North·Analysis

In Nunavut, slow internet may limit access to some election debates

The Conservative Party's decision to reject Canada’s major television broadcasters’ traditional leaders’ debates, and instead opt for debates that will be available online and on smaller channels, means that many Canadians in Nunavut, with slow internet speeds, may be left out of the political conversation.

'I think it's a way of shutting us down,' says Sanikiluaq resident Mick Appaqaq

“Our opinions aren't being heard and we’re not able to make informed decisions about who we’d like to vote for in the federal election,” says Cecile Lyall from Taloyaoak, Nunavut. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The Conservative Party's decision to reject Canada's major television broadcasters' traditional leaders' debates, and instead opt for debates that will primarily be available online, means that many Canadians in Nunavut with slow internet speeds may be left out of the political conversation.

For many people living across the North, this is a sign of being excluded from the political process.  

"Our opinions aren't being heard and we're not able to make informed decisions about who we'd like to vote for in the federal election," says Cecile Lyall from Taloyoak.

Mick Appaqaq from Sanikiluaq uses stronger language.

"It makes me feel as if we're still oppressed, if I may be bold," he says. "I think it's a way of shutting us down." 

Oana Spinu, executive director of the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation, an advocacy group with a mandate to improving the territories' access to the internet, says it's a question about democratic participation.

"If there are barriers to being able to fully exercise your democratic rights, those are real issues that need to be addressed," says Spinu.

Oana Spinu, executive director of the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation, an advocacy group with a mandate to improving the territories’ access to the internet, says it's a question about democratic participation. (Sima Saher Zerehi/CBC)

The average download speeds in Nunavut are 2.03 Mbps, compared to 20.31 in Ontario, according to data compiled by Ookla net index on Feb. 6, 2014.

"Average download speeds simply aren't fast enough to watch live video with any degree of quality," says Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst.

"If they can get the video at all, it will be a stuttering, jagged, jittery, mess. This is not a 21st century internet. This is 19th century technology."

Leader's debates important to voters

A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid found that 61 per cent of voters agree (24 per cent strongly/37 per cent somewhat) that "national TV debates are important" in determining how they will vote.

"What we know about the impact of debates is that when they matter, they really matter," says Duane Bratt, chair and professor in the Department of Economic Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

'The vast majority of citizens in Nunavut will be locked out of the process' if debates were only to be available online, says Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Bratt says an even more critical question to examine during this election is the way the format of the traditional leaders' debate has changed. This time, the debates are not limited to two, comprehensive debates that are on all the networks, one in English, one in French, two weeks before the election.

"There is a series of debates that include some leaders, exclude other leaders and are occurring on different media formats, that maybe not everybody is going to get a chance to see. They're on different topics and they're strung out over the course of the election campaign," says Bratt.

"I'm not sure that more debates are going to be as significant as the one debate."

Bratt is quick to add that all previous analysis about the role of leaders' debates will not be applicable for this election.

"Everything that's been written about debates in Canada, you can largely throw that out the window, because we're in uncharted territory this year."

A different read

Éric Grenier, founder of ThreeHundredEight.com, a website dedicated to political polling in Canada and electoral forecasts, and the CBC poll analyst for the federal election, says debates are a community experience that allow people to listen and see the same thing and come together over political questions.

'If one part of the country is shut out from that experience they’re certainly getting a much different read of the election than say other Canadians,' says Éric Grenier, the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com.

​"If one part of the country is shut out from that experience they're certainly getting a much different read of the election than, say, other Canadians."

Grenier says leaders' debates can play a large role in the outcome of the election, pointing to Jack Layton's performance in the 2011 French-language debate, which he says "certainly contributed" to the NDP's breakthrough in Quebec. 

Grenier also points to Stephen Dion's French language debate in 2008, which helped the Liberals make some gains in Quebec despite the fact that the Conservatives were doing well there. 

Grenier says being denied the opportunity to watch a debate may isolate a community from the larger political conversation. 

"It'll separate a riding like Nunavut even more from a national campaign than it would have been otherwise."​ 

The French-language debate between the New Democrat, Liberal, Green Party and Bloc Quebecois leaders will be on CBC News Network Thursday, Sept. 24, from 8-10 p.m. ET.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the French language debate airing on CBC will be held on Oct. 7. In fact, the date of the debate was changed to Sept. 24. At this time there is no English language debate scheduled on CBC.
    Sep 17, 2015 12:43 PM CT

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