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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.



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.


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)



Social Media and Politics: Gifts or Gaffes?

Amazing how quickly a year passes, and it is time once again for Social Media Camp in Victoria BC

Social Media Camp 2011

Photo credit Raul Pacheco-Vega

I am honoured once again to be on the Politics and Social Media panel with Dr. Janni Aragon (@JanniAragon), Micheal Geoghegan (@BClobbyist) and, new this year, Alissa Wrean (@a_birdie). After reviewing the past 12 months of sometimes bizarre interactions with politics and social media we decided on a title of ‘Politics in Social Media: Gifts or Gaffes?

The battle ground for hearts, minds and votes has extended exponentially into social media at all levels of government, but are individual politicians doing it well? There have been a number of notable online ‘memes’: in Canada with #Vikileaks #TellVicEverything, #HarperHistory and MP Pat Martin’s famous FU tweet, in the US with the anit-SOPA movement (which worked, to an extent), Slut Walk, and so much more…

While each has gained both online, and mainstream media attention, do they really affect governance and policy? Can politicians and governments ignore social media and still be effective? The panel will discuss these questions, and more – and we look forward to your questions and comments.

Time: Friday June 8th, 11am to Noon
Place: Social Media Camp, Victoria Conference Centre, Victoria BC (Conference Registration)
Tag: #SMcamp


BC Family Day and Social Media – Engagement or Distraction. CFAX with Adam Stirling

Is having a say on which Monday in February should be a statutory holiday – BC Family Day – an example of government really engaging citizens, or a distraction away from more important, and relevant, issues? This is one of the topics CFAX 1070 host Adam Stirling and I discussed in our latest installment.

Discussing BC Family Day on CFAX - had to bring #1 son!

Discussing BC Family Day on CFAX - had to bring #1 son!

The BC Government is undergoing a two week public engagement exercise, using primarily social media, asking citizens for a preference on what day, starting in February 2013, should be declared ‘Family Day’.

excerpt from BC Government press release

Government will begin a citizen engagement process with the public, and consult with worker groups, employers, the tourism industry and the broader business sector in order to ensure all potential economic and social benefits are taken into account before finalizing a February date for the new holiday…

Since unveiling its Open Government plan in 2011, the Province has implemented a number of new policies and programs including the launch of the Open Information and DataBC websites, as well as a major redesign of the government’s web presence to make it more citizen-focused and user-friendly. In the coming months, B.C. will introduce a new public engagement website to better communicate and collaborate with British Columbians.

Using the Twitter hashtag #mybcfd, Facebook, blog comments, and an online voting system the stated aim is to gather feedback and present a report to the Minister of Labour, Citizen Services and Open Government Margaret MacDiarmid. On Tuesday May 15th there is also a Twitter Town Hall between 12 and 1pm using #mybcfd. It remains to be seen if the collated public preferences will be published in full, and taken into account by the BC Government. As we discussed, public engagement is vital in an increasingly ‘social media’ world, but dangers lurk if they are simply afterthoughts for policy decisions, or if public sentiment ends up being against government preference.

Note: after the interview Twitter posts from listeners provided more information on similar BC Government online and social media engagement initiatives including education and employment issues. Thanks to all who chimed in!

Twitter Town Halls and Tweet Chats are becoming increasingly popular, and can be an interesting method to engage people around an issue, topic, person or location. While they are not new, having been used in many election campaigns – and there are regular ‘Chats’, some involving thousands of participants like #JournChat – there has not been one set for Greater Victoria. Thanks to the idea from Susan Jones (@SusanJones), #YYJChat was initiated on May 8th as a four week experiment, and a showcase to business, organizations and local government on the potential for a local Tweet Chat.

You can participate in #YYJChat every Tuesday from 7:30pm to 8:30pm – for May 15th the guest is Dan Gunn, Executive Director of VIATeC!

To wrap, we talked about local organizations using social media for outreach, including the Victoria Children’s Choir, which is holding The World of Song spring concert on May 28th! – thanks to CFAX and Adam Stirling for the promotion!

The Podcast – CFAX 1070 with host Adam Stirling

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CFAX: Alberta Vote Shows Problems with Polling

In a previous post on Social Media and the Alberta Provincial elections it seemed clear by all indicators that the upstart Wild Rose Alliance was headed to certain victory, crushing the 40 year reign of the Progressive Conservatives. Oh, how wrong we were.

In the final week of the campaign, 6 polls all came within 2 points of each other, showing Wildrose ahead in the popular vote by an aggregate of 41% to 33%. Those numbers indicating a majority government. Yet the results on Monday were a complete reversal – instead of winning a majority of seats, and wiping the floor with the popular vote, Wildrose only gained 17 MLAs with the Progressive Conservatives beating all expectations with 61 seats.

What happened with the polling is a matter of considered speculation and hand-wringing by polling companies and media, some journalists even jumping the gun and posting political obituaries to Alison Redford and her Progressive Conservatives before the polls had closed and the votes counted.

via The Globe and Mail: “There’s been much discussion about how the polls could be so wrong,” said Ian Large, vice-president, Alberta, for Léger Marketing.

“My first reaction was, `Oh my, maybe something went wrong’, ,” said David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data Inc., which conducted automated-call polling.

It was a late shift, nothing could be done

Mr. Large said Wildrose ran an effective campaign until late controversies — comments on gays and race relations by two candidates, Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech, and Ms. Smith’s unwillingness to condemn them — reinforced voters’ fears about the party’s social agenda.

“None of the polls were conducted late enough to capture the impact of those comments,” Mr. Large said.

The other challenge, he noted, was that voting took place Monday and that the key shift unfolded during the weekend, when it is harder for pollsters to reach respondents at home.

Like last-minute shoppers, many Albertans made their voting decision during the last weekend, Mr. Large and Mr. Coletto similarly argued, both separately reaching for the image of voters making up their minds after hashing it out at family gatherings.

Listen to the podcast as CFAX host Adam Stirling and I discuss what issues and trends might have caused one of the most interesting election shifts in recent Canadian political history.

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Scoring Social Media in the Alberta Election

The Alberta Provincial election is Monday April 23rd – by the time you read this the results might be in – and judging by the most recent polls the upstart Wildrose Party looks to win a majority upsetting the Conservatives who have held power for decades. Social media has factored into the campaigns, especially highlighting comments, gaffes, by leaders and candidates, so how do the parties and leaders rank in terms of Twitter and Facebook statistics?

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A quick overview of the party leader social media statistics illustrates the two top contenders, The Wildrose Alliance and Progressive Conservatives, easily outweighing the NDP, Liberals and Alberta Party on popularity, Interesting to note the incumbent Premier, Alison Redford has close to 700 more Twitter followers than Danielle Smith of Wildrose, but using it far less – not really engaging with followers. (note, during the Conservative leadership campaign Alison Redford was far more prolific on Twitter)

Wildrose Party and Social Media

Wildrose Party and Social Media

Not surprising that Facebook continues to be the key engagement platform. While Twitter is gaining traction among social media users, the percentage of Canadians on Facebook is still far higher (around 52% on Facebook vs 20% on Twitter). This is where Wildrose overwhelms all other parties and leaders combined, with over 28 000 Facebook page likes – an indicator of popularity and social media campaign strategy. Same is true of Twitter, where the number of updates (messages) put out from the @ElectDanielle profile beats all others combined.

Video is also a factor. All parties have a Youtube channel, although the Liberals are not highlighting theirs and relying on the Liberal MLA Caucus Channel. The latest Wildrose Video – “Wildrose Momentum” – is a slick, 30 second advert posted on April 18th, with nearly 56 000 views. The Conservative Channel by contrast has few high value videos, with the highest view rate on a video posted 2 weeks ago at 3018.

Throughout the election campaign Wildrose has had the better communication team, focusing media on the leader, Danielle Smith, and handling the inevitable gaffes and controversies immediately and with unapologetic clarity. It is no surprise they are leading the polls based on social media engagement alone.