Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Enter the Twitter War

Ah, time for some personal opining, as opposed to direct reporting and coverage of what has developed thus far.

Now, back in the day, I was one of those people who mocked Twitter. I thought the concept of it was a little silly, and that it was basically another means for self-centered people who wanted to let the world know every last little detail that was going on in their lives. And while some people may use twitter for that, I think it has at least evolved into a good communications tool for getting messages and slogans out, especially for political campaigns.

However, there has been a question over whether politicians should even dive into the murky waters that is the Twitterverse. Many, especially American politicians, have condemned the use of Twitter simply due to it being a place for users to attack, condemn, and otherwise bother those politicians who have a twitter feed. And then, of course, there's American politicians who use it to throw around questionable material...

As Canadians, we like to think that we're a genteel sort; wouldn't hurt a fly and ever so polite. Well, that assumption kind of goes to the wayside if you've ever viewed a flame war online. For those of you not too familiar with the term 'flame war', effectively it's just an increasingly hostile conversation between two or more online commentators.

Now, having said that, I stumbled upon a bit of a flame war myself that I think is worth talking about.

Several of the people I follow on twitter have taken to attacking some of the NDP Leadership candidates over the notion of removing corporate and union donations from political campaigns. The problem isn't that people don't support the idea, rather the problem is that people think this slate of leadership candidates should lead by example and exclude union donations from their leadership bid.

The problem here is a matter of delicacy. I don't like gossip, it's just too tawdry for my tastes, which is why I'm going to do my best to keep this as anonymous as possible. Effectively, as far as I can see, a supporter of one campaign started the whole ball rolling by actively asking a different campaign about whether or not they were taking union donations during their leadership bid.

The campaign responded by saying that they weren't going to effectively handicap themselves during the leadership race, and that the policy that was brought forward is much more meaningful when held to the scope of the entire province.

Needless to say...I don't think that was the answer the original questioner was looking for, as it evolved into a greater level of bashing with more people (one of whom I would argue is incredibly high profile) joining in to condemn the response and attempt to tout a 'mightier than thou' attitude towards their own supported candidates.

I imagine this will continue until the campaign at question stops attempting to reply, and even then, I imagine a few others will continue to jump on them in the name of supporting their own candidates.

Now, some of this might sound like gossip, rather than something that needs to be talked about. I must disagree and now explain to you all why I've decided to talk about this at all.

For those of you who haven't seen this photo, it comes from the most recent Saskatchewan Young New Democrats gathering. At the convention, all four leadership candidates met for the first time and managed to be pretty cordial to one another. I mean, that photo sort of says it all, don't you think? Four men, all of them committed to social values and positive change for Saskatchewan, all able to sit down with one another and not come to blows or a heated exchange.

I know that candidates can't take responsibility for the actions of their supporters; but I do think we can at least expect our candidates to remind supporters that at the end of the day we're all on the same team. If you've picked your candidate, then by all means, support them by donating money or volunteering...But you probably shouldn't take to twitter or facebook or anywhere and start attacking a campaign.

It's bad form. Yes, there are questions that can be asked of any campaign, but there must also be tact.

There was a level of discourse set by these four men, and most of them have already spoken about the need to change politics and the hostile approaches taken in the debating of policy. They have called on us all to step up and change the way we do politics; so it's rather disheartening to then see supporters of one campaign involve themselves in the old school attacks and vitriol that has existed in politics for far too long. 

On a technical note, I can't speak to the finances of any of the campaigns. I don't know which have received money from unions during this leadership bid and which have not; having said that, I would venture to guess that in some form or another all of the campaigns have received or will receive donations from union, corporate, and personal sources before the leadership campaign is through.

Yes, we can aspire to be better. And all of the candidates have spoken in favour of getting big money out of politics; so, before we start attacking one campaign for turning away from this ideal for the leadership contest, let's be sure that all the other campaigns haven't already done the same. In the end, civility is always better than hostility any day.


Steven Lloyd said...

Hi Scott:

My name is Steven Lloyd and I am the campaign manager for Erin Weir. Without going into any of the discussions that occurred on twitter, I would like to take this opportunity to outline Mr. Wier's position.

His position is this. Our campaign will play by the rules established in the leadership race. That means that we can take donations from anyone who is eligible to do so under those rules.

There are three key issues that make this Leadership Race and a general election a matter of comparing apples to oranges.

1) In provincial and federal campaigns (and in federal Leadership campaigns) donations are tax-creditable. This means that people of limited means can donate more than they otherwise would. this is not the case in the Sask NDP leadership campaign due to a ruling by Elections Sask before the last Leadership Campaign. Therefore we cannot rely on members as much as we might during a general election campaign. But we still need to run a fully-funded campaign.

2) The membership in a provincial (or federal) election campaign is mostly decided in favour of the NDP and only have one party (the NDP) asking for money. Members during the leadership start off mostly undecided and have (in this case) four different campaigns seeking to gather donations. This limits the amount they are willing to give to any one campaign and/or the other campaigns.

3) Erin proposed changing legislation, and would be happy to live with the results of changing that legislation, what he did not propose was to change the rules of the leadership race. We play with the rules we have, until such time that they change.

Finally, (sorry, I am now going to talk a bit about twitter). I can speak for Erin and Myself that we did not view any of the questions being asked on twitter as "crossing the line" or being "out-of-bounds".

Erin got into this race because he believes in ideas and the power of those ideas to shape our politics. Our campaign has no problems with debates about the issues. I choose to believe that the people asking questions on twitter were doing so with a view to understanding our policy and not simply attempting to make our candidate look bad.

Thank you for covering the issues of this campaign, and I hope you continue to do so.

Steven Lloyd

Scott said...

Hi Steven,

Thanks for your comment. I have to say, I agree with all of your points; a leadership campaign is a unique beast and I think that there are differences between running that kind of campaign as opposed to a general election campaign.

As for the twitter comments, I'll leave it in your campaign's hands that you feel the questions/comments (eventually, there were more comments then questions) were posed in good faith.

I have nothing more than my own opinions when I read something, and to me, it seemed as though the comments were slightly disingenuous under the circumstances.

We'll agree to disagree on the intent of the questions posed, but I will say this in closing: I feel that my role in this campaign is to point out the facts and keep people honest.

More importantly, I don't like bullies. That's why when I see someone doing something questionable, I call them on it. What I saw on the feed was questionable to me, and I felt it was necessary to point out the facts with regards to how all of the campaigns are being financed.

Personally, I don't mind if any of the candidates are receiving union or corporate donations during the leadership race; so long as they stick to the idea of getting that money out of politics once they're elected.

As noted, leadership contests are different beasts, so when someone tries to make the accusation that they're as similar as a general election campaign, I feel the need to call them out on it.

As always, best of luck with the campaign.