The proroguing of Canadian Parliament has taken worldwide news agencies by storm. From Great Britain-based The Economist, to online news sources such as Reuters, to home grown national news sites such as MacLean’s, The Globe and Mail, Rabble, The National Post, and the CBC what this break in parliament means to Canadians has been covered extensively.
Prorogation is not as uncommon as most think, and has been done by nearly every elected government in Canadian history. However, this time Canadians have reacted with an unprecedented level of distaste. Proroguing parliament at a time when the current government is under scrutiny for alleged torture in Afghanistan, when Canada is still trying to stay afloat in the worldwide recession, and after a period of international embarrassment because of Canada’s lack of action on climate change seems to have made Canadians rather unhappy.
This discontent has manifested itself in public displays of frustration with the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), although such public displays have so far accomplished very little in the way of changing the current political situation. The great public equalizer, Facebook, has become a topic of heated debate amongst pundits who now have very little to do without Question Period to keep them hot and bothered. Speculation on the effect of blogging, Twitter, and the exponentially growing Facebook group, “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament,” will have on the political process has been flying left and right. Defenders of the beloved social media sites denounce naysayers, citing the exponential growth, the increased volume of communication between members, and the spread of knowledge amongst Canadian citizens about what proroguing means.
There is some truth to what these social media advocates preach about. The Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook group has 158,164 members at the time of writing, a number that, when compared to other leading Canadian political groups on the same site, doesn’t even compare. The BC Anti HST group has 129,790, while the Canadians Against Coalition Government – a site that was used last year to hold rallies across Canada against the Liberal-NDP coalition – had 126, 930 at the height of its popularity. For the further sake of comparison, members of ten separate groups celebrating the television program Mad Men only total to 8,116 individual Facebook members. But what, if anything, does all this mean?
Critics scoff at the impact that these groups have. It is all too easy to join a group on a social networking site logged into an average of 100,000,000 times daily; it does little to motivate a person to attend a rally or write a letter to their MP, and it is a very passive form of resistance. However, the ripple effect of online tools is impossible to know comprehensively, for better or worse.
The fact of the matter is that Facebook has 350,000,000 active users, and there are 3.5 million pieces of content created daily, viewed by half of Facebook’s active members. On average, users are invited to three groups a month and when there are over a hundred thousand members joining said group in a small window of time, you can guarantee almost everyone’s news feed will contain at least one mention of the group, and that mention will include a Facebook friend of yours.
The group itself has “gone real world,” as described by CBC political blogger, Kady O’Malley. The use of social media by Canadians to discuss prorogation has spawned an entire debate unto itself, sliding itself over top the actual prorogation debate. Articles in independent media sources such as this paper, blogs, and the mainstream media have all picked up on the mass conversion to political interest. While this group may not change which MP’s will be on Parliament Hill come January 25th, it certainly has changed how Canada is debating the decision to prorogue. The question is no longer whether or not Harper has the legitimacy to do so – and constitutionally he does – it is now whether or not Canadians will retaliate against him and the Conservative Party when session is re-convened.
An EKOS poll taken on January 7th, a little over two weeks after Harper made that fateful call to Michaelle Jean shows the Conservative Party drop by 2.8%, giving them a 5.8 point lead over the Liberal Party, their closest opposition. This drop indicates that the gap between the two parties has narrowed considerably since mid December.
Despite these polling statistics, this could very well mean nothing. Facebook, while socially relevant and broad in its scope, is still self-selecting and the 158 154 members of the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament group may well be the same users who would not vote for the CPC in the first place. When session reconvenes in March, it will be most interesting to see how many of those members watch the Throne Speech, and involve themselves in continued political action. The creator of the group himself, Christopher White, is a University of Alberta Masters student with only a peripheral interest in politics. The site is entirely made of content that members posted and created, not of content he himself created.
Regardless of how much genuine direct action comes out of the Facebook group, or from any of the blogging chatter or Twittery tweets, the fact remains that it is getting us talking. Worldwide, Canada’s parliamentary break in proceedings is getting as much air and print time as South Korea’s fist fighting parliamentary proceedings. With the government proroguing parliament for the second time in a year, Canadians are getting used to hearing it, and are likely starting to understand what it means. Is it very possible that Facebook is actually useful for something other than tragically erroneous grammatical errors and pretending to be a farmer.