I’VE HAD A TWITTER ACCOUNT since 2011. I started using it even more heavily in 2014 when the Kamloops Daily News shut down. I follow politicians and news sources. Most of all, I follow people from Kamloops. I try to follow every Kamloopsian I can.
I find Twitter a great measure of what is happening in the community. It has filled a gap left behind by the Kamloops Daily News’ demise.
But when something happens that matters to people, Twitter lights up.
Which it did on July 12 when the East Shuswap Road fire was in full force. Everyone was tweeting. The prolific tweeters, and the closet tweeters. People posted photos, shared information, and sent encouragement to those affected. I was out of town July 12, but because of Twitter, I felt like I was on the approach path of the water bombers.
The fire mattered, and everyone was tweeting about it. When there is something that matters to Kamloops, people tweet.
I can tell you what people are not tweeting about right now in Kamloops: electoral reform. It’s like it is the off-season of the Blazers. Kamloops tweeters are not tweeting about electoral reform, proportional representation, first-past-the-post or any of the other possible combinations related to the fall referendum on B.C. electoral reform.
Now before the naysayers start their replies, it’s true there are a few who are tweeting about the upcoming mail-in referendum on proportional representation. But the people who are tweeting about it the most are deeply involved or interested in politics. They are the A-Team.
Donovan Cavers and Gisela Ruckert are two frequently tweeting in favor of proportional representation. Cavers is one of five City councillors who signed a letter of support for proportional representation. Ruckert is listed on Fair Vote Canada BC’s website as a Kamloops media contact.
On the anti-proportional representation side (aka let’s keep first-past-the-post), two of those tweeting are Bob Price and Joshua Knaak. Price is a retired long-time broadcaster, while Knaak is president of the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce.
But besides this A-Team, the number of people tweeting about electoral reform in Kamloops is far and few between. When someone does tweet about proportional representation, it’s likely to be someone very involved and connected to politics already. Very few “regular” folks are tweeting about it. It’s not on their radar.
The people of Kamloops aren’t tweeting about proportional representation. Fires matter. Electoral reform doesn’t.
Full disclosure, in the 2005 B.C. referendum on electoral reform, I voted for changing our electoral system. I voted for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) that was proposed at the time. I not only voted for it, but I campaigned for it. In 2009, I again voted for STV, though as far as I recall, I didn’t volunteer to campaign for it.
Nine years later, I am still a fan of proportional representation, though I’m not as sure about the three options on the table (bonus points if you can name at least two out of three of them: I don’t think I can). I’d love more tweets on electoral reform to see what Kamloops folks are thinking about it. To see how they think a changed electoral system would affect them.
Truth be told, I love politics, and I’m sure Cavers, Ruckert, Price and Knaak do too. That’s why they are all happily posting tweets for or against proportional representation.
But many people don’t love politics. And with the demise of the Kamloops Daily News, I would argue there has been a general decline in political awareness in Kamloops.
I can only go by what I see. I haven’t been on Kamloops City council for over four years. And yet, almost on a weekly basis someone asks me if I’m still on council. In fact, a week or so ago, two people asked that same question to me within an hour of each other.
That’s not a criticism of people in Kamloops for not knowing who is currently on council, as much as it is to say that the loss of the Kamloops Daily News is still being felt. Daily papers give continuity to the news and the issues of the day.
Twitter is a great way to connect community, but it isn’t enough. It hasn’t filled the gap that the Kamloops Daily News left behind. It’s not filling the gap in debate over the upcoming referendum on electoral reform.
Here’s hoping that between now and October, the discussion on proportional representation fires up both on and off Twitter. Whatever side of the debate people are on, I think we can all agree we need to strengthen democracy more than ever. We need to start talking about whether proportional representation will move us in that direction.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.