PEI

Taking control of your embarrassing past crucial for candidates, says vetting firm

Secrets can't be kept for long in the internet age, says the co-founder of a political candidate vetting company, so if you are thinking about entering politics you had better take charge of yours.

Want to run for office? Be prepared to hand over your social media passwords

If you're running for political office, expect to be asked to hand over your social media passwords to your political party. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

Secrets can't be kept for long in the internet age, says the co-founder of a political candidate vetting company, so if you are thinking about entering politics you had better take charge of yours.

Prince Edward Islanders are expecting two elections this fall — one provincial, one federal — which has political parties thinking about how to make sure their candidates' pasts won't hurt their election prospects.

I'm not a believer that secrets get kept very long.— Chad Rogers

"In every federal election in Canada each party is going to lose between one and five candidates just for dumb Facebook and Twitter posts in their past," said Chad Rogers, a public affairs strategist and founding partner at Crestview Strategy in Ottawa.

Rogers has been involved with the vetting of political candidates, starting on Prince Edward Island, for decades. In those days it involved a simple questionnaire about lawsuits, bankruptcies, and whether your taxes were up to date.

Now, parties expect you to hand over your social media passwords.

Avoiding hypocrisy

The key thing parties will be looking for, said Rogers, is not the embarrassing or salacious, but things that suggest the candidate is not what they are presenting themselves to be.

"You can't have something in your past that makes you a terrible hypocrite," he said.

The public understands people are not perfect, he said, citing the example of Jane Purves, the former Nova Scotia education minister who admitted she was an intravenous drug user. By being open about it and discussing what she learned from the experience, she gained more supporters than she lost, he said. 

This anecdote comes back to the purpose of vetting, which is not necessarily to rule out candidates but to see what issues a candidate has to handle, and deal with them before the opposition brings them up.

Because, said Rogers, it will come up.

"I'm not a believer that secrets get kept very long," he said.

Revealing the embarrassing past of your political opponents is an important part of the process, says Chad Rogers. (Crestview Strategy)

It is often seen as the dark side of politics, said Rogers, but he doesn't see it that way.

"It's one of the filters that keeps the democratic system working," he said.

"If you have people that have things in their past that are deeply at odds with serving as a public official, of course that's going to come out and it's your duty to make sure that's part of the debate."

But most issues can be put behind a candidate if they broach it first and they are seen to be dealing with it honestly, Rogers said.

"Everything is less disqualifying if admit it, and you're aware of it, and you can plan for it," he said.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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