Web-based warfare in Saskatchewan

By: Sandford BorinsIt's on to Saskatchewan for the November 7 election. I've been watching the Web sites of the three major parties – NDP, Saskatchewan Party, and Liberals – and I'm favourably impressed.The Web campaign in Saskatchewan is being waged at a level at least comparable to the recent Ontario election, despite the fact that Ontario's population is more than an order of magnitude larger. Web-based tools do not display economies of scale: anyone can play at a sophisticated level.The NDP's Web sitedelivers its positive narrative in a four-word banner, “Calvert cares. Calvert delivers.” that presents the Saskatchewan NDP's traditional claim to socially progressive policy and competent economic management. The negative narrative is very obvious, with links to a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing ad arguing that the new-look Saskatchewan Party is at heart indistinguishable from the former Conservative party. In essence, this is the line of attack we thought the Ontario Liberals would use against John Tory, until a better opportunity presented itself. I checked the news releases and two-thirds are attacks on the Saskatchewan Party.The Saskatchewan Party's Web sitefocuses on its leader Brad Wall, and the positive narrative is built around the upbeat slogan “securing the future” and the platform. The site also has a strong negative narrative, with approximately half the news releases as attacks on the NDP.Finally, as the third party in the race, the Saskatchewan Liberalsappear to be more innovative than their larger opponents. The live banner highlights the party's three main priorities: accountability, post-secondary education, and infrastructure. There are links to the Liberals' Facebook and YouTube sites, an “Ask David” feature where leader David Karwacki is shown on a video sitting at his computer answering emailed questions, and an interactive property tax calculator that allows voters to determine what they would save as a result of the Liberals' promise to eliminate the educational component of the property tax. In a whimsical touch, the lead video shows Karwacki touring Saskatoon's Mendel Art Gallery, with a piano accompaniment but no dialogue.As in the Ontario campaign, all three parties are using YouTube intensively for both leaders' speeches and attack narratives. Activists have also gravitated to YouTube, particularly with attack commentaries. And the commentaries are drawing quite a few argumentative responses.The most recent twist in the campaign illustrates the adage that the loose cannons on your own team can do the most damage to your cause. NDP candidate Jeff Potts, running against Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall in Swift Current, made potentially libelous accusations of corruption against both Wall and his father on the discussion board http://www.rabble.ca Premier Calvert dismissed the accusations as inappropriate and inaccurate and replaced Potts as candidate. It now remains to be seen whether this is the magic moment the Saskatchewan Party was looking for.

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