Politics

Is democracy the election's big Twitter topic?

Elections are full of buzzwords. In 2004, it was "corruption" and "accountability." Then "entitlements" in 2006. In 2008, we heard a lot about a "green shift" and "leadership."

Parties weave issue into talking points

Elections are full of buzzwords.

In 2004, it was "corruption" and "accountability." Then "entitlements" in 2006. In 2008, we heard a lot about a "green shift" and "leadership."

If you've been watching the chatter on the #elxn41 Twitter hashtag, you might conclude that this election's buzzword is "democracy."

de·moc·ra·cy: noun a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

— Merriam-Webster

Of course, elections are naturally about democracy. But this time, the parties are working overtime to apply the concept to their political messages.

Here's a look at how democracy is turning up in the talking points and among Canadian voters:

Funding for parties

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced Friday that, if his party wins a majority, he'll axe public subsidies for political parties.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says his party will end public subsidies to political parties if it wins a majority. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe pounced, slamming Harper's plan as undemocratic.

Under the current system, federal political parties receive $2 in tax dollars for every vote they receive.

Supporters of that system say public funding promotes diversity of opinion in Canadian politics. Opponents say it should be up to parties to raise their own money.

People on both sides of the debate have been linking democracy to the issue on Twitter.

"Public funding of political parties prevents to wealthy from usurping democracy," Twitter user Jonathan Veale wrote.

But Sattva Namaste disagreed, saying "How does gov't funding of political parties help democracy? ... How was U.S.S.R. a democratic state?"

Coalition talk

The per-vote subsidy has been in the news before: when the Conservatives proposed eliminating it after the 2008 election, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc vowed to bring down the government.

The Liberals and the NDP then agreed on a plan for a coalition government that would operate with the support of the Bloc Québécois. The Conservatives pounced on that, calling it an undemocratic power grab.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says his party won't form a coalition with the NDP or the Bloc, but the Conservatives say he can't be trusted. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Though Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party wouldn't enter into a power-sharing agreement with either the NDP or the Bloc, the Conservatives have continued to use the issue to attack their opponents.

When he launched his party's campaign on Saturday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Canadians would be choosing between a "stable" Conservative government and a "reckless" coalition.

He's also said that Canadians' largest concern is the economy, and that alleged coalition plotting is the campaign's lone democratic issue.

"The Coalition is the biggest threat to Canadian democracy, not Harper," tweeted Al Kormos. "The Libs are so power hungry they will do anything."

But others question those talking points.

"Coalition is not democratic?" tweeted Mike Digdon. "Don't tell these countries that." He tweeted a link to Wikipedia's list of countries with coalition governments.

Democracy and debates

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May slammed the decision to not include her in the leaders debates as undemocratic. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May wasted little time in calling the decision to not invite her to the leadership debates undemocratic.

"This is not over just because [four] leaders ignore democracy along with media execs," May tweeted  on Wednesday. "[You] must have your say."

The Green Party launched a site, demanddemocraticdebates.ca, featuring a petition urging the broadcast consortium to include her in the debates.

"Voters have a right to hear where ALL the major parties stand on the issues," the site says. "That's one of the cornerstones of democracy — an informed electorate."

But not everyone agrees.

"[I]f [Elizabeth May] ever expects to participate in a debate, perhaps she should focus on campaigning, not complaining," tweeted Kimberley Mosher.

"Why does Elizabeth May deserve a spot in leader's debate?" tweeted Brian Greiner. "Her party HAS NO ELECTED MEMBERS. Just [one] more fringe group."

Another debate-related issue making waves is the prospect of a one-on-one showdown between Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

Harper alluded to a one-on-one debate on Wednesday, prompting Ignatieff to issue a formal challenge. Harper rebuffed that challenge, saying the Liberals had already turned down a one-on-one debate.

While Twitter was fertile ground for "mano-a-mano" jokes, supporters of the other parties were unimpressed.

"Ugh, a one-on-one debate is not democratic at all when there are other parties running," tweeted Kevan Henshaw.

"Genuinely don't see the merit in a [one-on-one] debate," tweeted Amy Kishek. "So backwards! [It's a ] Move away from an open democracy to a old boys club pissing contest."

now