Vancouver Island MPs top list of Internet-savvy politicians

By Luke Simcoe, MetroNews

Two Vancouver Island MPs are among a handful of federal politicians being lauded for using the Internet to connect with constituents.

The data comes from non-partisan think tank Samara Canada, which released a study of elected officials’ websites Monday. The group examined 300 MP websites and scored each out of 14.

“A lot of politicians have the analog world down pat, but the Internet is where people are moving to express their opinions, and politics need to be there if it wants to maintain its relevance,” said Samara’s co-founder, Alison Loat.

Although 17 MPs — including Victoria’s Murray Rankin and Nanaimo’s Jean Crowder — scored 11 or higher, most MPs could barely muster a passing grade. While nearly all MPs listed a biography and contact information on their websites, Loat said less than a third offered constituents more ways to engage, such as online town halls or petitions.

“It shows that government is slower at seizing the opportunities that new technologies provide,” she said.

Five MPs were found not to have websites at all, including Conservatives Jacques Gourde, Richard Harris and Andrew Scheer, Bloc MP Andrew Scheer and Liberal Lise St. Denis.

Loat said Scheer — who is the Speaker of the House of Commons — got his site up over the weekend, after being contacted by Samara.

Vancouver Island, and particularly Victoria, is one of the most wired jurisdictions in Canada, and both Rankin and Crowder said their online presence is a reflection of their constituents.

“I have a really Internet-savvy riding,” Crowder said. “There’s a lot of interest in engaging online and through social media.”

As well, Crowder said digital technology helps her represent a riding as large as Nanaimo-Cowichan.

“There’s 131,000 people spread out over 4,400 square kilometres. I need innovative ways to connect with people,” she said.

Crowder and Rankin aren’t alone, as Samara found politicians in B.C. scored higher on average than their counterparts east of the Rockies.

“We have an engaged citizenry,” Rankin said. “I went through 11 all-candidates debates in the lead up to the by-election. Other people I know in Ottawa went to one.”

As members of the NDP, Rankin and Crowder use the same template for their websites as their orange colleagues. However, both made changes to the boilerplate; Crowder foregrounded her presence on Facebook and Twitter, while Rankin likes to add tabs for various hot-button issues.

“Right now we’re talking about adding a tab for food security,” he said. “We try to keep things fresh.”

Loat said plugged-in politicians are able “to detect issues emerging in their constituencies earlier and act on them sooner” — a statement that resonates with Crowder.

“It definitely keeps me in tune with what’s on people’s minds. For example, during Idle No More, there were rallies springing up in my community without notice, and I was able to track them using Facebook and Twitter so we could attend,” she said.

In contrast to MPs whose websites and social media accounts are run by staffers, both Rankin and Crowder are the sole authors of their tweets and Facebook posts.

“I’m an information junkie,” Crowder said. “So I like being the one who sees what’s going on and sees what’s important to people.”

That’s a winning strategy with voters, Loat said. While Ottawa continues to trend towards strict party discipline, citizens are looking for politicians willing to speak their minds.

“So much is scripted in politics, and the public is craving a more genuine voice and a more genuine point of view,” she said.

Included in Samara’s report is a 14-point checklist MPs can use to better their web presence. Loat says many of the changes can be implemented right away, and are applicable to politicians at all levels of government.

“If everyone used digital tools to be more genuine, that’s the kind of hard daily work that will start to chip away at the cynicism people have about politics,” she said.

For more information about Samara’s report, check out the infographic below, or visit their website.

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