Certainly there are issues to be raised with many of the answers Stephen Harper gave when his YouTube video "conservation with Canadians" last night. I'm sure others will raise those issues; perhaps I will too later.
One thing that occurred to me though, as I read the Harper interview transcript, and reflect back on the online town halls that Michael Ignatieff did with Canadians earlier this year, and that's the one glaring thing that was missing from all of them.
What we got in each of those forums were questions from Canadians on a wide-range of policy issues. Foreign affairs, the role of parliament and prorogation, drug policy, climate change, child care, post secondary education, the list goes on.
What didn't we get? Questions on the horse race. On polling. On electoral gamesmanship. No "will you force an election" or political "whose is bigger" questions. To judge by nearly every press conference I've seen with Harper and Ignatieff, with nearly every pundit panel on the political talk shows, with most analysis pieces from the columnists, you'd think electoral chicken and the horse race is the issue of most concern to Canadians.
When Canadians get the chance to question their political leaders directly though, that's not what we get. We get questions on issues of policy that are important to them for a rainbow of reasons.
Both the Facebook townhall and the YouTube Q&A formats are obviously imperfect. No opportunity for follow-up, to follow a line of questioning, to really question an answer. Obviously such experiments, while well intentioned and useful, are never going to replace the role of the traditional media.
The media would be wise, though, to take a lesson from the questions that Canadians put to the leaders in these forums. After all, the Canadians asking those questions are their readers, viewers and listeners as well. And they should be just as interested in what they're concerned about as the leaders are.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers