At an event held in late January, three Mount Royal University (MRU) speakers provided a summary of the 2019 federal election, focusing on how changes to the media environment – such as the effects of fake news, foreign influence and new PR strategies – impacted each campaign. A full room of PR practitioners attended the event at the Bow Valley Club, leading to a robust discussion of how PR can support organizations during the federal minority government period, despite the potential for political volatility and instability.
Dr. David Taras, the MRU Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies, began the event by offering that the newly formed minority government would most likely remain stable for three to four years. This is due to the Liberal party being able to draw support on a case-by-case basis from the opposition parties, and because Conservative and Green parties are having their own leadership races. Overall, the election result demonstrated that none of the parties received an outcome they were ultimately satisfied with; the Liberals lost their majority and had no seats in the prairies; the Conservatives gained seats but lost many urban ridings in key battleground cities; the Bloc gained seats; and the other opposition parties did not gain any ground.
Next, Archie McLean, Assistant Professor of Journalism at MRU, demonstrated the useful Crowd Tangle application, a Google Chrome extension which allows users to identify who is sharing media posts and sources on social media. His research demonstrated the disconcerting increase of fake news from sources such as The Buffalo Chronicle during the Canadian federal election. Currently, our laws have no repercussions for online sources circulating fake news if the source comes from outside of Canada. These external sources are making money from clicks, while attempting to influence our electorate.
Dr. Peter Ryan, APR and Assistant Professor of Public Relations at MRU, closed out the panel presentation with an analysis of party platform key messages and how those messages circulated on social media channels during the election. His talk was titled “The Failings of Platform Politics: Framing the 2019 Canadian Federal Election Manifestos.” His findings showed that the 2019 Canadian federal election campaign was more about the failings of leaders to communicate differences in their policy platforms. For instance, Ryan’s research identified how Justin Trudeau had been the clear leader on social media as the incumbent; he had followers in the millions for most of his channels. However, Trudeau was the only leader to lose followers during the election, which translated into a loss of the majority government. As well, after the final televised English debate, Jagmeet Singh gained over 30k followers on two of his channels, which reflects the impact of his debate performance as compared to the other leaders. However, this did not translate into a noticeable increase in support on election day, unlike Jack Layton’s 2011 election debate performance.
In that context, Ryan’s work identified the developing shift in the online social media post-truth environment, where the Millennial vote in North America would officially be the new power voting block – if they all turned out to vote for one party; it is no longer Boomers or Senior Citizens.
This research also identified potential ways for PR professionals to support organizations, during this time, including:
- Interacting with different levels of government to build consensus and successful alliances, especially if an organization has a ready-made project that could be an easy win for all involved (e.g., investments).
- Being a bridge or connector across borders and boundaries, particularly if an organization crosses provincial or international boundaries. If an organization can be a peacemaker for each level of government, then stability, trust, and reliability can help foster economic decisions to move forward.
- Helping organizations to realize that the opposition parties at the federal level have an increased ability to impact parliamentary proceedings when they hold a plurality of seats.