My Thoughts on the April 7 Ignatieff Town Hall in Hamilton

Tonight I attended Michael Ignatieff’s town hall in Hamilton at Liuna Station. Over 1000 people attended according to The Spec and CTV News – three times the number who attended the nearby Harper rally in downtown Hamilton. It was a very good night for Mr. Ignatieff. He definitely carried the momentum that he had gathered in Week 1 into this event.

The Crowd – More proof of significant NDP defections and the NDP’s struggle for relevance

The crowd was mixed: a large contingent of Liberal faithful, but many “normal” people in evidence as well too. It was definitely a bigger crowd than just the “usual suspects” who turn out to any given party’s political rallies. The were many recognizable NDP supporters who were either holding signs supporting the Liberals or being very vocal about the fact that they are supporting the Grits this time around. This is a necessity for the Liberals in Hamilton, which remains one of last NDP strongholds in Ontario, even though their stranglehold on the labour vote has been significantly weakened, given Harper’s validation of the Liberals as the left-of-centre alternative to his right-of-centre Conservatives.

The feeling of irrelevance attached to the NDP that I have talked about in previous posts was even more in evidence here, as NDP supporters vocally admitted that their party “can never form a government.” I think this election represents a true identity crisis for the NDP, which finds itself creaky – with aging demographics and a very uncertain leftist ideology.

I am very interested to see how the NDP come out of this election – I suspect they will come out of it with their brand vastly diminished and their relevance as a national party in serious question.

The Preamble – Evidence of a well-organized rally

I got to the event a little early with my former honours thesis student and close friend, Melonie Fullick. She is a superb photographer, and took many great snaps that she has posted to her blog, which you can see here.

There was a powerful buzz in the air, even 60 minutes before the event. The Carpenters Union was demonstrating loudlyin support of the Liberal party in front of Liuna, as were a motley crew of other activists.

The room was packed. I was fortunate to know one of the event’s main organizers, Hamilton lawyer and Liberal organizer Mr. Tyler Banham, who got us great seats in the second row, behind the MPs. There was a real regional Liberal show of strength, with Andrew Kania, Frank Valeriote in attendance, as well as all local candidates, including Michelle Stockwell, Anne Tennier, Bev Hodgson, David Braden and many others. Popular provincial Liberal former Minister Ted McMeekin was also present.

The crowd was expertly managed – they were let in 15 minutes before Ignatieff arrived and had just enough time to get settled and excited, without getting restless.This is often a problem at political rallies – the crowd is allowed to start to fester and they grow restless and grouchy. That didn’t happen here.

David Braden introducing the candidates – the night’s only real weakness

The event was introduced by Mr. David Braden, the Liberal candidate for ADFW. Sadly, he was the only person who didn’t perform well all night. He made a hash of his lines, hesitating awkwardly, tripping over his fellow candidates’ names as he introduced them and taking more than his allotted time. A good high-energy smooth introduction is a serious plus when putting on a rally – it hypes the crowd up and gets everyone ready to be on a buzz and a high when the Leader does his walkthrough. What it does too is make the walk-through from the door to the podium seem like its taking less time. When you’re on a buzz, time is compressed at an event. When the introducer is low-intensity or stumbles, it feels like the Leader’s walk-through is taking a long time, because you are waiting for him to hype you up, to do the work that the introducer failed to do.

It was a relief when he threw to Anne Tennier, candidate for Hamilton Centre, who expertly and enthusiastically welcomed Michael Ignatieff and announced his entry into the hall. her intro was warm and from the heart – an excellent preview of what would be the night’s themes: inclusion, enthusiasm and honesty.

Ignatieff’s stump speech – setting the scene

Micheal Ignatieff then took over and gave a heartfelt and sincere greeting. He put the focus on the excellence of his team, saying several times: “The other guy is a one-man show. I am lucky to have a team. A team made of talented, caring people.” It was classy and forthright. Excellent political communication. Honesty, transparency, consistency and sincerity. Very satisfying.

After parsing out the main issues for the crowd – he put the focus on Stephen Harper’s Jets, Jails and Corporate Tax Breaks, and how this de facto spending meant that any meaningful social justice spending on ordinary Canadians would have to be put off until 5 years hence. He contrasted this with the Liberal Family Pack, which he pitched as a “value investment in our families and our future.”

The messaging was powerful and accessible to “ordinary” Canadians, and made him seem like someone who truly cares about Canada’s families. It very effectively broke the “distant professor” or “haughty intellectual” branding that Harper has tried to taint him with.

Ignatieff takes questions – thorough, thoughtful and heartfelt.

Mr. Ignatieff then took questions from the crowd. The questions were obviously neither scripted nor contrived. The first questions came from young ladies from McMaster who asked him about the impact of his $4000 per student allowance. Ignatieff answered sincerely, saying that it was not enough, but that it was a “the first measure ever to put a dent in rising student debts.” Other questions centered mostly on health care, universal equality, gun control, economic opportunity, employment insurance, fluoride in the water, international policy, and the fighter jet purchase.

Ignatieff answered each of these questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. He was earnest in admitting the limitations of the Liberal approach, but said that any fiscally prudent plan during a time of economic recovery would have have certain limitations. He stressed that the fundamental principle that underlies the Liberal approaches to all of these problems is equality.

He parsed the fighter jet issue particularly well, taking a very complex set of messages and interpreting them for the audience very effectively. This is one of the trickiest things to do in politics – take an idea that is an easy sell (think patriotism and the inherent mystique of Top Gun fighter jets) but very hard to critique (expensive, doesn’t necessarily generate jobs in Canada, single-engines might conk out over the Arctic) and make your critique understandable while making the person who made the promise look like he has pulled a fast one over the public. Ignatieff managed to do this with the fighter jets issue. He came back to it several times in several different questions, reinforcing the message each time and further parsing out the meaning and importance of the fighter jet purchase to the Canadian people from different angles. Masterfully done.

He stayed on message throughout, even taking an off-the-wall question about whether he thought that fluoride in the drinking water is toxic and converting it into a thoughtful question and answer about the importance of water to the Canadian economy, identity and our national prosperity: “I want Canada to be the go-to country when it comes to water issues around the world! I want us to have the expertise.” This is a classic positive political communications manoeuvre – faced with a question that sounded a little crazy and to which he couldn’t really give an answer for want of data, he actually made the questioner look good by reinterpreting the premise of the question as being about something that is of mainstream concern. I noted that a member of Ignatieff’s RCMP detail discretely ran over to the questioner as Ignatieff left the stage to collect the materials and make sure that the man felt he had been heard and taken seriously. Again – a political communications win: that man and all those in his proximity will see that Mr. Ignatieff was true to his promise of transparency and openness.

Ignatieff’s concluding remarks – building a national culture of respect, equality, prosperity and hope.

He then expanded on that saying that classical liberalism demanded equality of opportunity, but that he wished to extend this to “equality of hope.” That each Canadian had the democratic right to hope, however that person defined hope for him or herself. It was a powerful message that resonated with the crowd. They were with him and he was on fire. He had several standing ovations during the event, including two during his closing remarks. Very impressive. Hamilton is a tough town for politicians: it is one of the most politically-engaged and savvy cities I have ever been in, and often extremely sceptical of politicians making promises or using high rhetoric to bring across leftist points. Mr. Ignatieff surfed these expectations expertly tonight – hitting just the right chord of populism and high-minded labour unionism to win a tough Hamilton crowd over. This was textbook political communications when you’re in a tough town.

After the event – a long crowd walk and scrum

After his concluding remarks, Mr. Ignatieff made himself available for a major crowdwalk that lasted at least 20 minutes, and then spent pretty much as much time in scrum with reporters as he left Liuna Station, and even tarried for a long time just outside the Liberal bus. This is something that politicians often neglect – they are tired and a little frazzled after 2 hours of talking and answering questions, and they forget to pay respect to the citizens who took time out of their evening to attend the event. Making yourself available after an event to both journalists and the citizenry, to answer their questions and hear their concerns is incredibly important.

Some closing thoughts – the most successful Liberal rally I have been to in a long time.

I stayed to get a feel for the crowd as it dispersed – it was buzzing like crazy. Mr. Ignatieff gave these people something to dream about, something to discuss and a giant dollop of crackling energy. I watched as clumps of people made their way to their cars or to the buses or over to nearby pubs. They were animatedly talking about the event.

A small criticism of an otherwise almost flawless performance from Ignatieff was that he didn’t make a call to action at the end of the event. Generally, that is a good way of building up the volunteer base for local candidates. It could be that the positive energy of the event will inspire people to get out and volunteer, but it is always a good move to be direct when asking for people to take action as volunteers. People like to be asked directly. It makes them feel as though they matter.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I don’t think I have seen a Liberal political rally go this well since Chrétien was winning in the 1990s. Mr. Ignatieff managed to create a sense of purpose and energy; a sense of electricity and hope. He certainly has carried his momentum from week 1 forward into Hamilton and built up even more with this rally.

Now it is up to Mr. Ignatieff and his Liberal team to keep the snowball he has started growing and rolling forward faster and faster. Let’s see if he can do it. It’s a challenge, because up to now polling hasn’t shown significant movement in voter intention away from Mr. Harper. Time will tell whether Mr. Ignatieff’s positive thinking campaign will lead to a real swing in momentum. I think this weekend will be quite important for that.

Myself and old friend CSMM alumna Melonie Fullick at Ignatieff Hamilton Rally. Photo: Janice Lukas.

 

Advertisements

My thoughts on #Elxn41 – Week 1

This first week has really shown that social media is creating a new playing field.

1. Social media and main stream media are mutually leading one another

We’re seeing a really interesting reinforcing effect here: when an event happens, social media is all a-twitter about it. The thing is, Twitter is dominated by the top 20K of tweeters and that means a small group of heavy commenters are setting the tone and agenda for the campaign.

The other thing is that birds of a feather flock together on twitter – so we are seeing journalists commenting on events on-the-fly as themselves (their private selves) on Twitter. Journalists talk to one another. Those conversations then lead to more in-depth, insightful reportage and editorial commentary in the mainstream media.

This promotes more convo on Twitter and Facebook as people share the mainstream media articles. Fascinating.

2. Canada is having a massive conversation on social media – politicians better be listening

Canadians are using the #elxn41 and #cdnpoli hashtags to have a rip-roaring conversation about this election.

Citizens are interacting with their local candidates and getting a feeling of familiarity and personal connection. This is making this election personal for many people on a level that they have never experienced before.

The personal touch is what is making Ignatieff’s “open campaign” so successful in week 1. Mr. Harper’s command and control approach to the campaign thus far is really turning people off. It doesn’t feel conversational, it doesn’t feel natural. It feels like the PM is hiding something.

The debate will be another focus-point for the population.

Since many, many people have been tweeting away (or at least using their twitter accounts to listen to the convo) that means that they are expecting a human connection with politicians. The debate strategies for the parties must reflect this – if they deliver canned key messages and engage in sound-bite style ad hominem attacks, then people will react strongly against them.

3. This campaign is not abstract – it’s human.

This election has not been about abstract branding. In fact, abstraction just isn’t working.

Just hanging out at the café in my local bookstore demonstrated to me that people are questioning the adverts. Some have been convinced by the negative branding strategy the Conservatives have chosen to attack Mr. Ignatieff with, others have been convinced by their peers on social media that the Conservatives have been “doing a number” on Mr. Ignatieff. This goes against people’s feelings of fairness toward another human.

Why is this election human? Because social media has de-mystified the leaders.

Harper called Ignatieff out to a mano-a-mano debate on twitter and Igatieff responded. People took ownership of those tweets by re-tweeting them. It became personal for citizens – they were part of the crowd watching the fight in the yard.

Then Canada’s beloved Rick Mercer stepped into the debate and said he’d organize and moderate it. It became funny, human.This shows that this election is not about big macro branding. The leaders are not Apple vs Microsoft.

The leaders are being perceived as people – and that changes the strategic political communications arena.

4. Conservatives adrift

The Conservative campaign is adrift. It looks to me that they thought they would strike a killing blow by making this election about the coalition and the abstract demonizing of Mr Ignatieff’s career as a world-travelling and world-famous journalist and academic. It didn’t work. In fact the ad they played on March 30 on radio and tv featuring the cutline “A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Michael Ignatieff” felt like a Liberal ad – I think it helped the Liberals by raising Mr Ignatieff’s profile. The fact that the Conservatives pulled it pretty fast supports this point, I think.

Harper has also alienated the mainstream media by only taking 5 questions a day – this is profoundly “off-code” for social media. The Conservatives need to change their tack this week or face a possible change in momentum.

5. NDP – the fight for relevance

What we are seeing in the NDP campaign is an attempt to remain relevant.

Mr. Harper validated the Liberals as the left-wing alternative when he went hammered home the Liberal-led coalition message. This is bad for the NDP, because it means that their moderates could drift to the Liberals.

On the other side, the Green Party is staking out some territory as the “civil liberties” option – with active internal policy conversations about topics ranging from polyamory to pot. This will, in the long run, eat away at the civil liberty wing of the NDP.

The final problem the NDP face is that it is becoming painfully obvious that they really are not a national political party.

The NDP is only competitive in about 60-80 ridings nationally (depending on where you set the bar) – this makes it seem less and less credible when their leader claims he is running for Prime Minister. It appears as though the NDP is beginning to resemble the Bloc Québécois as a special interest party more than the NDP resembles the Liberals, Conservatives or even the Greens, as national parties.

6. Who won Week 1? Mr. Ignatieff, hands down.

An open, personal campaign with MPs conversing openly with constituents on social media, coupled with Mr. Ignatieff letting his hair down and taking an easy conversational tone, has made him the big winner in week 1.

Why politicians are changing their Twitter names for the election

You may have noticed that during this 41st Canadian federal election, your Member of Parliament has changed his or her Twitter handle. He or she is probably doing this to avoid the perception of conflict of interest: MPs are not meant to use their MP offices to further their personal interests. Another question to ask is: which names are best for an election?

Here are a few examples: Gerard Kennedy, who is the incumbent for the electoral district of Parkdale-High Park, has changed his from @GKennedyMP to @GKennedyPHP; former Minister of Industry, the Hon. Tony Clement has changed his from @TonyClementMP to @TonyClementCPC. Mr. Kennedy decided to use his electoral district affiliation (PHP=Parkdale-High Park) while the Hon. Mr. Clement has decided to use his party affiliation (CPC=Conservative).

Many Members have removed “MP” from the end of their names and replaced it with an acronym for their electoral district (informally called ridings) or for their party affiliation.

So what are the specifics of why they may be doing this?

Once elected, a politician becomes a Member of Parliament, that is to say a Member of the House of Commons. The House of Commons is exactly that: the House of the People. For us, federally, it is the House of the People of Canada. This makes its Members trustees of public confidence. As such Members must put the public interest ahead of all other and are not permitted to derive personal benefit or gain from their decisions. The rules governing conflict of interest come from the Parliament of Canada Act, the Conflict of Interest Act, and, of course, all MPs are subject to the Criminal Code.

Specifically, Members of Parliament are guided by the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which was adopted in 2004. What does it say? I will quote it (you can download of PDF version of it here). I have bolded the parts that may be interpreted to apply to Twitter handles.

1. The Purposes of this Code are:1. The purposes of this Code are to

  • (a) maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of Members as well as the respect and confidence that society places in the House of Commons as an institution;
  • (b) demonstrate to the public that Members are held to standards that place the public interest ahead of their private interests and to provide a transparent system by which the public may judge this to be the case;
  • (c) provide for greater certainty and guidance for Members in how to reconcile their private interests with their public duties and functions; and
  • (d) foster consensus among Members by establishing common standards and by providing the means by which questions relating to proper conduct may be answered by an independent, non-partisan adviser.

Principles
2. Given that service in Parliament is a public trust, the House of Commons recognizes and declares that Members are expected

  • (a) to serve the public interest and represent constituents to the best of their abilities;
  • […] (c) to perform their official duties and functions and arrange their private affairs in a manner that bears the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully discharged by simply acting within the law;
  • (d) to arrange their private affairs so that foreseeable real or apparent conflicts of interest may be prevented from arising, but if such a conflict does arise, to resolve it in a way that protects the public interest […]

Rules of Conduct

  • […] 8. When performing parliamentary duties and functions, a Member shall not act in any way to further his or her private interests or those of a member of the Member’s family, or to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests.
  • 9. A Member shall not use his or her position as a Member to influence a decision of another person so as to further the Member’s private interests or those of a member of his or her family, or to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests. […]”

So you can see why your Member of Parliament may not want to be perceived as using their MP office to serve their personal interests, as this could potentially be interpreted as a conflict of interest, even it is just a conflict of interest in spirit.

So which politicians picked the best name? All politics are local!

This is a matter of focus. Gerard Kennedy is very effective grassroots organizer who is very well known in his electoral district. He asks a lot of questions during Question Period. By picking @GerardKennedyPHP he is making a direct link to his district and showing the people of Parkdale-High Park that his primary affiliation is to his community, that he puts them first. Tony Clement (@TonyClementCPC) and Mark Holland (@MarkHollandLIB) have chosen to put party affiliation first.

Which is a better choice? In my opinion, the old adage that “all politics are local” is more true in the world of social media than ever before. In social media, oral culture rules. That means that you are participating in a permanent “town square” – people expect the same personal touch on Twitter and Facebook that they expect from their MP if s/he was right in front of them shaking their hand.

So, for me, local identification on social media should be a politician’s first choice. Chances are, constituents and the media are already powerfully aware of which party the politician belongs to – why not take advantage of the opportunity for local branding that a Twitter name offers? It’s low hanging fruit in terms of political communications and sends a personal, local, grassroots message to potential voters.

 

Gave guest lecture at the Canadian International Council (CIC-Hamilton) on Wikileaks.

I just got home after a wonderful evening that blended all the things I like: politics, public affairs, government, food and fascinating people who wanted to talk. I spoke on the topic of “Wikileaks: Has government communication changed forever?”

I was speaking to the Hamilton Chapter of the Canadian International Council.

I was amazed to see that we had an overflow crowd with people standing. I spoke on what I think Wikileaks has done: served as a harbinger of change, a harbinger of a new society that is just around the corner. A society of the panopticon, a society of surveillance. I described how Canadian government communications works: that we have a relatively secretive polity, and that we would have less exposure should a wikileaks-style disclosure happen here.

After I finished talking, we had over an hour of questions and comments! It was amazing. People didn’t want to stop or to leave. Truly inspiring crowd.

Afterward, I went to dinner with the organisers, Tatiana, a McMaster science student and Dwayne Ali, a McMaster Multimedia alumni from my Department. We all enjoyed a very tasty dinner at Indian Garden on Main St. near the uni. Great conversation too – we closed the joint!

All in all, it was a wonderful evening. My heartfelt thanks to CIC-Hamilton for inviting me and affording me the opportunity to share my thoughts on government communication with such a great crowd.

It’s nights like this that make me very thankful to have the privilege of being a professor.

My beautiful trip to DC

Last weekend, I traveled to Washington, DC, one of my favourite cities in the world. It was a bit of a working vacation for me, since I have been going quite hard, with research and teaching.

I arrived on Saturday morning, flying on Jetblue out of Buffalo. It was a funny flight, because I was a little tired, after waking up at 4am and driving out to Niagara International Airport – so i fell asleep in my seat and dropped my BlackBerry. The person beside me, being a bit of wit, I think, picked it up and took a picture of me to wake me up. Haha. Here’s the picture:

Well, I finally got to Dulles International Airport and took a cab into the city. The drive was so very beautiful – DC still had its Autumn leaves and the weather was a bit chill, but warm enough for sweaters. I arrive at the Fairmont Washington DC, which is in Georgetown and was happy to see that they had granted my request for a room with a view. I almost always stay with Fairmont – if I can – because I find that their attention to detail, their personal knowledge of me as a frequent visitor, and the warmth and intimacy of their hotels is very reassuring. This despite the fact that they are often historic properties: grand châteaux with glorious lobbies populated with many overstuffed chairs.

Once arrived and checked in, I asked the concierge to define “a very long and exhausting walk for me” that would take up most of the afternoon. After a brief conversation about what I would like to see, he gave me a map and highlighted several places that I should stop. He also said that I could do without my coat – I would warm up with the walk.

I ended up putting on a shirt and tie with a cashmere sweater underneath my suit jacket over dark blue jeans – it was more than warm enough and reasonably stylish. I think embarked on a walk that took me through Georgetown, along the Potomac River over to the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln was there, stately as always, yet always giving me a vague feeling that he was restless, staring anxiously over the republic he preserved and started to heal before being assassinated. As usual, he was surrounded by people lounging around, chatting and snapping pics – everyone from kids on field trips with tired teachers, to hipsters with their funny plastic glasses, to businessmen and Asian tourists.

Here’s a picture of the crowd:

People lounging at Lincoln's feet.

And a picture of Lincoln’s statue:

Lincoln, looking a little restless as he watches over his Republic.

After that I walked the Mall over to the White House and then took a cab back to Georgetown where I had dinner at my favourite place in DC: Martin’s Tavern. I had New Brunswick stew and then New England-style shrimp as well as a nice Guinness, one of very few beers I really like. A pleasant dinner finished, replete with the warmth of the pub, I walked back to my hotel and had a last little 20 year-old tawny port from Taylor Fladgate that I love so much, while listening to some live piano in the hotel lounge. A very pleasant day.

Sunday was far less solitary. I woke up early, did a little work on laptop, took a swim in the pool, went for a gloriously sunny run along the Potomac through the crisp morning air, went to Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and then took a cab to Alexandria, Virginia to have lunch with my host at Georgetown University, Dr Mima Dedaic and her family.

We spent a lovely afternoon of warm conversation over a vegetarian lunch in their elegant home and then went for a walk around historic Alexandria with her daughter. It was a long walk along the river and through the lovely historic streets of downtown. Beautiful boutiques, artisanal shops, newspaper vendors: a splendid walk that was rewarded by a coffee and croissant at La Madeleine, a bustling little bakery of the Main Street, whose delicious smells of coffee and chocolate and savoury pastry wafted out onto the patio, animating our conversation and making think of a second coffee or dessert. How hard it was to resist! Truly, I spent a magical day in Alexandria, came as an acquaintance and feel as though I left as a family friend – what could be better?

Monday was a more serious day. I spent the morning at the Newseum, which sits beside the Canadian Embassy. I love this place because it manages, by its architecture and its expertly curated exhibits, to capture the world of journalism, news and current affairs. When you enter, you walk by the day’s frontpages:

Newseum's Frontpages exhibit.
New Orleans Frontpages Exhibit - Top fl of Newseum.

In the atrium, there is a giant screen and a real-life Bell newschopper, which gives you a real sense of the size of the news-gathering endeavour:

Newseum Atrium

One of the more moving exhibits concerns 9-11. They even have a piece of twisted metal from one of the buildings on display, which makes a dramatic contrast to the incredibly tall wall of frontpages displayed behind it:

9-11 Exhibit at the Newseum

Another inspiring and moving exhibit was their recreation of Tim Russert’s office. He was a beacon for journalistic integrity and the most popular of the Sunday morning current affairs talk show hosts:

Tim Russert's office exhibit at the Newseum.

After my day at the Newseum, I went back to the Fairmont to find my suit and shirt pressed, got dressed and went over to Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology Program to give a booktalk with my friend and editor, Mima Dedaic. This was a bit of a funny situation, because the book we were launching is called South Slavic Discourse Particles, published in the very famous international series called Pragmatics and Beyond by John Benjamins in Amsterdam. I have written on Macedonian, which is one of my native languages, several times, but it was funny to present on that topic in a communications department and not a linguistics one! The talk went splendidly well, and the audience received it with praise and interest. In the wine and cheese after, however, and even in the questions, the discussion turned to how I apply the theory of pragmatics to study political communication. It was a diverse crowd of grad students, faculty and friends from the Hill.

Giving a talk with Dr Mima Dedaic at Georgetown Communication Culture and Technology Program.

After the talk, we went for dinner and talked about the huge potential for future collaboration, since we both do cognitive linguistics, discourse analysis and political communication! What a great discovery. There is no greater pleasure for an academic than discovering an intellectual kindred spirit.

I cabbed it back to my hotel, and couldn’t resist a final, celebratory port as the pianist filled the air with emotional contemporary classical music. It was beautiful.

I left the next morning early and, through a connection at JFK at New York, was back in time for my class and my special guest speaker, but that will be the subject of my next blog!

“TOO RUDE?” political civility panel a great success!

A note I sent to the people who participated in “TOO RUDE?” …
Dear Friends,

I thought that I would write to you and tell you what a great success TOO RUDE? was.

According the Hamilton Spectator’s write-up we had 150 people in attendance on Nov 10, 2010. We also made the front page of The Silhouette with a great pic above the fold. David Koots, a member of our COMM-Lab, wrote a great article before the event, situating its importance to students and politics.

Dean of Humanities Dr Suzanne Crosta gave thoughtful, humanistic opening remarks, and then the Hon Michael Chong discussed his proposals for a more civil politics, anchored in reform of parliamentary procedure.

The panelists all spoke candidly and passionately. Hon Carolyn Bennett and Mr David Christopherson spoke openly and candidly about their experiences in the House of Commons and tried to work toward a definition of civility. They were constructively critical of Mr. Chong’s proposals.

Our own MSU president, Mary Koziol spoke eloquently and passionately about the importance of political civility for student engagement and participation.

Dr Philip Savage presented the results of an empirical content analysis of Question Period that we have been running in the COMM-Lab: McMaster Communication Metrics Lab, of which I am the Executive Director.

The panel discussion was followed by some excellent questions from students, which the panelists spoke to very candidly and openly.

After the event closed, the MPs lingered for over 30 minutes, over coffee and cookies, chatting with students and giving interviews for a documentary that MacTV is making of the event.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who participated: the esteemed panelists for participating, Dean Crosta for her support, my student co-organisers, Doug Calderwood-Smith and Natalie St.Clair, and the whole team of over 20 volunteers. Finally I would like to thank our staff in the Dept of Communication Studies & Multimedia at McMaster for making sure that the logistics were perfect.

TOO RUDE? was a success. I look forward to organising more events that raise political awareness and engagement in the Hamilton community, especially among young people.

Sincerely,

Dr Alex Sévigny
“TOO RUDE?” Event Coordinator and
Associate Professor of Communications
McMaster University

Gave a “Mac on the Road” Alumni Lecture on “Making Sense of Social Media”

I had a wonderful night giving a public lecture to a great audience at the Holiday Inn on Wyecroft Rd in Oakville. The lecture was in the “Mac on the Road” Alumni Lecture Series, so I knew some people in the crowd! What a pleasure to reconnect with people who were my students only a few years ago – it felt like a reunion among family members who haven’t seen one another for awhile. It was fantastic to make a bunch of new friends as well!

I spent most of the night talking about how social media is changing our social, professional and personal lives. I used some of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking to frame my arguments and then walked people through my insights on how social media is expanding and extending our personal and collective imaginations. I talked about how this is impacting our professional practices and how the line between physical reality and virtual reality is blurring. How virtual reality is just as important to many people as the physical reality in which they exist. I described what this means for business and how it’s changing journalism.

People were really into it. Some told me that they didn’t want it to end! What a wonderful compliment.

Afterward, we had a great question period that lasted 20 mins and then people lingered and chatted with me for another hour. What a great night. I truly enjoyed it.

If you missed this one, but would like to catch my next public lecture, it’s next Monday, November 8, from 7-8pm in the BMO Room at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga.

You can click here to sign up. I truly hope to see you there…

Lecturing to Mac Alumni on Social Media.

Life Love 40: The excitement of political action

It is so easy to feel disconnected. It’s simple to think that we are powerless in front of those who run the world, making it turn more quickly or slow it down to suit their purposes. It’s easy to slink off into a cynical corner to shut our eyes and fall into the sleep of reason, letting our mental and physical muscles atrophy – our bodies become slack, eyes vacant, watching the flickering world drift by on our glowing screens. That’s the easy way out: to follow and resign. Or… you can take action. You can push out of your private imagination and into the world. You can get involved in the lives of those around you. As soon as you volunteer for an nonprofit organisation, a non-governmental organisation or a political party, you are thrust into the world. You discover that politics is visceral – it is the arena where the dreams, fears, desires and hopes of the people are played out. It is a way of affecting how legislation, social programs and community services will be structured to improve or destroy the lives of the people you walk by everyday in the street. Politics is a bloodsport, because it is the most important sport of all – the one where our dreams become stories and those stories compete for attention and power. When you get involved, you become a part of this grand theatre, this splendid sport in which lives are changed, fortunes are made; where peoples dreams are dashed or fulfilled. So, move your lives out of your smartphones, out of your laptops and into the world. You will never look back.

My talk at the McMaster Student Union “Vision 2010” Workshop

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to student leaders from across McMaster as a guest speaker in the Vision 2010 workshop organised by MSU President Mary Koziol and her executive. I spoke between Kate Whalen, Director for the Office of Sustainability and Brian McHattie, Hamilton City Councillor for Ward 1.

I spoke about the importance of student engagement in politics, at the federal, provincial and municipal level. In the presentation, I emphasised municipal politics because it is the most direct avenue for students to have an impact on the City’s life. It is also topical, because the municipal elections are just a couple of weeks away.

I also wanted to raise student awareness of this, because in the last municipal election, a special poll was organised on the McMaster campus and only 10 students voted out of a potential pool of several thousand. Astonishing.

If you’re interested, you can download my PowerPoint slides: Dr Alex Sevigny, MSU Vision 2010 PowerPoint

My Business Cards

I am going to put a blog logo on my business cards. Here’s what my cards look like now on the front…

AlexSevigny Business Card Front

… and on the back …

An image of my business card.

Here is the blog logo that I am going to put in to the next version of the business cards:

So that’s what my new cards will look like. A little busy, but there is so much contact info to share these days.