by Jessica Thiessen
Canada considers me a millennial and my vote is up for grabs.
Like many of my peers, I have often felt elections in this country were battles fought between barely discernible liberal and conservative politicians vying for baby boomer approval.
The recent Maclean’s election debate changed my opinion. My live stream was peppered with fact-checking from Twitter and interesting conversations from Facebook friends. I was mesmerized by the veritable video game of fast paced, difficult questions propelled by the actual Google searches of Canadians. While not exactly great statistical methodology (or graphic design for that matter) Maclean’s of-the-moment polling offered a feeling of connection to the community of Canadians with whom I was sharing the experience. It was the best TV I’ve watched in months.
According to Statistics Canada 39-45 per cent of millennials (18-34) voted in the 2011 election. In comparison to the national average of 61 per cent, it seems obvious we aren’t engaging with this faction of the Canadian population in a meaningful way.
Campaign events such as the #macdebate might change those figures.
Maclean’s reports 2,200 tweets per minute during the debate. If you think that doesn’t mean anything to a generation grown in a cocktail of social media technology, you’re wrong. This could be the beginning of a new political playing field built to meet the needs of younger participants.
The reality of our daily life now includes a barrage of requests for attention on more platforms than we can possibly comprehend and we are growing accustomed to using technology in most tasks. Northern access to mobile coverage is lame at best, but the Internet prevails.
The United Nations International Telecommunication Union reports the penetration of Canadian Internet usage has increased from 40 per cent in 2000 to 91 per cent in 2013. All the baby pics on your Instagram and status updates from your Grandma reiterate this new social media reality. Our moans about how uncool Facebook has become are actually an admission that we have stumbled on a seriously democratic communication device.
Thanks to the commitment of local libraries and online information services like Wikipedia, access to information has never been more fair. This prolific access may have the greatest impact on rural youth who are able to engage on a level playing field with urban peers. No longer isolated from the type of in-groups created by proximity, mobile millennial minds are free to let their voices carry.
Twitter’s trending hashtag the night of the #macdebate was #factcheck. Just nine letters were enough to change the spin of reports about the debate as Canadians gently asserted our desire for transparency and truth.
Newsreels on the passing of Bill C-51, the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board, and the FIPA agreement have been inspiring massive get out-the-vote campaigns aimed at millennials who can now see the error of apathy.
So why are we not talking about the Internet as a tool for civic engagement? Based on user-focused design that eases barriers to entry, and the sheer value of reach, one would assume this was a no-brainer. In a country defined by huge territory, vast regional differences, and latent disconnect between rural and urban zones, the power of online engagement is an inevitable reality.
The Government of Canada (already responsible for national data collection) has no reason to shy away from the kind of analysis now commonplace in the business sector. Nor should we be operating bureaucracies without constant feedback.
Giant corporations are capable of drastic alterations at lightning speed to create goods based on the seasonal desires of consumers. Why then, can’t our government be equally as engaged in our opinions regarding major policy decisions? Why can’t policy pivot to suit the desires of the electorate? Why isn’t there an app for that?
Oh ya, because party politics are a noose around the neck of democracy.
The #macdebate was a quiet insight into the potential of technology to revolutionize political engagement in this country. It got us listening, it offered democratic questions based on data from real people, and it gave us insight into Canadian priorities with digital trends like Twitter’s #factcheck.
In my opinion, web-based interactions will mean everything to this election and have the potential to permanently alter the political landscape of Canada. My vote automatically goes to the first party who builds a viable policy polling app.
Jessica Thiessen is a former Yukoner known for her work with government and non-profit organizations on energy conservation, climate change, youth leadership development and cabaret burlesque.