Québec Brings the Internet to Canadian Politics
In a move that your kids will no doubt study as one of the classic blunders of Canadian political history, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided that the best way to launch the 2008 election was to throw small bone to his loyal base and cut some 45 million dollars of arts funding that only handful of communists, faggots and infidels were going to miss.
Well, it turns out that pissing off underemployed creative types who express themselves for a living and know how to put up a website just might not be the best way to get a good media buzz going.
Only a few weeks ago people who know about this stuff were lamenting the hopelessly archaic web strategy of Canada’s political parties. 2008 was not going to be the year the Internet changed politics, many thought.
They were wrong. At least in Québec.
But the political parties had nothing to do with it.
The first shot came from three of Québec’s most successful artists. Michel Rivard, Stéphane Rousseau and Benoit Brière – the Québec-scale equivalent of Paul McCartney, Will Smith and Jerry Seinfeld – who released a 5 minute video on youtube of their apocalyptic vision of arts in a Conservative Canada.
It’s a strategy that Americans have been using for years. You make a controversial commercial, put it out on the web or on some local community TV station somewhere in Idaho and wait for the big media to pick it up and play the hell out of it for free as a news item.
Harper tried to brush off the attack. Ordinary working people did not identify with “rich artists”, he said.
Harper himself might get his political inpiration from Tom Flanagan and the Fraser Institute, but most ordinary people are actually quite attached to “their” celebrities – whether it is in Québec, Canada or Tennessee -and do in fact pay attention to what they have to say. If anything, Harper’s attitude might have encouraged others to act.
Unissonsnosvoix.ca is a website launched by young filmakers and web designers you and I have never heard of. On the site 50 personalities, many artists but also doctors, professors, farmers and the chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Québec, speak out against Harper and the Conservatives.
The concept is simple and everyone with a white wall and a webcam is invited to record their own video that will be added to the site.
Both initiatives are supposed to be non-partisan. Unissonsnosvoix.ca links to another interesting website called voteforenvironment.ca that has a neat little gadget that let’s you type in your postal code and tells you who you have to vote for to beat the Tories in you riding. In tight races in Québec City or in the Pontiac, the site does seem to recommend voting for the strongest runner up, whether it is the Bloc or the Liberals.
Conspiracy Theorists will notice that the look and message of Unissons Nos Voix is just about identical to the Liberal campaign ads that have been running since before the website went online. For the record the “trashing a rival in front of a white background” concept was around way before this election got underway.
In any case, the Bloc, not the Liberal party, is clearly reaping the benefits. While they started their campaign on the defensive, they have now taken back a solid lead while the conservatives have dropped to third place according to some polls.
And you can bet the Conservatives are going to spend the next four years trying to prove the separatists were involved and turn this into the Bloc’s little adscam of illegal campaign finance.
But when you take a minute to think about it, the unprecedended media hype and exposure these artists were able to get with basically a laptop and no money does beg the question: Why do they need federal funding at all?