Ontario Elections: An online kaleidoscope of campaign features

The Internet is carrying the campaign strategies of all three major political parties in the run-up to next month’s Ontario election, albeit in different ways and to varying degrees. In Part 2 of our Ontario Politics 2.0 series, Toronto-based writer Lydia Perovic looks at the availability and diversity of Web 2.0 features in the context of e-communication and online campaigning.

The Tories have been well ahead of both the Ontario Liberal and New Democratic Party in terms of the variety of features on offer in their respective Web campaigns, until the Liberals finally put their own campaign Web site online.

The Progressive Conservative Web site in non-electoral times is a frequently updated hub of all things Tory. Currently it’s both that and a springboard to the PC Party’s campaign Web site – www.leadershipmatters.ca – with Web 2.0 galore.

Party leader John Tory has YouTube, Flickr and Facebook accounts (the latter is very rudimentary: see Jack Layton’s Facebook profile on how to maintain a leader’s account) and the campaign home page itself is in the form of a blog, written in a business-casual tone with video components (v-blogs) for almost every entry.

The “Find Your Riding” feature is simple and it works. A couple of policy teasers are placed on the home page and these change periodically. In the permanent one, Dalton McGuinty’s “Broken Promises,” examples change with every new click.

If you sign up, which requires providing your postal code, the Web site shifts into another, more personalized gear with the candidate from your riding permanently displayed in the “Featured Candidate” box on the home page, and more nudging to get involved by using other features of the Web site.

Your next visit to the home page will invite you to “Take the Next Step” – use the “Spread the Word” feature, for instance, which is a great way for the party to obtain e-mail addresses. Can features such as “Organize a House Party” and “Write a Letter to the Editor” be far behind?

If you sign up to receive e-communication from the Tory campaign, you will receive it. On August 18, I signed up to receive campaign e-mails from all three parties. As of today, I have received six e-mails from the PC campaign, none from the Liberals and none from the NDP. (A simple query sent to the general PC campaign info e-mail has yet to receive a response; but more on interactivity later).

I signed up for a number of candidates’ campaign e-newsletters (this includes incumbents and challengers) and apart from the automated acknowledgement responses, I’ve received nothing.

Not very many sitting MPP’s bother with regular e-newsletters at the best of times, and those who have are probably now trying to figure out whether they can use their constituency database for campaign e-mail communication.

Many of the he Liberal candidates’ sites have no privacy policy displayed, whereas some Tories do and some do not. What might work in our favour is that candidates tend to guard e-mail databases and are reluctant to share the contacts even with the party brethren from their own riding.

One of the few candidates of any party who has had both an MPP Web site and a campaign Web site running, since August, as well as a regular newsletter, is Kathleen Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West, whose e-campaign has been quick on its feet.

Although the visitors sign up for an e-newsletter at the campaign site, the newsletter itself seems to be the usual constituency newsletter with gradually increasing campaign content. Her site’s calendar combines both campaign events and community events, and clearly states which one is which.

It will be interesting to watch how the incumbents transition from constituency, public service-type information dissemination to full-out campaigning in their newsletters, and whether the transfer of contacts from one to the other is in any way regulated by Elections Ontario.

There are many ways to massage the constituency-related information into electioneering, as I’m sure many an MPP is in the process of realizing. Even during the regular times of incumbency, any communication with constituents – including e-communication like newsletters and Web sites – is a balancing act between MPP and party-related information and the public service riding information.

The old Liberal Party site used to redefine stodgy. The new one that was placed online recently is a different story. Although some of the candidates’ pages still lack crucial contact information, most of them have it, and some effort has been made to diversify and personalize content for each of the candidates.

The platform is there, and the central policy is housed under the “Our Agenda” drop-down menu on the home page.

Perhaps prompted by the Tories’ strong embrace of social media, the “Community” menu offers a “Latest Online” page which urges: “Check back daily as we will be sharing with you, videos, blog entries, Facebook postings, campaign photos from across the province, and other interesting links.” No postings so far.

There is also a promise of two campaign blogs (under HQ), but so far the space has been used to post the usual campaign material – photos in one and ad airing announcements in the other.

The Ontario NDP has not designed a campaign site (as of publication), but the party has been adding some electoral content to the old party site very slowly. The only part of the site regularly updated is the party’s press release roll.

Until yesterday the list of 2007 candidates was difficult to find and it contained only names and e-mail addresses. Now the “Team” link contains pages for each candidate, but they appear to have been only half-done, with still only e-mail for contact information in many, links that do not work, and biographies that begin with the same four paragraphs.

A negligible number of candidates have their own campaign Web sites. Among the incumbents, only Cheri DiNovo has both a campaign Web site (in the form of a blog) and a constituency Web site available. The Michael Prue and Howard Hampton campaigns have recently opened YouTube accounts.

The party has not created place-marker sites to be filled later with content (which is what the Liberals have done with their candidates’ sites) and there is very little in the way of blog activity among candidates. Paul Ferreira maintained a blog when he ran municipally, and Ward 14 Councillor Gord Perk’s main constituency Web site is a blog; so it is not unheard of within the party.

The Ontario NDP site has an “E-mail Your Local Newspaper” list, which is part of what seems to be a very under-utilized “Take Action” page. There are never any events in the “Events” calendar.

Some potentially interesting content can be found under the “Campaigns” menu, but the issue pages are brief, rarely if ever updated, and seem to presume that the petitions on various Liberal broken promises are the be-all and end-all of political action.

And this brings us to the next e-campaigning issue. In Part 3 tomorrow, we’ll examine the actual use of these innovative Web features for citizens.

Related content:

Read Part 1: Politics 2.0: Web campaigning in the Ontario election

Read Part 3: Web campaigning for Elections Ontario: What’s in it for me?

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Would-be Toronto mayors reaching new voters with YouTube

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Toronto elections campaigning for transparent funding

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Elections Ontario

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