For anyone keeping track, it's T-minus 40 days until the election. You know, the municipal variety.
As of this writing, 16 candidates have stepped forward in the hunt for the mayor's chair or one of six council seats. More are bound to materialize as we enter election prime time, when candidates look to stand above the crowd with innovative and well thought out platform planks. Traditionally, that has meant door knocking, and plenty of it. This election, candidates are also starting to reach out to voters online through social media and blogs.
Unlike newspaper articles, ads or candidate forums where questions are screened, blogs and sites like Facebook and Twitter give candidates unfiltered access to the voting public. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on the message and how it's articulated. We are after all. in an age when it's not always about the quality of the character but the quality of the message.
Mayor Nolan Crouse has maintained a Twitter account (twitter.com/stalbertmayor) for some time, though only started tweeting regularly once his re-election campaign kicked into full swing. Most of his tweets highlight the many community events he attends, often praising local volunteers. His blog (at www.nolancrouse.com) is similarly abundant with praise for community groups, but is short on simple messages to tell voters what he's all about. That's left to the ‘platform detail page,' which lives up to its billing, listing about every idea the mayor has stood for — ever. This type of information overload can be useful for some, but many voters want the issues spelled out clearly and in easily digestible tidbits.
Mayoral challenger Shelley Biermanski also has embraced Twitter (Shelley_4Mayor), Facebook and posts about every other day to her ‘Focus Blog.' Unlike Crouse, Biermanski boils her platform into 10 easily digestible points but to the extreme. Two points stand out as head scratchers: “finding positive solutions together” and “putting trust and respect back in the community” (the latter being a solution for crime). Sounds great, but with so little substance they don't even qualify for motherhood and apple pie. Fortunately points, like transportation, clearly call for LRT planning and laying the groundwork for an eventual bike trail to Edmonton. The first is already in progress, but the latter at least is innovative.
Several council candidates have taken up blogs and social media, including James Van Damme (jvdforcouncil), who tweets about issues like his stance on contract tenders to hob-knobbing with local politicians and oddly, his latest workout with a personal trainer. Eight-pack abs notwithstanding, at least you know where he stands, even if some of his ideas like renaming affordable housing ‘acceptable housing' aren't exactly well thought out.
Cathy Heron has a nice-looking site at www.cathyheron.ca, but her blog suffers from the ‘what I did last summer' malaise. When she does touch on what's on voters' minds like the Riel Park redevelopment, transit or DARP, she fails to outline her position. One post about DARP recounted 23 points raised at last month's public hearing, and she promises to “remember all these concerns” if elected, which doesn't tell voters anything.
Wes Brodhead's blogging at www.electbrodhead.com also says little but elsewhere he clearly outlines his stance on issues like a branch library (pro), land use (pro for many elements of smart growth) and even utilizes video that, while somewhat stiff, at least adds personality to a face and name.
No one is expecting Barack Obama-level of engagement for mostly part-time jobs, however candidates would do well to put a little more of themselves — and their actual stance on the issues — in their online musings. Voters can see through motherhood and apple pie at the door, and deserve better online.
Read more about candidates' online habits at the Gazette's Civic Vote blog here.