter: @HarveyLockeYYC: 801 Followers, 402 updates since Sept. 2012
Facebook: 656 Likes

Dan Meades (NDP) – website

Twitter: @Meades4Centre: 427 Followers, 210 updates since Oct. 2012
Facebook: 302 Likes

Chris Turner (GPC) – website

Twitter: @Turner4yyc: 558 Followers, 1022 updates since Sept. 2012
Facebook: 1932 Likes

Durham, Ontario

Erin O’Toole (CPC)- website

Twitter: @Erin_M_OToole: 452 Followers, 771 updates since May 2011
Facebook: 436 Likes

Grant Humes (LPC) – website

Twitter: @GrantHumes: 562 Followers, 461 updates since March. 2011
Facebook: 467 Likes

Larry O’Connor (NDP) – website

Twitter: @LarryOConnorNDP: 529 Followers, 1252 updates since Aug. 2009
Facebook: 594 Likes

Virginia Ervin (GPC) – website

Twitter: @Virginia_Ervin: 121 Followers, 177 updates since July 2009
Facebook: 239 Likes

Victoria, BC

Dale Gann (CPC)- website

Twitter: @DaleGann: 916 Followers, 288 updates since March 2009
Facebook: 259 Likes

Paul Summerville (LPC) – website

Twitter: @PaulSummerville: 854 Followers, 2768 updates since Dec. 2009
Facebook: 192 Likes

Murray Rankin (NDP) – website

Twitter: @MurrayRankin: 975 Followers, 368 updates since Sept. 2012
Facebook: 1,151 Likes

Donald Galloway (GPC) – website

Twitter: @DonaldGalloway: 485 Followers, 497 updates since May 2011
Facebook: 673 Likes

In campaigns social media is largely used to support base voters – those already with a connection to a particular party. That is reflected in the polling especially for Calgary Centre, although the rise in numbers for particular candidates is revealing. While Joan Crockatt appears to have more followers on Twitter and Facebook, the number of interactions is low: compared to Liberal candidate Harvey Locke and Green Party candidate Chris Turner who each have risen sharply in numbers and positive sentiment especially in the last two weeks. This could indicate an upset in Monday’s vote.

The Victoria Riding is also interesting. The NDP certainly came into the by election with a massive incumbent vote advantage from the May 2011 Federal election, which is reflected in the social media numbers especially on Facebook, yet the sewage debate (a central issue in the Victoria campaign) has certainly pushed sentiment towards Liberal candidate Paul Summerville and Green Party candidate Donald Galloway.

This is all academic of course. By elections are challenging to predict as major polls are not available, turnout is usually lower, and local issues can have an undue effect compared to national or provincial elections. However, it will be interesting to see post Monday if social media numbers reflect actual placement once the votes are finally tallied.

As always – your thoughts, comments and questions are welcome.

 

Tony Clement and UBCM Fail the Authenticity Test – Public demands Better

Update: I will be on CFAX 1070 Am with host Adam Stirling at 11am Monday September 24th discussing authenticity in political social media and engagement.

You get on a tweetchat thankful for the opportunity to directly engage with a person who has the power to enact change, maybe who will even respond directly to your message and start a conversation – only to find out after the fact, it was a team. The message, or answer to a question, you might reveive (in fact most likely in the following case), was from a communications staffer.

That is the realization after The Winnipeg Free Press revealed Conservative Cabinet Minister Tony Clement was not the ‘Mayor of his own Town Hall’, in fact the majority of responses, accredited to him on his own Twitter account @TonyClementCPC, were via a ghostwriter: (Full article)

During an online chat on the subject of open government, the Treasury Board president, who is a prolific tweeter, had a ghostwriter doing most of the work for him.
Last December’s town hall made federal political history as the first live online chat to be hosted by a cabinet minister using the popular microblogging service.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper once took questions via YouTube, but that experiment was never repeated.
The subject of Clement’s town hall was the Conservatives’ recently launched open government strategy, a three-prong effort which seeks to increase transparency around the official workings of Ottawa.
Clement has been a vocal champion of the strategy, as well as for the increased use of social media by politicians to communicate with Canadians.
He’s regularly ranked among Parliament Hill’s top tweeters and lauded by social media watchers as having a natural touch with the technology.
But when it came to formally engaging with Canadians, bureaucracy ground his freewheeling ways to a stop.

Photo via National Post

Photo via National Post

As a founder and moderator of #YYJchat, I admire the guests who can keep up with an often frantic flow of public questions and comments, while keeping disparate topics alive, and responding with personality. However, as Tony Clement MP is the cabinet minister in charge of open government, and a champion of social media interaction between elected officials and the public, the perception he delegated the majority of replies from his Twitter account to others – albeit, his ‘voice’ or message intent – using a moderator flies in the face of authenticity.

There is no problem at all, in my view, of using someone else to do the actual typing work, as long as that is identified. There are well established Twitter protocols for handling such events such as using ^MW (an upper dash, with initials) to identify the responder. This is standard practice for corporate accounts, especially with customer service, to keep track of ‘who said what’. Clement’s team could also have easily used another Government Twitter account to respond to questions on the Minister’s behalf -which would have been more positive, allowing Tony Clement’s own posts to be highlighted in the stream.

The vast majority of people active on Social Media realize it is impossible for a single person to respond thoughtfully and directly to potentially thousands of questions and comments in a 45 minute, national, town hall. Being authentic, and open about WHO is responding is key – and we wonder why trust in governments and politicians is rapidly eroding.

UBCM 2012 – The Theme is Communications, but where is it?

The annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention is set to start Monday Sept. 24th in Victoria BC, with this year’s conference theme being ‘Communications’ (UBCM Theme Page). A great topic, and long overdue, but it begs the question – where is the communication?

Communications that are highly developed and ever changing is the way of the future. Through blogging or tweeting, community consultation via Facebook, or podcasts and online video of key announcements, there are more ways than ever to connect with the community.

As local governments explore the potential of these tools, the basic questions of good governance remain: are we hearing what the community is saying, and does the community hear what we are saying?

This year’s Convention theme is around communication. Whether it’s with local residents, other levels of governments, or our teenager at home, this year’s focus will be on improving these relationships by examining how we relay our messages and how we receive feedback.

 

So, where are the public events? The Tweet chats, G+ Hangouts, Facebook interaction and live events seeking public opinion on how the public and local government can best interact? There is nothing on the UBCM website, or through their social media accounts. It seems a huge opportunity has been missed by the organizers of UBCM to create interactive events, inviting the public for their ideas, comments and questions – and use that feedback as part of a resolution.

In that light, #YYJchat (See Victoria Wave for details on future and past chats) has decided to dedicate this coming Tuesday’s chat to UBCM, with an extended two hour format, and live from the Bengal Lounge (@TheBengalLounge) at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, next to the Victoria Convention Centre. Since YYJchat began in May this year we have brought MPs, MLAs, Mayors, councillors and more to the local and regional ‘Twittersphere’, providing an opportunity for authentic engagement with the public.

We will be joined with primary guests City of Victoria Councillor Shellie Gudgeon (@ShellieGudgeon) and local business owner Derek Sanderson (@The Island IT), and reaching out to UBCM delegates to join us, share their thoughts on the conference, and what it means to be a politician in the Social Media age.

#YYJchat will begin at 6:30pm and finish at 8;30pm – we welcome your comments and questions to the guests. Just follow the hashtag, and join in.

Follow @YYJchat for updates. Moderators and organizers are Susan Jones (@SusanJones), Kyle Schembri (@KyleSchem) and Mat Wright (@MatVic)