Digital Issues Gets Passing Mention During Maclean’s Debate

The Canadian election got off to an interesting start with the Maclean’s debate. Digital issues did get a brief mention, but nothing more.

This week, the Canadian election was called. At the time, it really wasn’t looking good that digital issues would even be more than a blip on the radar. While there is plenty of digital issues that need to be debated this election, they aren’t exactly on the radar for most political observers.

That point would only be punctuated with the absence of the Canadian Pirate Party. In 2017, the party was de-registered due to paperwork not being submitted on time to elections Canada. The party said that they were in transition and that their activity would soon continue again. Unfortunately, that moment never arrived and their absence is continuing to be felt during this election.

That leads us to the Maclean’s Leaders debate which took place last night. The debate got off to an unusual start before it even started. This is thanks to Trudeau simply skipping out on this important debate. That left leaders from the Conservative party, the NDP, and the Green party.

The debate was largely a rundown of the political headlines, hitting on big issues like the SNC Lavalin scandal, international issues like China, relations with the chaotic US presidency, and pipelines and the environment. So, from the get go, it wasn’t looking good that digital issues would even make it into the debate. It was as if organizers deemed any digital issue to be tech related, not politics related.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the debate that a bizarre question was put to the candidates about their position on Brexit. While it’s easy to see the angle organizers were hoping for (in that they wanted to test the leaders on their International leadership), the way the question was asked and the natural responses largely turned into what their opinions on the matter were. Of course, as people know, the issue about Brexit was settled on June 23, 2016 when Britain voted to leave the Euro-zone. So, asking for opinions, especially in the context of the Canadian election, is pretty much irrelevant at this stage.

Yet, bizarrely enough, it was during that moment when that bad question was asked that digital issues did turn up. It was when Green party leader Elizabeth May brought up the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The context, of course, is that, from May’s perspective, Brexit went the way it was due to manipulation of public opinion thanks to the scandal. So, at the very last, she was able to steer the conversation into an issue that is actually relevant to this day.

That point, of course, could very easily allowed the debate to shift over to the role social media plays on elections. Maybe discussing the issue about disinformation and what, if any, actions need to be taken by social media sites. Another direction to take on this front would be whether or not social media sites need to do more to protect users privacy. After all, that is a huge part of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook story. Unfortunately, the debate pivoted to other international issues quite quickly and any digital topic never saw the light of day again for the rest of the debate.

What this does highlight is the fact that digital issues could turn out to be the elephant in the room during this election. So much of Canadians lives revolve around technology. When trying to cover different topics, sooner or later, it becomes obvious that digital issues will be a part of it. It is, after all, 2019 now.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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