Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Harper's YouTube performance lacklustre

Canadian PM Harper went on YouTube yesterday for a half hour to respond to submitted questions. The Nortel pensioners were hoping there would be some response to questions on pension reform and bankruptcy. Unfortunately all his answers were the usual political rhetoric. Here's the story as reported in the Vancouver Sun:

Harper's YouTube experiment uninspiring
Prime Minister responds to pre-selected questions submitted by website users, but that didn't prevent activist groups from having their say By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver SunMarch 17, 2010

A YouTube experiment, intended by the Prime Minister's Office to enhance Stephen Harper's image as modern and accessible, became a platform for disgruntled voters to frustrations on Tuesday.

In the half-hour YouTube town hall, pre-recorded at Rideau Gate in Ottawa, the prime minister responded to about a dozen questions that website viewers themselves had submitted and had a hand in choosing.

A relaxed Harper said little that was surprising in response to videotaped and text queries that ranged from the ethics of the seal hunt to the torture of Afghan detainees.

Harper defended his government's positions by pointing to his belief that Canadians greed with the Conservative policies and noting repeatedly that Canada is in a better position economically than other countries.

Google had advertised the initiative last week, signalling that the PM would be only the second national leader, after U.S. President Barack Obama, "to engage with the public in this manner ... For the first time Canadians will have a chance to ask the PM questions." For the PMO, the venture reflected a long-standing strategy whereby Harper, known for tightly controlling his communications, wherever possible has bypassed the National Press Gallery in Ottawa in favour of connecting with Canadians either directly or through local or ethnic media. Many of the questions submitted by the YouTube participants -- totalling 1,800 -- were irreverent, even rude, revealing another side of Canadians, so often described as polite.

"Hypothetically, if you wanted to remove someone like yourself from power, how would you go about it?" teased a post from Hamilton, Ont.

From Vancouver: "Underneath the blank grey eyes, political machinations, expensive suit and hairspray, do you have a semblance of a soul?"

"Do you think it's time for Rahim Jaffer and Helena Guergis to find another line of work?" asked an Ontarian, referring to the Status of Women minister who had an emotional meltdown last month at Charlottetown's airport and her husband, a former MP who benefited from a plea bargain in his conviction last week on a charge of careless driving.

Of course those questions never made it into the Harper interview, conducted by Google rep Patrick Pichette.

Other questions were thoughtful, referring to the melting of ice in the Canadian North and asking why Conservatives haven't taken the hint and done more on climate change. Or asking why Canada continues exporting cancer-causing asbestos. Another questioner asked why the Harper government was spending so much time on crime legislation when statistics show crime has been dropping in the last 30 years.

Several interest groups tried to hijack the experiment, filling the YouTube site with queries challenging Canada's pot laws; questioning the Harper government's slowness to legislate changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to ensure that, in Nortel-type situations, laid-off employees acquire pension protection; and slamming bilingualism.

"When will a referendum be held by all provinces except Quebec to once and for all vote on whether to keep Quebec in Canada?" asked a Manitoba resident.

Calling himself a "Canadian sovereigntist," Harper said he would not want to see another Quebec referendum.

He defended the seal hunt as "one of the most humane cases of animal husbandry in the world."

On pensions, the PM noted that most plans are regulated provincially and that private pensions in Canada "are generally very, very strong, certainly in comparison with those of other countries."

Defending the Conservative focus on crime, Harper said: "I don't want to say crime is out of control in this country, but we do know that there have been some very worrying growth areas, not just in Canada, but around the world."

On decriminalizing marijuana, Harper was adamantly against, saying: "We should not fool ourselves into thinking that if we somehow stopped trying to deal with it, it would suddenly turn into a nice, wholesome industry."

While the event may have helped the PM reach some younger voters, it hardly came across as any sort of new-age event.

Rather the interview seemed a typically tightly managed affair in which Harper emerged unscathed.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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