National Column: Conservative party flunks social media

by Chantal Hébert

While scores of Canadians were spending the summer smugly lamenting the ugly tone of the American presidential campaign, Canada’s Conservative party was allowing calls for the assassination of Justin Trudeau to be posted on its Facebook page.

Don’t abandon this column to see for yourself. After The Walrus documented the posts, the party cleaned up its page. In a tweet, Conservative communications director Cory Hann described the comments as “totally unacceptable.” He promised they would be removed quickly in the future.

Trudeau is hardly the first prime minister to be vilified by bottom-of-the-barrel opposition supporters.

Nor is the practice the exclusive purview of Conservative partisans. One could fill a library shelf with a collection of the derogatory comments Stephen Harper inspired over his decade in power.

But to openly call for the death of a prime minister goes way beyond venting. And for the Conservative party – an organization that as recently as a year ago was running the federal government – to play host on its Facebook page to an accumulation of such comments is astounding.

This is a party whose former leader, Stephen Harper, has just been awarded Ukraine’s highest honour for his role in the defence of that country’s independence. He acquired over his time as prime minister an international stature that he is about to put to use as a global consultant.

(As an aside, is anyone surprised that post-politics Harper has ensured he will continue to be his own boss?)

There are those who argue the posts are not that big a deal because most people who make death
threats do not really mean them. Maybe so, but that does not make a call for the assassination of a public figure a banal gesture. It does not always take a lot of validation for a deranged mind to leap from intention to action.

Just this week a Quebec jury found Richard Henry Bain guilty of second-degree murder for his shooting rampage at the 2012 election night rally of the Parti QuÈbÈcois. A stagehand was killed and another wounded but Bain’s actual target was premier-elect Pauline Marois.

Mind you, anyone managing the Conservative page could probably be forgiven for having become
desensitized to over-the-top comments.

The party pays a lot of attention to its Facebook venue. It is often updated many times over the course of a single day. Perhaps because so much of the material the party puts out is devoted to attacking the Liberals, its comments section oozes anger.

What would pass for a public-service announcement elsewhere becomes fodder for passive-aggressive rants. In this fashion, a link posted last week by interim leader Rona Ambrose to the broadcast of the Tragically Hip finale in Kingston attracted a steady flow of negative comments about the CBC, Trudeau’s attendance at the concert and the band itself.

Social media has become central to the branding of political organizations. The face a party wants to show the world is on exhibit on venues such as its Facebook page.

But the Conservative approach may be turning off more of the party’s own supporters than attracting converts.

In response to an August post listing Trudeau as missing on a milk carton, Paul Allen Keenleyside wrote: ” . . . Get with it. Attacking Boy Trudeau is first year political science. Using Facebook in new creative ways to engage members and new potential members is being a leader. Who wants to be part of a party that complains all the time?”

In the same vein, on Aug. 15 Nichola Christi commented: “I am conservative yet I really think you guys need to rethink your campaigning strategy. I’m more concerned with all the spending and how this massive debt will affect the next three generations, not where he is and whether he’s wearing a shirt or not. Maybe it’s time for a new campaign company to help the conservatives revamp everything? I deeply respect and appreciate Harper. This high school bickering strategy has got to go.”

Over the course of a Washington seminar for visiting journalists from Germany earlier this summer, Canada’s remarkably upbeat mood – at least on the scale of its G7 partners – came up for discussion. One participant noted that every country had its share of haters and she wondered where ours were. As it ponders its post-Harper future, the Conservative party should worry that it is attracting more than its share of haters.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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