As the New Democrat campaign bus pulled up at the East Coast Music Awards in Charlottetown, P.E.I. on Friday afternoon, media on the bus noticed a guy holding up a sign for Sean Casey, the Liberal candidate in running to replace retired Liberal MP Shawn Murphy in the Charlottetown riding. The NDP candidate is Joe Byrne and te Conservative is Donna Profit.
"Look, it's a Liberal protester!" someone on the bus joked, for it would be hard to describe the quiet, slightly dishevelled man in shades and a white baseball cap standing alone in the corner as a demonstration. "Maybe it's Sean Casey?"
As I soon discovered on Twitter while trying to find out whether anyone at the East Coast Music Awards had noticed NDP Leader Jack Layton was there, the lone protester ended up being none other than Ashley MacIsaac, the renowned and colourful fiddler from Cape Breton, N.S.
A couple of my reporter colleagues managed to catch up with him later and learned that while he had some nice things to say about Layton, including that some of his favourite MPs belong to the NDP, he is a Liberal supporter. One of his songs, Wingstock, has even been playing at campaign rallies for Michael Ignatieff.
Later on in Seven Mile Bay, P.E.I., Layton was asked about MacIsaac.
"The last thing I’ll do is comment on Ashley MacIsaac. I’ve shared stages with him and he’s a character, that’s for sure and a fun guy and I love him when he’s got his fiddle on the go," Layton said, adding that he performed for a fundraiser Layton was part of years ago in Toronto.
"I’ve got a special place in my heart for him. Sorry I didn’t get to bump into him and talk to him while he was there," said Layton.
Had Layton been paying closer attention to the man carrying the Liberal sign as he made his way into the hotel hosting the awards, he might have realized that he very nearly did bump into him.
If you’re one of those people who rolls your eyes or stifles a giggle every time New Democrat Leader Jack Layton talks about being the next prime minister, consider this bit of political insight.
There is an old theory that says the key to winning a majority government at the federal level is a visit to Schwartz’s, the legendary delicatessen on St. Laurent Blvd. in downtown Montreal that is now featured in a new musical comedy.
Consider the facts: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien have all eaten at Schwartz's and gone on to solid wins in Parliament.
Joe Clark, John Turner and Kim Campbell, on the other hand, have never been seen at the eatery, and none of them ever led their parties to a majority in an election. Coincidence?
Okay, there is one: Paul Martin, who did not win a majority in an election despite a demonstrated predilection for Schwartz's smoked meat. (Breaking with his South Beach Diet, the then-Prime Minister carved a medium-fat brisket for media at a party at 24 Sussex Drive in 2005.)
Will the election of 2011 ultimately be determined by whoever - Harper or Ignatieff - makes it to Schwartz's first?
As Layton would likely point out, that kind of thinking represents the old-fashioned attitude that Canadians only have two choices when deciding who to vote for in this election.
And you know what? While both the Liberals and Conservatives are quick to point out they have served smoked meat on the campaign trail this year, neither Stephen Harper nor Michael Ignatieff have actually stopped by the joint yet.
So, guess which national leader is the first to visit for a photo-op on Thursday afternoon?
Your next prime minister: Jack Layton.
Time to stop being such a defeatist.
UPDATE: I briefed Layton on this theory as he was entering the place and noted he had beat both Harper and Ignatieff to it. "Well, there you go," Layton said. "It's a theory I subscribe to."
Two insta-polls were out this morning showing how Quebecers felt about the French-language debate Wednesday night.
The winner, as expected, was Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe. The NDP's Jack Layton was the runner up in both polls, adding to his well-received performance in the English debate the night before. Liberal Michael Ignatieff and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservatives fought for last in both surveys.
The Leger Marketing poll had Duceppe at 42 per cent saying he won the debate, Layton at 20 per cent, Ignatieff at 14 and Harper at 11. The poll of 879 Quebecers, invited randomly to a web panel, had a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The CROP poll asked about best performance among the leaders. Duceppe came in at 45 per cent, Layton at 28 per cent, Harper at 16 and Ignatieff at 12. The Internet panel did not have a random character, and so there was no margin of error.
The Leger poll also gave Layton a lift in another area. Asked whether they were more apt to vote for each party, far more respondents said they were for the NDP than for the other federalist parties.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff got a one-on-one debate during Tuesday night's leaders' debate.
The two spoke for a total of six minutes answering this question:
I'm Sam Diamond from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador. It's very likely whoever wins the next election will have another minority government. How do you plan on working with the other parties into a trustworthy institution that canadians can be proud of?
Using Wordle, the Star took the responses from Ignatieff and Harper to see what the most-used words were from each poltician.
The two leaders will also get a six-minute one-on-one debate in Wednesday night's French-language debate.
On Thursday Wednesday night I received an email from a reader named Catherine McMillan, who let me know that a blogger had found some stuff on the Internet about Izzy Hirji, the 22-year-old veterinary student at the University of Guelph I featured in my story on youth engagement in politics on Wednesday.
“I figure you should know that a blogger in Winnipeg has done the background work you didn’t bother with on a source you featured today in your Star piece,” McMillan wrote in the email copied to our public editor, Kathy English, who received a few more emails on the topic around the same time.
The post details some things Hirji has posted on Facebook over the years, including one from 2006 (apparently since deleted) that McMillan included in her email to me:
"...stephen harpers plan is ridiculous, 40 years without results, and death to Kyoto!?!?!?! OMGWTF im ready to like go to Ottawa myself an take him down..."
UPDATE: Sean Ledwich, a freelance journalist in Winnipeg, notes the original Facebook post included an "lol" at the end, presumably to indicate Hirji was joking (which is an important bit of context). The Black Rod left that out, but referred to it later on in the post and McMillan included a screen shot in her post on the subject. It appeared Thursday night the original Facebook comment had been deleted, but Ledwich found it in a Google cache result on Friday.
“Perhaps less time on Twitter, and more on Google, yes?” wrote McMillan, the woman behind a popular conservative blog called small dead animals, where she is known as Kate.
Now, here’s the thing: according to both the story that ran in the Guelph Mercury and my own interview with Hirji on Tuesday (where he confirmed all those details in his answers to questions I asked over and over again), Conservative party organizers asked him to leave the rally for Stephen Harper at the Delta Guelph Hotel on Monday because he had participated in the peaceful get-out-the-youth-vote flash mob outside, which they viewed as a protest. Hirji said RCMP Cpl. Tony Fowler of the “O” Division/VIP Security Section told him the same thing as he was reinforcing the Conservative party request that he leave the venue. Hirji said he had pre-registered online (as the rally was advertised as a public event in the Guelph Mercury), but his name was on the list at the hotel and he was let in without a problem – until the party official recognized his face from the flash mob.
“The people who did take me out, it wasn’t because I was a security threat,” Hirji said when I spoke to him again Thursday. “It’s because they saw our student rally as a protest.”
In other words, according to his version of events (and neither the RCMP, the Conservative party or Harper has contradicted it), something he wrote on Facebook in 2006 or anything else The Black Rod found on Google was not the reason he was kicked out.
Still, I had some extra time today and since I honestly do enjoy interacting with and learning from readers (one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about Twitter), I decided to take a closer look. Instead of turning to Google (because the bloggers had that covered), I picked up the telephone.
My first call was to McMillan, as she was the one who had reached out to me first. I wanted to get a better idea of where she was coming from, given everything I and my colleagues had learned while reporting the different aspects of this rally story.
“I call it journalistic malpractice,” McMillan told me on the phone from Saskatchewan Thursday.
“I think you have to go back and look at the facts,” said McMillan, who throughout our conversation referred to Hirji and other flash-mob organizers as Green Party activists based on what The Black Rod had included in the post. “It isn’t a debate about this perception versus that perception. It was a report on an event and I think that when you quote someone who just happened to be there and just happened to get thrown out as thought he’s a non-partisan student who just wanted to go see the prime minister, it’s a little bit disingenuous when that’s obviously not who he was, not who he is…
“We see this all the time as bloggers, you know,” said McMillan. “For example, there will be a Liberal party meeting in Manitoba and they’ll quote an independent farmer and we Google the guy up and he’s the riding president. You know, this is a repeated pattern, which is why it gets jumped on so much by bloggers, because we see this over and over and over and over again, where people are quoted. Their story is taken without any investigation as to who they really are and it’s all so easy to do now. We’re picking this stuff up in five minutes.”
For the record, I had asked Hirji if he was a member of a political party when I first spoke to him on Tuesday. He told me he had joined the Green Party but couldn’t remember if he had renewed his membership. It was clear from the Facebook page advertising the event and the videos that the flash mob was billed – and executed – as a positive, non-partisan event, where political signs were forbidden and the crowd was ordered to sit down and boo anyone shouting political slogans. The Facebook page advertising the event also featured a comment from at least one member of the Guelph Campus Conservatives, who was told he was welcome to show up, although I could not confirm whether any of its roughly150 members did. So, I figured his possibly lapsed Green party membership was irrelevant in a piece that was more about youth engagement in democracy than the details of what happened to Hirji, which had already been widely reported. I’m pretty sure it’s not something the RCMP would have viewed as a security threat. Asking another student to leave a Conservative rally in London, Ont. because she had posed for a photo with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff certainly didn’t go over so well. In hindsight, should I have mentioned this? I don’t think it would have satisfied McMillan, who argued the flash mob itself – quite apart from the five-year-old Facebook comment – was inherently dangerous.
“One of these may end up with a group of so-called anarchists in their midst and the whole premise of what they’re doing has inherent dangers,” McMillan said, although she added that of course she could not speak for what the Conservative party and the RCMP did or did not view as a security threat.
Security was the main issue for The Black Rod too, said a “designated spokesman” for the blog I was asked to call in Winnipeg on Thursday afternoon who refused to give his name.
(“Is this speed dating? You want a name? You’re not getting one,” the deep, male-sounding voice said on the phone when I pressed for some identity, stressing that speaking to people without any name was not particularly sound journalistic practice, especially since this whole exercise was a response to my being admonished for not entering a name into Google. I warned that readers would therefore have to take his words with a grain of salt and he said “Please! They can take it with a mound of salt.” So, readers, there you go.)
“There is a thread that runs through this,” the anonymous designated spokesman said, which begins with the Facebook post in 2006. “Do you call it a threat? In hindsight you can look at it and say was that a threat? Well, maybe not, but had he pulled out a gun and shot somebody, then it would have been a threat.”
The anonymous designated spokesman went through the other items listed on The Black Rod, including a November 2009 environment-related “strip mob” in Guelph associated with one of the organizers of the Monday “vote mob”, an event that Hirji noted on Facebook he could not partake in because he had class.
“So if you’re a security official, you look at this and go ‘Okay, what’s the plan? A publicity stunt inside? Are they going to take off their clothes?” the anonymous designated spokesman said, later linking the flash mob to the environmental movement at large, with the risk of anarchists breaking off and smashing windows like they did during the G20 Summit in Toronto last summer. “You just simply say: ‘Let’s err on the side of caution.’”
“Well, no, it didn’t happen in this case. But it could have,” the anonymous designated spokesman said.
Now, what I found interesting about my conversation with the anonymous designated spokesman for The Black Rod was that he fully believed the RCMP removed Hirji because of the stuff he had been able to find on Google, fully expected the RCMP to run the list of attendees through Google and remove people based on what they find and, even more interesting, was fully okay with that happening in Canadian democracy.
I’m going to give last word to Hirji.
“I do acknowledge the validity in what they’re posting, but I mean, to dig up something from six years ago when I was a teenager and spewing angry comments at my government, that has nothing to do with my professional conduct as a voter right now,” Hirji said Thursday. “Yeah, sure, I’ve attended a Harper protest before, but that doesn’t make me a protester every time that I want to engage in a political event.”
Actually, I’m going to give the last word to Ray Novak, a long-time aide to Harper, who posted a photo on Twitter Thursday evening, with this as the caption: “PM meets with student pro-vote activists after Hamilton rally.”
Grade 4 school children in Compton, Que., got an unexpected lesson in civics Wednesday when Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff paid them a visit.
Ignatieff was in the Quebec town to visit an agricultural co-op. But as he was getting ready to enter the store, he spied the children in the adjacent school yard.
Clambering up a snow-covered slope, he hung over a fence and conversed with the children about the election, his position and a little about the man behind the name of their school, Louis St-Laurent primary school.
The former prime minister was born in this town in the Eastern townships. Ignatieff waved goodbye to attend his campaign event at the store.
Once that was done and he was getting ready to leave, the children were again in the school yard so he couldn’t resist a second visit.
He finally left after giving them a round of high fives.
It appears Conservative incumbent Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke) has pulled a Kanye West and issued a late-night Twitter apologyto Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for changing his name so that it sounded like that of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Gallant, who goes by the handle @cherylgallant on Twitter, posted the following at 11:24 p.m. on Thursday:
@M_Ignatieff, sorry about remark on day 1. No place in debate about ideas and values
Unlike the belated Twitter mea culpa from the controversial rapper, which everyone knew was for having so rudely interrupted country music singer Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, it was not immediately clear what Gallant was apologizing for.
But searching for her Twitter handle suggested Gallant had appeared to play on Ignatieff's name so that it seemed like she was comparing him to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The alleged tweet cannot be found on Gallant's Twitter timeline, but someone named Tricia Wood, or @pkbwood, captured a screen shot of the tweet being archived on OpenParliament.ca, which keeps track of tweets by politicians.
The second tweet up from the bottom, apparently posted three days ago, says:
Wilmer Verch had super efficient wood furnaces @ Renfrew Home Show. No carbon tax please, Igaffi!
Gallant could not immediately be reached for comment and no one answered the telephone at the Conservative war room (it is pretty late at night, after all).
The official Twitter account for Ignatieff (@M_Ignatieff) had not yet responded by 12:31 a.m. Friday, as the latest tweet, posted Thursday at 2:11 p.m., was clearly not on the topic:
You haven't lived until you've had a Kelekis hot dog and shoestring fries.
Ignatieff spokeswoman Leslie Church sent me an email at 12:38 a.m. Friday outlining her understanding of the story behind the apology:
"Cheryl Gallant was under fire tonight for calling Mr. Ignatieff 'Igaffi', in a poorly judged, less than subtle reference to Gaddafi on her Twitter account," Church wrote.
All parties are aggressively trying to capitalize on the growing use of social media. The New Democratic Party has launched an iPhone app, all parties are pushing their announcements and criticisms on Twitter and most candidates in the May 22 election have dedicated Facebook sites to attract supporters.
But if you were still doubting the parties' faith that technology can give them an edge, here's some more evidence.
There, you'll find an advertisement for Michael Ignatieff's Liberals and a fairly blatant attempt to steal the eyeballs, if not the voters, that would normally lean to the left leaning New Democrats. The small print reads:
"Learn more about Michael Ignatieff and his bold, new vision for Canada"
(Google seems to be alternating the ads between one for the Liberals and another for Ontario government tax credits)
The Liberal party's problem over the last two election campaigns has been fighting for votes with the two other left-of centre parties while the Conservative Party claims all those on the centre-right of the political spectrum.
The last two election campaigns have come down to Liberal leaders pronouncing in the dying days of the race that voters need to rally around their party to hold the Tories at bay.
It hasn't worked of course, and there's no evidence it will work any better this time around, but at least it's a bit more subtle.
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