The Week — May 5

Tweeters have their way with Canadian politics, third-lowest voter turnout leaves many still fighting

Youth voters were a little overshadowed by an overall low participation turnout, but that didn't stop many from standing up to voice their beliefs for the 2011 federal election.

Twitterverse turns Canadian politics sexy

Did Canadian politics really just get sexy?

That’s what many are saying after a 63-year-old Elections Act rule was met with more contention than ever before.

The 1938 rule, which forces a media blackout on all election results until every polling station had closed across the country, came up against angry Tweeters and Facebookers, who were ravenous to get the word out. But while it’s one thing to tell media outlets and bloggers not to out the calculations, it’s another thing to try and ban the entire Twitterverse from leaking the results.

And so, for a few hours on Monday eve, the Twitter hashtag #tweettheresults soared to No. 1 on Twitter’s worldwide trend list, meaning the online world was watching Canada turn a blasé election into a fit of voter-oppression conspiracy — so much so, that Australian and American tweeters were encouraging Canadians to email the stats so they could tweet them and save Canucks from the promised $25,000 fine to anyone who breathed a whisper of results.

“I think this election is definitely a test of the Elections Act, and we’ll see what happens because of [Monday’s] results,” says Janis La Couvée, social media expert and one of Victoria’s most prolific Tweeters. “It’s one thing to punish a blogger, who could perhaps know better, but how do you keep information secret from a globally connected society that wants to know it?”

The election of 2000 saw B.C. blogger Paul Bryan prosecuted and fined $1,000 for leaking information on his blog. The website TweetTheResults.ca, started by known B.C. social networkers Darren Barefoot and Alexandra Samuels, was meant to challege the old law, but the creators decided to take the website down before risking the fine.

“What this does point to is the limitations our current system is facing, when up against the architecture of Twitter,” La Couvée says. “One thing I was personally really impressed to see, though, were the number of young people on Twitter encouraging us all to vote, and finding creative ways to get people involved. That was really heartening to see.”

Numbers behind the curtain

Next up on the list of notable federal election numbers to watch— please welcome Voter Turnout. This year’s rate clocks in at 61.4 per cent, barely up from 58.8 per cent for the last trip to the polls in 2008, according to Elections Canada. This makes it the third-lowest turnout in Canadian history.

The 2008 election marked Canada’s lowest turnout ever, at 58.8 per cent, with 2004’s election ranging second-worst at 60.9 per cent. The highest voter turnout to date in Canada is 79.4 per cent in 1958. Still, this year’s total of 14,720,580 Canadians — out of 23,971,740 registered electors — did make some waves, especially around B.C.

An astounding 75.2 per cent voter turnout struck Saanich-Gulf Islands, up from last year’s 70.4, where 68,953 voters placed federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May over Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn. Victoria saw a 68.4 per cent voter turnout to elect NDP MP Denise Savoie, up slightly from last year’s 67.5 per cent. The Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca riding also saw a small rise, with a 66.2 per cent turnout up from the 2008 64.6 per cent, which helped NDP’er Randall Garrison steal the seat from a 17-year Liberal reign.

While it’s looking like we couldn’t be more disengaged with politics — despite all the hubbub social media sites may have suggested — it looks like Islanders are fans of the advanced poll. An estimated 9,865 people showed up to vote at the Victoria advanced polls, accounting for a 40 per cent jump from 2008. Meanwhile, 11,330 Saanich-Gulf Islands voters pre-voted, marking a 50 per cent increase over early voting in 2008, while the Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca riding saw a 188 per cent increase in advanced polling over 2008, with an estimated 10,097 people voting on April 22, 23 and 25.

Savoie says she’s proud of her riding being as active as it is, and says her team has worked hard to inspire people from high schoolers to seniors to vote. That said, there are reasons she believes that people get disconnected from the voting system. Savoie hopes that people will see bills like the Wild Salmon Act — an idea that was originally generated by one youth — as an example of how ideas can translate into policies.

“People can’t get engaged with politics if they don’t think politics in general, relates to their lives,” Savoie says. “I suspect that when politicians engage in uncivil debate, that only turns off participation. But I’ve always said you have to be tough on the issues and soft on the people.” M

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