Canadian politics · Provincial politics

Updated: Which of Canada’s legislatures tweet?

twitter logoIn recent years a great deal of attention has been paid to what Canada’s federal and provincial politicians say on twitter. But what about Canada’s legislatures themselves? Slowly but surely some of Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures have set up their own twitter accounts. However, the majority have yet to take the plunge, and there is tremendous variation among those that have in terms of the frequency of tweets, number of followers, and commitment to bilingualism.

Twitter can be an important tool for legislatures, allowing them to express information in a way that is unaffected by partisan spin. However, it also presents a number of challenges. In a recent blog-post, British academic Cristina Leston-Bandeira explored how social media (Twitter and Facebook) are being used by legislatures world wide, and the challenges that they face in doing so. While noting that the Inter-Parliamentary Union has called for its members to expand their use social media, she also stresses that the spontaneous, personality-driven character of social media makes it hard for most legislatures to utilize. In particular, legislatures are procedurally-driven and represent a wide range of opinions, not a single voice. The operation of regularly updated social media feeds also requires a sustained investment of resources. Overall, she concludes that most legislatures use social media primarily as a broadcast tool for reporting on parliamentary activity.

As can be seen in the table below (compiled on 24 March 2014), twitter coverage for Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial legislatures is far from universal, with just under half operating an account. Most surprising is that while the Senate and Library of Parliament are both on twitter, the House of Commons has not yet followed their example. Similarly, two of Canada’s three largest provinces (Ontario and British Columbia) also lack a twitter presence.

While I do not currently have the time or resources to subject these twitter accounts to the kind of content analysis undertaken by Dr. Leston-Bandeira, a brief non-systematic review of each account would appear to support her finding that they are primarily used for reporting on parliamentary activities. However, the table shows some sharp differences in the number of tweets and followers for each legislature – differences that cannot always be explained by the length of time the account has been active or the population of the province.

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Seeking reading ideas for a course on Canadian Legislatures and Legislators

IMG_5697What do you see as the essential readings in Canadian legislative studies?

Every summer the University of Toronto’s Department of Political Science runs the Teaching Opportunity Program (TOP), which gives senior doctoral students like me a chance to design and teach their own course. I’m very happy to report that my proposal for a course on “Canadian Legislatures and Legislators” has been accepted as a fourth year seminar (officially known as POL490H1S) that will be offered in July and August.

I would be very interested in any recommendations you might have of readings to include in syllabus. While I put together a fairly complete draft as part of the course proposal, there’s always room for improvement, especially since new material is coming out all the time. I’m also hoping to expand the supplemental readings to offer more diversity and to include both federal and provincial/territorial perspectives. Suggestions for general legislative theory are also welcome!

You can find the draft syllabus here, and please either comment on this post or drop me an email at paul.thomas@utoronto.ca with your ideas. Thanks very much for your help!