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Facebook shows the ugly face of some voters

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/9/2015 (1674 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Oh, Facebook. Home to cat videos, Top 10 lists of celebrities in rehab and perky status updates. And now, political debates.

During the last couple of weeks, Facebook has provided the venue for both NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to talk to folks through Facebook, live-hosting a question-and-answer session.

Stephen Harper enters the offices of Facebook to interact with his supporters online.


Stephen Harper enters the offices of Facebook to interact with his supporters online.

Mulcair did it first. He was in the Toronto office of Facebook on Aug. 27 taking questions. On Tuesday, Harper followed suit. Not surprisingly, it did not result in a rousing debate on policy. In fact, it was kind of hum-drum.

For Mulcair, the questions he chose to focus on related to the economy; however, he did respond to a question that was critical of the NDP decision to not participate in a national debate on women. Megan Thompson asked: "Women are 53 per cent of our population -- just because Harper has decided to bow out of the topic of women's rights on Sept. 21 -- doesn't mean you should. Can you provide a better reasoning? Even though there really isn't a good reasoning AT ALL.... Do you even care about women? Or their vote?"

Mulcair replied: "Dear Megan, I'm very excited to be participating in the Up For Debate interviews that are now being scheduled. I believe that all other party leaders have accepted, except one... guess who? Even though Mr. Harper hasn't accepted, I am looking forward to participating in the interviews. I'm also so proud of the work the NDP has done on issues that affect women, like violence against women, equal pay, and child care, and the fact that we have attracted a record number of fantastic women candidates this election."

For Harper, the questions he chose to answer related to national security and the economy, although he was forced to respond to questions about the refugee crisis as well. Yvonne Devlin Fairley wrote: "With the refugee crisis at the moment, how do we help, and offer refuge to them, safely, with out the so-called bad guys slipping thru the cracks... It seems like such a heart-wrenching dilemma. I am not sure where you draw the line to do this properly and with safety and human dignity in mind ... thank you Mr Harper. (sic)"

Harper replied: "Thanks Yvonne. The situation in Syria and Iraq is troubling. Laureen and I were touched, just like all Canadians, at the pictures from last week. But, to help we must ensure we screen every potential refugee carefully. We have been clear that we are willing to take more people, but we must be sure we are helping the most vulnerable. We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada."

The session also allowed Harper to talk about his two favourite things: hockey and the Beatles, answering questions about his preference for professional or amateur hockey and what his favourite Beatles song is (Hey Jude, if you're wondering).

This was a great opportunity for Harper to showcase himself as a genuine guy and a great pick for prime minister and for the most part, it did work. He came across as charming and affable and because all of this was carefully controlled, there was very little opportunity for the whole thing to blow up on him.

Except for one thing. Some of the questions posed on the site (that were not responded to) were cringeworthy, supporting assertions the Conservative party is supported by rabid libertarians who are anti-women, anti-immigration, anti-CBC and pro-gun. (Granted, these could be opposition party saboteurs, and if so, they achieved the necessary result). For instance, Ryan De Klamot posted this suggestion: "Mr Harper: please do not let any refugees into Canada. With our national debt and deficits we just cannot afford it. Instead please put pressure on the extremely rich Arab countries to take them in. It just makes sense. Also good for you for not bowing to the demands of Trudeau/Mulcair on this issue."

Or this question from Hcor Uealram: "I first want to thank Mr. Harper for his support of the hunting/sport shooting community, that being said, will our community witness more positive changes with a newly elected Conservative government? Perhaps a lift of the very ineffective magazine restrictions?" By the way, it would appear that both of those posts were left unanswered, largely because the session was over.

Quickly after the session, BuzzFeed pointed out that one of the softball questions Harper responded to was posed by Braydon Mazurkiewich (using the name Braydon Maz) who used to be the president of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party's youth wing and forced to resign because of offensive comments he made about aboriginals on Facebook.

So, this is the thing. Try as Harper might to control the message, he still can't control who supports him and the messages that they send. Sure Braydon Mazurkiewich may have been moved away from behind Harper and out of the camera shot when the prime minister attended a rally in Winnipeg in April, but he's still on Facebook lobbing easy questions for Harper to handle.

Which really makes you wonder about disgraced #peegate candidate Jerry Bance, stripped of his nomination in Scarborough Rouge Park, and Tim Dutaud, who was dropped as a candidate in Toronto Danforth for juvenile prank videos posted on YouTube, along with disgraced Sue MacDonell, a Conservative riding director in Ontario who used the term Indian to describe First Nations people and called Mrs. Universe -- an aboriginal woman who has spoken out against Harper -- a monster.

Mom always said, you're judged by the company you keep. The Conservatives have worked hard to try to distance themselves from being identified as being too much on the fringe. These recent events indicate, they still have a great deal of work left to do.


Shannon Sampert is the perspectives and politics editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

shannon.sampert@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulySigh


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