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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

letter to speaker ken kowalski. re: online social media and the alberta legislature.

Dear Speaker Kowalski,

As an active participant in what you recently described as the “virtual wonderland” of the Internet, I am hopeful that Internet technology and online social media hold great potential to reconnect citizens, elected officials, and government in our province.

I would urge you to revisit your initial reaction to the use of online communications from the floor of the Assembly. I agree that Members should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, but it is important to understand the limitless potential that these technologies now play in connecting elected Members to citizens outside the Dome.

During the February 4, 2009 Members’ Services Committee meeting, you warned MLAs about taking the advice of “hotshot” staffers in their Caucuses who were pushing the elected representatives to become more Internet savvy. These comments lead me to believe that you may not fully understand the power of these technologies to reconnect citizens with their democratic institutions, such as the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. A democratic institution remains effective only as long as those occupying it remain relevant and connected to the citizens the Assembly exists to represent. With less than forty percent of Albertans having participated in the last election, this is a very real concern.

Online social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, have developed quickly, and it is understandable that someone in the position of Speaker would not be fully exposed to their nuances. Instead of instituting a blanket ban on technology during Question Period, I would ask that you reflect on the changes in technology that have occurred since you first stepped into elected office nearly thirty years ago.

This technology has the real potential to engage citizens with MLAs on the floor of the Assembly.

If you are interested in learning more, it would be my pleasure as a citizen of Alberta to meet with you and offer reflections on my personal experience of how online social media and internet technology can re-energize citizenship in our province.


David Cournoyer

Edmonton, Alberta

PS. I’ve taken the liberty of posting this letter on my blog,, so that other Albertans can have the opportunity to join this debate online.


Anonymous said...

Hear hear!

What's your problem? said...

Great job Dave!

eadnams said...

Perfect. Eloquent, and understanding.

Paul said...

Well written letter.
I do, however, disagree that it should be used from the floor. I wouldn't want a doctor asking for advice on open-heart surgery from the twitter community during the surgery. Before or after, when he can determine with whom he's communicating and evaluate the comments, great! But if an MLA goes into a QP without knowing where his constituents stand on an issue, I feel asking the generic twitter community isn't going to help.

With that said, I do strongly believe elected officials should be using technology to communicate with their constituents for the other hundred-and-some hours in a week. I'm interested in what the speaker has against the public talking to those who are elected to represent us.

Anonymous said...

I think this is well written, however I can see the need for a restriction if it is affecting the MLAs' attention span.

I worry that the restriction is in place just because there is a fear of the unknown. Limiting communication between the public and those representing us is a scary thought.

I encourage all opportunities for our government to engage people and get them interested in how we shape our province. We need to limit the constituents who complain about the government, but never vote. Worse yet, the voter who just votes for a government because that's the way they've always voted.

I hope you get an answer back!

Anonymous said...

There is very little value happening on the floor anyway. The government knows in advance what they are going to do and the oppositions contribute nothing of significance anyway.

So twitter away, face books or read a blog, who cares.

Chandler Kent said...

"Online social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, have developed quickly, and it is understandable that someone in the position of Speaker would not be fully exposed to their nuances. Instead of instituting a blanket ban on technology during Question Period, I would ask that you reflect on the changes in technology that have occurred since you first stepped into elected office nearly thirty years ago."

Why didn't you just call him an idiotic old fogey, Dave? The rest of the letter was good.

Anonymous said...

Dave, nicely written. Agree in general re the use of tech and access, it's time to adapt. Also, I'd like to thank your previous commenter for providing me with the perfect moniker for the speaker, he is an "idiotic old fogey."

When he wakes up and suddenly realizes he's almost a full decade into the "21st century" and the rotary phone is no more, hopefully common sense will prevail and he'll decide that supporting Alberta's golf industry full-time would be a better use of his time...come on Kenny boy, my grandmother is on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I think you've been respectful here with this post. I suspect this issue of technology usage and citizen access isn't going to disappear anytime soon, (nor should it) as proven by the early comments here.

Anonymous said...

With regards to representatives tweeting or facebooking, or even ducking out for a call in the middle of session; that is a matter between an MLA and their constituency. I would encourage all of you to let your MLA know how you feel about this issue and let your individual MLA make a decision about how they want to proceed. Social media can be a distraction, but it can also give us the option of deeply involving us in decision-making that affects our daily lives.

Great job, Dave. I hope the speaker gives you some time so that you can discuss this matter with him. Even if he decides to continue with his policy, at least he would be fully informed.

Justin said...

Klein used to talk about "dome disease" a lot, and how the members needed to get out from under the dome and talk to the people. One of the few things I agreed with his position on. Funny that now that technology has evolved in a way that enables this somewhat, the Speaker wants to clamp down on it. New media is inherently democratic - it flattens power structures. Shouldn't we encourage its use by our representatives in the spirit of a robust democracy?

Thanks for taking some leadership on this issue Dave, you're on the right track.

Anonymous said...

Great letter. I hope you get a response!

Anonymous said...

Paul - if a surgeon needed to consult someone while operating on me, and it meant preventing a horrible mistake - that surgeon has my ok to consult during! But I agree the MLA needs to get some feedback on issues before going in to session, so that a well-rounded response can be given that reflects multiple demographics - not just the ones active online.

Chandler - is he calling him an old fogey or is he saying that in his position, he hasn't had the opportunity for someone to advise him on current trends? When I first read it, I thought whoa Dave, careful but then I thought maybe he's just trying to offer an understanding reason why the Speaker might not have all the facts or insights why going online to stimulate feedback is a positive change.

Ok I'll stop comment creeping now :)

Chandler Kent said...

Fair comment Marissa. I'll try to stop letting my biases enter into my comments. Thanks.

Paul Turnbull said...

I disagree. One the biggest problems with legislatures right now is the members are spending too much time reacting to opinion and not enough time engaged in their job. They shouldn't be basing what they do on the floor of the legislature by what ever group managed to swamp their Blackberry first.

You're right, of course, that technologies give enourmous opportunity engage with the constituents but I don't think it should be from the floor of the legislature. My MLA can get my opinion when he's not working and @AGRDT covers Question Period just fine on Twitter.

It's kind of like the companies that have a 'No Blackberry' rule for meetings. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

A very well-written letter, indeed. However, I disagree with your sentiment. I would like to think that that the Legislature is a place where members debate and discuss serious matters of public policy, and not a place where time is spent figuring out how to best insult their political opponents in 140 characters or less. I believe we share a common disdain for the inability of Question Period to live up to its full potential, and I think what you are suggesting in the letter is a step in the wrong direction.

I hope MLAs and their "hotshot" staffers continue to enhance their use of social media tools and electronic communication to reach out to their constituents and the broader public. That said, when they are in the House they should show some respect to the institution, their colleagues, and their constituents, by paying attention to what is being said.


Tiny Perfect Blog said...

I think it's great politicians are using on-line tools to communicate. But I don't think a 45 min pause during question period is really such a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase:

"While MLAs can create twitters, the laws of the Speaker must take precedence."

Christopher said...

My favourite part is where you mention he's been insulated from the world for thirty years. Props.

Denny said...

I'm still not really clear on one thing. Are they forbidden from Twittering etc only during question period? Or during the entire time they're in the house.

Anonymous said...

Just question period — the rest of the time, MLAs can use their laptops, BlackBerrys, etc.

Curmudgeon-at-Large said...

I assume you were being ironic in suggesting it would serve the party in power to reconnect with the populace. They seem to be doing very well for themselves with things the way they are. Until the PCs get some feeling they may lose an election, they have no motivation to change anything in terms of citizen involvement.

Anonymous said...

It's 50 minutes out of 24 hours. If MLA's can't go that long without being online then they have larger issues than social media networking.

This is a joke. Let's mature a bit.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jeff J. Frankly think your letter was pretty pompous. And when you sound pompous next to Kowalski, that's saying something. Frankly, I like the idea that for 45 minutes, 4 days a week, for 4 months a year, my elected rep shuts the thing off and fully engages in the debate going on in the assembly. Engaging fully with fellow representatives on matters of public interest has its own value and shouldn't be seen as something that just gets in the way. They should use all those tools to stay connected with constituents and issues, but let's be serious. It doesn't diminish or undermine that connection to turn them off for QP. Sure they have notes in front of them, but I don't like the idea of politicians being fed their lines, real time.
Of course shutting them off doesn't guarantee anyone's focus or attention, but it's one less distraction. I think somebody else made the connection to companies requiring people to shut them off during meetings. It shows respect for proceedings.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard back from Kowalski yet?