On Campus

Campuses as viral political hotbeds

Students join groups and professors sign petitions against proroguing, but whether the momentum can last is questionable.

If you’re anything like me (student, politically aware, karaoke singer of Don’t Stop Believing), you’ve received a facebook invite to one of “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament” groups out there by your friend that wanted you to join the “I Support A Coalition Government!” 13 months ago.

But it’s not just political science students getting involved virally—it’s also their professors. Across the country, an impressive list of scholars are putting their name to a letter, written by University of Montreal philosophy professor Daniel Weinstock, which argues “The Prime Minister is not only making cavalier use of the discretionary powers entrusted to him in our Parliamentary system, but in so doing he is undermining our system of democratic government.” (you can read the whole letter here).

Leaving aside the question of the quality of the letter’s argument—which Andrew Potter deals with much more eloquently than I could—it showcases, along with the multitude of facebook groups out there, the way in which universities are uniquely suited to bring Canadian politics into a digital age that goes beyond blogs.

You’ve got a bunch of smart, energetic people in a fairly small space, debating ideas and being used to 16-hour days. Lord knows professors, at least the good ones, are willing to have spirited discussions. It’s a resource to be leveraged. In America, the 2008 election saw the intersection of campuses and technology as a key part of the campaign from very early stages. In Canada? We’re still getting taking our time getting there (of course, the US had that Obama guy to excite students digitally for an entire election. I know very few students who are excited by Ignatieff or Harper physically, let alone digitally).

For his part, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, in lieu of being able to be in parliament, is in the midst of his university speaking tour. If his team is smart, they’ll use the events to keep the conversation about proroguing going on campuses. Whether that momentum can be sustained is questionable though—generally, campus clubs aren’t nearly dedicated enough to leveraging anything long-term out of a leader’s visit.

And of course, it’s one thing to join a facebook group or tweet, it’s another to show up for a rally, or god forbid, donate some of that student loan money to a political party.