The 2004 election will undoubtedly be remembered for many things. For being one of the longest unofficial elections in Canadian history, outdoing even rolling elections of the nineteenth century. For the Liberals, who felt the need to start campaigning against no declared opponent late last year, and manipulated the election date to do so. For being the first national Canadian election where someone thought UU.S.-style attack ads are a good idea. And for making extensive use of campaign web sites.
Party web sites can spew the party line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without the risk of the incumbent health minister shooting his mouth off. Once established, they cost next to nothing to maintain in comparison to TV and radio spots, important in a year when campaign finances are limited.
With that in mind, we briefly examine the web sites of parties running candidates in Calgary.
Hey Jack, Ireland wants its flag back
For a party running "A breath of fresh air" as one of its slogans, its web site is anything but. In front of a painful orange, white and blue tricolour, the navigation links look plentiful, presented as though "A Positive Choice", "Jack Layton", and "Issues" are three distinct areas of content, and not just the same content provided with three sets of wordings. To find their 14 PDF pages of platforms, two pages of which seem to be tributes to party leader Jack Layton's shiny forehead (like much of their web site), simply click the "Issues" link and scroll down. Fortunately, these links are better identified than the "->" arrow thing on a bright lime green background.
While it isn't immediately clear how a visitor would find out about which NDP candidate is running in any particular riding, guessing URLs led us to http://ndp.ca/index.php?page_id=8, which is just such a listing.
Green Party of Canada (greenparty.ca)
It isn't easy, being Green
The Green Party is often underrated because of tree-hugging stereotypes associated with their name, but a quick visit to their web site should dispel such misconceptions. Unlike the NDP site, all links and clickables are clearly identifiable as such, and their 63-page platform is well-developed and searchable. Visitors can go anywhere on their site from the front page with ease, and the on-line calendar of events and searchable candidate listing make supporting the Green Party an easy task.
Unlike the other party sites, various parts of greenparty.ca encourage feedback from visitors, for example, by allowing visitors to rank parts of their platform.
Conservative Party (www.conservative.ca)
Following better than the leaders
For whatever reason, when we first tried to visit the Conservative web site, it was over-loaded with visitors, but a call to their technical staff resolved the problem. Of all the major party web sites, the Conservatives seem to be the most nimble, creating the teammartinsaid.ca site within hours of the debut of the similarly named Liberal smear campaign. In addition to the Stephen Harper blog that's not really a blog, they've linked the most commonly used pages, including candidate information, platforms, and candidate and volunteer profiles from every page.
Unfortunately, the site overuses the same animated images that appear on every page, which distract from the message at hand.
Liberal Party (www.liberal.ca)
Unlike the U.S. in every way, except for the attack ads, exclusive focus on the leader, and the missing platform.
To anyone outside Canada, the Liberal Party web site and its contents would be difficult to distinguish from the Conservative Party web site, save the different logo and the lack of blue. Multimedia clips, gratuitous animated links, and eye-candy adorn most of its pages. They also conceal the true location of the party's platform, which, after more than a decade in office, must logically consist either of eleven distantly-related points, each the size of one page in the Green Party's platform, or Paul Martin's framework document from November 2003.
Of all the party web sites, the Liberals give the least emphasis to their candidates. Searching for their candidate in any particular riding displays a standard headshot cutout, placed on the right side of the page so as not to interfere with the breaking headline news about Paul Martin's latest tax-payer funded jaunt. Photos of Martin's upper neck and right arm-pit and in excess of even Layton's forehead.
Communist Party of Canada (election2004.communist-party.ca)
Parlez-vous anything other than English?
From their web site, it appears that this party is running ten candidates in this election, although they claim to be running over 50. Jason Devine may be their candidate for Calgary East, but he isn't listed anywhere on the English-only site. On the plus side, the limited information on the site is clearly linked, and they surely saved themselves a lot of money by not indulging in luxurious colours other than red and black.