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Canadian parties ‘haven’t colonized Web space’

Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Jun 23, 2004

It’s easy to throw a party for the President of the United States. Just go to his website, where party packs of Bush-Cheney paraphernalia can be bought directly from campaign central, and where every event is logged for supporters to see.

By yesterday’s count, 10,275 individual events are planned in backyards and community halls across the country to raise support for President George W. Bush.

Canada has no such parties forming on-line. In fact, the Conservative Party site doesn’t even have a key-word search function.

“The Canadian political parties haven’t colonized Web space,” says Alex Langshur, a principal with Hillwatch Inc., an Ottawa-based lobbying firm that has just publicized a detailed comparison of the two nations’ on-line political efforts and concluded that Canadian sites are little more than virtual lawn signs.

The U.S. campaign sites “have a greater ability to reach and attract audiences, engage their attention, raise their comfort level with the medium, eliminate barriers to action, and ultimately convert visitors to active supporters through compelling calls to action,” the Hillwatch study says. “The Canadian sites would appear not to be contributing substantially towards the strategic goals of their parties.”

Mr. Bush’s rival, four-term Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, has raised about $145-million (U.S.) for his campaign. More than $44-million of that has been donated over the Internet since early March, with the average on-line donor giving $108, according to The Associated Press. In Canada, the parties don’t reveal how much they have raised from their websites. But based on the non-interactive nature of the sites’ design, a donor would have to be extremely motivated to give on-line, Mr. Langshur says.

Since the former professional wrestler and independent candidate Jesse Ventura tapped the Web to help him win the Minnesota governorship in 1998, U.S. political parties have used their websites as strategic assets that bring together people and energize them to go out and connect with other people.

In contrast, Canadian sites reflect a “top down command-and-control campaign model,” the Hillwatch report says. The major party sites include bios of their leaders and candidates, party press releases, platforms, campaign schedules and electronic donation forms.

The NDP scored bonus points in the report for its recent effort to create an on-line environment where New Democrats can share ideas and launch their own mini-campaigns to rally public support. The initiative, called “e-campaigners,” provides participants with simple Web and e-mail tools to create and send messages, including personal challenges to match donations.

Mr. Langshur called e-campaigners a good start, but said it won’t do the NDP much good this election because it has appeared so late in the campaign.

Some of the Canadian parties say it’s hard to do a fair comparison with U.S. political sites because there’s such a different dynamic between the five-week Canadian election and the two-year race in the United States.

“We’re running 308 people under one party,” says Andrew Skaling, a spokesman for the Conservatives. “At the same time we’re trying to profile and give access to quite a number of people as opposed to a presidential campaign, which is really about the president and his or her running mate.”

Tim Tierney, Liberal Party webmaster, acknowledges that Canadian sites have room for improvement, but says staffing is an issue.

Hillwatch Inc., 45 O’Connor St. Suite 1150, Ottawa ON K1P 1A4 tel: (613) 238-8700 fax: (866) 310-4955