Provincial parties seek to win hearts, clicks. The battle for votes is already being waged online using array of tools

Provincial parties seek to win hearts, clicks. The battle for votes is already being waged online using array of tools

The provincial election may still be six months away, but in cyberspace, the B.C. "e-lection" is already under way.

This week, B.C. New Democrats will unveil a new website -- www.bcndp.ca -- complete with tools to get people involved in its fledgling campaign.

On Friday, Premier Gordon Campbell launched his very own Twitter account to send dispatches to people on their cellphones.

Despite the buzzwords, the emphasis is on getting people buzzed about the May election -- which faces a low turnout, if the recent federal and municipal elections are anything to go by.

"The critical part is, in today's world, you need multiple strategies to reach voters," B.C. NDP president Jeff Fox told The Province.

"The notion of being able to reach people exclusively through radio, or print, or phone, or door-knocking, are long gone."

"We have a whole world out there now that assimilates information in a very different way, and the website is becoming a critical element."

The new NDP site is aimed at allowing a party supporter to make a donation, sign a petition or send an e-mail -- all in five minutes.

For those with more time, the site has numerous information tools to access NDP policies, reach MLAs and candidates, and read news stories and hot blogs.

NDP bloggers can post their own stories and comments, or receive the latest website dispatches via cellphone.

And, for example, if someone is only interested in homelessness, they can still get involved by networking on that single issue.

Fox also wants citizen activists around B.C. to create their own content for the site. If someone shoots a clip of a political speech in 100 Mile House on their cellphone, it can now be posted onto the NDP site within minutes, he notes.

"It's a very interactive tool. It allows people to be engaged and to offer comment and to provide feedback, which we think is a critical element to success," said Fox.

But all of B.C.'s political parties are moving their sites away from simply offering information, and mostly printed information, to multimedia formats and toward new ways of user-participation.

Earlier this month, the B.C. Liberals relaunched their website at www.bcliberals.com, with an Open Platform feature through which people can influence party policy.

Chad Pederson, the B.C. Liberals' head of communications, said it's the first forum of its kind in Canada.

"Never before has there been this level of engagement with citizens," said Pederson.

Pederson said hundreds of suggestions have already come in, with more to come by the February deadline, and the Liberal platform committee is sifting through them.

Open Platform users can select specific policy issues and make suggestions.

"We are looking to have online forums and townhall meetings for the people who've signed [up]."

The Liberals also offer BCLTV, which posts stories from around the province.

The two party leaders are taking early steps into social networking.

Campbell has his own Facebook account, with 641 friends, while NDP Leader Carole James is friendless -- but plans to have her own Facebook presence shortly.

By comparison, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has more than 18,000 friends.

Neither party will release its site traffic figures.

The NDP hired Vancouver web designers Raised Eyebrow to do its web makeover, but Bieber would only say it cost "a fair amount of money."

The Liberals would not disclose who did their new website or how much it cost.

Grace Battiston of the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver said both parties will have to move constantly to stay ahead of the web curve.

"Today, more than ever, there are so many ways to receive information," she said. "That will continue to expand."

Political parties must create new venues to reach people in a multimedia way and constantly keep them fed with new text and images.

But they also have to offer the latest ways for people to interact with candidates and with each other.

"The use of technology has gone a long way in helping politicians connect with an audience," Battiston said. "People don't want to just receive information, they want to be able to participate."

South of the border, Barack Obama has changed the way political campaigns are waged, she noted.

The U.S. president-elect's web campaign used every web tool available. His YouTube videos were watched for 14.5 million hours and he has almost 3.2 million Facebook friends.

But most of all, Obama's team was able to organize thousands of people online by reaching out to specific demographics.

jbermingham@theprovince.com


© The Vancouver Province 2008