If there was any doubt social media can be a weapon for successfully pressuring government, Treasury Board president Tony Clement
has cleared it up.
During speech in Toronto on Friday, Clement said last year’s public uproar over the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) decision allowing usage-based Internet billing was a “seminal moment for social media in Canada.”
The unpopular decision generated some 500,000 tweets and emails in a campaign led by OpenMedia.ca.
Very quickly Clement, who was Industry Minister at the time, and the government got the message.
“We decided to send a signal to the CRTC that if they came after the government of Canada with the status quo [and not change the decision] … we would just veto it. So I was enabled by the Prime Minister’s office to get that out on Twitter first.”
He claimed the tweet created a controversy because he went “direct to the people” and not through mainstream media. “We were trying to break new ground,” Clement said.
However, at the time several legal experts protested that the move was discourteous to a quasi-judicial body.
In an interview Clement denied he was rude. “We had a government position we wanted to get across,” he said. “Now we can directly communicate to people who are interested in an issue instantaneously, simultaneously and get our decision out there. I think that’s a very exciting part of how we can break down some of these boundaries ... Twitter is “a tool in our tool box that we can use when necessary.”
Asked if the government welcomes the kind of pressure that was brought to bear on UBB through social media, Clement said it is inevitable. “Regardless of what we want or don’t want, that’s the reality of today.”
“We have to adapt to it and be mindful of it.”
Clement was speaking on Ottawa’s open government policies, which his department is leading, at a meeting for communications professionals organized by a group called Third Tuesday.
Open government encompasses making datasets and information publicly available online, as well as allowing politicians and bureaucrats to leverage social media to communicate with the public.
The federal government has just finished a public consultation on setting a formal open government policy, which will finalized before an April meeting of the international Open Government Partnership in Brazil.