Sun, lollipops and virtual campaigns | Bancroft this week

March 3, 2021

March 3, 2021

By Nate Smell

Since the recent announcement by former Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio that he will be running in the next federal election, I have been thinking about how the election campaign will be different this time around due to the pandemic. With pundits predicting the writ will drop in June or September, it’s fair to assume that our federal candidates will be campaigning online more than ever.

Having walked this same path as a journalist and political candidate, I can see the benefits of a predominantly virtual campaign in Hastings-Lennox and Addington. First, many of the challenges posed by the vastness of our constituency would be largely eliminated. Without expecting to physically appear in as many communities as possible during the campaign, candidates can use the extra time they have due to the pandemic to engage with voters, including members of the media, in innovative ways. Moreover, by reducing travel time, and therefore the amount of fossil fuels consumed, campaigning online would also help to reduce the size of the ecological footprint of the election.

Don’t get me wrong, a virtual campaign isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There is also a downside. For example, the ability for candidates to personally connect with potential voters will be significantly reduced. For candidates hoping to poach voters who typically vote for rival political parties, the absence of the “baby kiss factor” will in some ways limit their growth potential. In this way, a virtual campaign could work in favor of the incumbents by relying on the support of the unthinking faction of voters making up their base, who still vote like their grandfather did.

But … a virtual campaign also brings a wildcard. This wildcard is of course the untapped potential of social media. As we’ve seen time and time again – courtesy of conspiracy theorists from the anti-mask community to the last former US president – social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., fosters an almost endless potential for the spread of information, whether true or false.

Imagine, if by chance these networks were used to inform the public of each party’s policies, and our local candidate’s stance on those policies, how an informed vote could change the political landscape in Hastings-Lennox and Addington.

The greatest benefit to voters – the people – from virtual political campaigning that I can see is the opportunities such an endeavor would create to educate the public about and where exactly they stand as human beings in relation to to the questions that matter. Replacing the traditional “whistle blowing” appearance of political candidates with an opportunity for online engagement might for some seem like a downgrade. However, what this crowd of naysayers forgets is the fact that every online engagement is also an archiveable moment of truth. In turn, each of these records can be viewed and assessed before the vote, to help us as individuals decide which issues matter most to us.

Yes, sometimes candidates who are good people say or do the wrong thing. But, by enriching the possibility for voters to search for candidates, parties and/or leaders they might choose to support, we better enable the democratic process we have invented to serve our best interests.

The days of voting according to the historical tendencies of our family are long gone. In light of the knowledge provided to us by the internet, it has become our responsibility to know whether we are voting for a decent human being or a racist fascist. In the months leading up to our next election, we must pay attention to those who intend to represent us. Before offering our support to these people, we must know exactly what they represent. The stakes are simply too high to cast an uneducated vote.

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