As an election tool, digital really began cutting its teeth during the recent municipal campaigns in Ontario and Alberta. Of course, digital’s been demonstrating its role (in earnest) as a tool for ongoing engagement at all levels of government (with varying degrees of success) for about a year. Now, it enters the arena of provincial political leadership races in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
As my colleague Mark Reder points out, Gordon Campbell’s recent resignation as leader of the BC Liberal party caught hopefuls flat footed. Candidates are now scrambling to put together platforms and campaign plans. It’s expected digital channels will play some role in this race. Early indications are tight integration to the rest of the campaign might be a luxury.
A leadership race is very different from an election.
Leadership races are about securing party memberships and having card-carrying members cast ballots during a convention. Different rules apply as well. I understand candidates in the BC race are limited to $450,000 for a campaign that will last much longer than an election. It’s expected traditional leadership campaigning will take precedence leaving very little money for top digital strategic talent which can sometimes bring attention to the campaign as well. Candidates will likely rely on volunteers to weave digital and traditional together into a cohesive plan. The danger is this could lead to a more tactical and fractured approach.
More significantly, signing up party members is still a paper-based activity. No matter what’s done in the digital world to activate people to sign up to the party, the process is interrupted as it moves from online to a paper transaction during which there’s the risk of a change of heart.
The rolling nature of Canadian politics can be exhausting for the public. For political junkies and especially for those of us who work (or play) in digital public affairs and the integration of digital into the political sphere, it offers plenty of opportunities for creativity and to make things happen in all types of campaigns and in all of the nuances in our political system. We may never get any rest.