Four years of Blogging Tories

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the founding of Blogging Tories, Canada’s original political blogroll and aggregator.

I started blogging about a year before the founding of Blogging Tories shortly after the Conservative Party was founded. During the first year of this blog, I found that there was an emerging community of like-minded political junkies writing about right-of-centre politics. On December 28th, 2004 Craig Smith and I launched Blogging Tories and started hunting for other Canadian conservative bloggers to add to our community.

Since its launch with about five blogs on the blogroll, Blogging Tories has grown to over 300 blogs. I started archiving Blogging Tories blog posts on January 31st of this year. Since we started counting them 11 months ago, 25,390 blog posts have been written by Blogging Tories. On our forums, 53,123 posts have been made by our members on 3,782 topics.

Soon, I’ll be launching a new version of Blogging Tories with some added features. These will allow added layers of blog and social media integration. More details on this exciting new version will be coming soon. I expect to launch the new site early in the new year.

Thank you to our bloggers and to those that read and comment on our blogs. We’ve become the foundation of online conservative movement in Canada and we’ll continue to lead and innovate through 2009 and for years to come.

Happy New Year!

Is s.329 of the Elections Act quixotic?

Section 329 of the Elections Act reads,

“No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.”

The polls in Newfoundland and Labrador close at 8:30pm local time whereas those in BC close at 7pm. In reference to the Eastern time zone, those eastern polls close at 7pm and those polls on the west coast at 10pm. Therefore, it is technically illegal to broadcast results of any poll between 7pm and 10pm tonight though results should be available as early as 7:45pm.

In this age of new media, bloggers, facebookers and twitterers are expected to operate in the framework of an antiquated law. When this provision of the Elections Act was written, the intent of the law was to prevent television networks from broadcasting results in Newfoundland to British Columbia in order to prevent BC voters from having results before they cast their own ballots. Now that new media offers populist broadcasting to everyone with a mobile phone or a computer, how will Elections Canada enforce this provision of the Elections Act?

In my opinion, this section is a violation of free speech. Yes, I understand the reasoning behind it, yet I do believe that the law does not reflect reality in this age of self-broadcasting. Laws should be enforceable because when it is impossible to enforce a law, a law ceases to have effect. If the purpose behind the law is valid (to prevent “specially informed” voters), a more realistic method of achieving it is required. It is much more reasonable to close all polls at the same moment no matter the time zone.

What is to stop an Atlantic Canadian from updating her twitter status as to the result of her Newfoundland riding? Or the Prince Edward Islander from posting who is in the lead on his Facebook wall? Since the possible forums for national broadcast have gone from a limited three television networks to practically limitless social media outlets, this particular provision of the Elections Act is de facto unenforceable.

And who is responsible for the rebroadcasting of early results? Do I shut down Blogging Tories for three hours this evening because a blogger whose RSS feed I aggregate there may put me in violation of the Act? Is the situation similar for Google Reader and iGoogle which both act as an RSS reader? More broadly, will Google shut down its Blogger site to Canadian IP addresses? Will Twitter face sanction because a Canadian might convey information to another Canadian through its American-hosted service?

Indeed, the law does not reflect reality and must be changed. What remains to be seen is whether change will come from mass social media violation of s.329 or through the legislative process.

John Tory takes questions from Blogging Tories

and here was mine…

Stephen Taylor: In the context of manufacturing jobs in Ontario – Ontario being the economic engine of Canada – federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has recently proposed this carbon tax that he wants to take across the country to sell to Canadians this summer. We’ve seen measures in BC and in Quebec to start their own sort of carbon taxation. Do you believe that this is the right direction for Ontario in creating new jobs in a new economy or do you think it’s the wrong-headed approach for this province’s direction?

John Tory: Well, I think that a tax is a tax is a tax and when people describe a tax as revenue-neutral that sort of tries to somehow skirt the idea that somebody is still paying it even if you’re giving money back to somebody else but the bottom line is that somebody is still paying the tax. I think Dalton McGuinty had it right the first time when he said – and I almost quoted him – ‘Even the NDP knows that the last thing you do when the economy is struggling is impose new taxes’ and then for whatever reason – and I think you can all speculate and probably already have – what happened within the internal machinations of the Liberal Party he suddenly came forward a couple of weeks ago and said he thought this carbon tax was a good thing and that it was fine. And so, I think it’s the wrong approach. I’ve said that to the extend you need to have a price put on carbon in a cap-and-trade type of arrangement is better because it allows the marketplace to work on doing that sort of thing but I just think that the tax is the wrong approach and I just don’t understand why Mr. McGuinty isn’t far from endorsing it, he should be opposing it as he did before and it’s the wrong thing to hit the Ontario economy with at this point in time.

Stephen Taylor: So would you call upon the Federal Conservative environment minister to implement a cap-and-trade program?

John Tory: One thing I would call upon the Federal environment minister to do and on all of the other governments is they’ve got to do the same thing. The last thing industry needs – and this is the kind of example they tell me about when I’m sitting in these often small boardrooms of small manufacturing companies – they say ‘Look, we don’t know where to start with all the different governments having all of their different programs whether it’s on climate change or a host of other areas’ and I think what they should be doing is making a bigger effort than they have to actually agree on an approach, that is going to be an approach that is consistently adopted across the country. What if you are a manufacturing company that’s doing business in Canada, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta? You’re then confronted by all kinds of different rules – federal, provincial or otherwise – on the subject of carbon and climate change. Alberta, you can go get a grant to deal with carbon sequestration, Ontario it looks like they’ll go along with the taxing thing but also be in a cap-and-trade system, federally it looks like they’re going down the cap-and-trade road, and Quebec might have a tax. I think that’s part of the problem these days, that everyone’s doing their own thing and they think can all do that with impunity and not having to take account. So I would say to John Baird, I know it’s hard for him because these other governments go off and do their own thing, but I think the thing he might be trying to do – and he has been – trying to get some agreement on something we can do as a country – provinces and federal government – and at least have a uniform set of rules people would know about if they’re in business.

Canadian Networking Conference and Exhibition

Blogging has been light recently as the Manning Centre for Building Democracy (where I am a Fellow) held its annual Canadian Networking Conference and Exhibition in Ottawa this weekend. Here’s how the Hill Times reported on it this morning,

“Meanwhile, a whole slew of Conservative heavy-hitters attended the Manning Centre Conference, including former Alberta premier Ralph Klein and former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord who spoke about his early days as political leader. Health Minister Tony Clement also delivered a speech on his election experiences, while former Ontario premier Mike Harris participated on a panel discussing the Conservative movement and health care. Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor made a presentation on social networking and Richard Ciano, who runs the Conservative Campaign University, spoke about campaign technologies and techniques. Former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm introduced former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who gave the closing address.”

The conference kicked off with a reception held on Thursday evening which was attended by the Prime Minister, Preston Manning and a handful of cabinet ministers including Jim Flaherty and Monte Solberg. Preparing for the conference all day, I had not been able to evaluate the gravity of the Cadman-related allegations (I had only been peripherally aware of some Cadman-related story in the news) and greeting the Prime Minister, I cheerfully told him of my optimism related to recent events. In retrospect, I’m thankful that after this potentially disastrous declaration I referenced Dion’s deflation over the budget and the Liberal leader’s general troubles. That night, after getting home very late, I got caught up on the news and knew that it would be unsettling for my Conservative friends in Ottawa for some time.

The conference however soldiered on and the mood was generally upbeat. I got to catch up with a number of Blogging Tories and met a few of them in person for the first time. Dr. Roy, Steve from OfficiallyScrewed.com, Luca Manfredi and Sara Landriault were there among others. Even former BT “alumnus” Monte Solberg hung out for most of Saturday’s speeches. A quick poll that I took during my Saturday talk indicated that Blogging Tories was known to almost all of the attendees of the conference but many were surprised as to the depth and utility of the website; I took the opportunity to launch new features of the website from the stage including aggregated columnists, the aggregated conservative movement and the new version of Blogging Tories television. I’m also planning on launching a new feature on the website today so watch for it.

For all of those that came to the conference, thank you! For those that were unable to attend, we’ll be aiming for an even larger gathering of the conservative movement next year.

Update

I’ll risk a blog cliche here and apologize for not posting in the last week. Sometimes my “real life” work gets too demanding and the blog suffers. I’ll be posting a substantial post soon on an unexpected topic.

Yet I’ve still been doing some work online. I’ve been busy helping put together the Canadian Blog Awards, the new archiving aggregator for Blogging Tories and coding a new social networking political integration platform which I’ll start releasing in the next month.

For now, I’m off to Halifax today for the weekend for the Nova Scotia PC AGM. If you’re at any of the events this weekend, do say hello!

Throne Speech and Fall Election

The Parliamentary break is effectively over as Ottawa Hillites are speculating about the future of the government, of Stephane Dion’s career and, of course, about a future election which would significantly affect both.

The traffic levels at Blogging Tories shook off the relatively low summer numbers on the night of the Quebec by-elections and traffic patterns are back up to normal as they were prior to the break. While Parliament has not yet resumed, everyone is hungry for politics.

Everyone, that is, except for the Canadian electorate. Just as I laughed when the Liberals said it back when they had a minority government, the other day I had to chuckle when a heard a Conservative tell a reporter on TV that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”. For people that watch politics, an election is like the Olympics; an election only happens every two years and it’s what the political junkie lives for, and what their “heroes” train for. Politicians and reporters can easily find themselves out of touch with the Canadian reality as they try and match Wellington st. with Main st. Do Canadians want an election right now? It’s pure speculation.

However, we can be sure about a few things concerning this fall in politics. First, the Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe came from quite a beating in those Quebec by-elections a couple of weeks ago. Despite this, Duceppe has released his demands for the throne speech including some particularly difficult requests for the government to meet including the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the cessation of federal spending powers in Quebec. Some say that Duceppe is staking his priorities against Harper to show that the Bloc is the real champion of Quebec’s interests when the Prime Minister inevitably turns him down.

As for Stephane Dion, it is pretty much assured that the professor doesn’t want to fight the Prime Minister at the moment. The Liberal party lacks momentum, especially in Quebec, a traditional stronghold. Dion has also made some lofty demands of the Prime Minister including a similar demand for withdrawal from Afghanistan after February 2009, and a promise to keep the Liberals’ controversial private members bill on Kyoto alive. If the Prime Minister balks at a clear position on both, the Liberals for their sake will at least have two wedge issues to run a campaign on.

Despite this, Dion must not be particularly excited about his prospects. If anyone around him is telling him privately that they are excited about an imminent election, he should fire them now. Dion still has a lot of building (and recovering) to do if he is to even crack Harper’s incumbent seat total, not to mention score a weak minority. As opposition leader, Dion will not vote for the throne speech, but it will be difficult to abstain from it as well as such a move plays towards the “not a leader” narrative and the Conservatives will capitalize on this. Likely, the plan for Dion is to show up, make a symbolic vote against the government but ensure enough of his MPs “have the flu” as would be needed to allow the renewed mandate of the government to pass, but allow him to save face with Canadians. However, if we see too many Liberals show up to defeat the government’s throne speech, it may be a sign of Ignatieff and Rae supporters showing up to eject Dion via election. Pundits will say that Dion couldn’t count that day, however, it may be indicative of some Liberals ready to push Dion on their own sword.

We haven’t been hearing too much from the NDP regarding their demands for the throne speech and I think that this is indicative of their intent to support the government. Layton may have realized that with newly acquired momentum from Outremont, there’s more wedging to be done with the Conservatives to gut the ambiguous Liberal middle both left and right.

Announcing the Blogging Tories Newspaper Viewer

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a bit of a complex media research tool and web project that I’ve dubbed the “Newspaper Viewer”. Using the application, one is able to view some of Canada’s most popular broadsheet and tabloid newspaper front pages from just over the past year when I started to collect them.

In June of 2006, I wrote a web script that collected PDF files of about 15 newspaper covers per day. I let the script run automatically each day since that time and I’ve accumulated over 3 GBs of PDFs on my server! These files weren’t browsable in any convenient form and without purpose — beyond my own general interest in having a stock of these files — they were becoming a burden on my server which hosts this blog.

Like any web designer amazed by the presentation abilities of Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash, I’ve poked around the application since its early versions. However, up until this time I’ve never really been confident enough in Flash to publish anything substantive. That is, until I was faced with an idea to take this very visual collection of files and present it in a complimentarily visual way. I transfered the gigabytes of files from this server to my more permissive btblogs.ca server and got to work on the project after buying a book on Flash and its underlying object-oriented language, Actionscript. I also recommend subscribing to the video tutorials at Lynda.com

This Newspaper Viewer is the product of that initial script that I wrote over a year ago and the result of my clumsy climbing of the Flash learning curve over the past few weeks. I believe that this is the only archive of its kind available online and I hope that you enjoy browsing through this collection.

There are two ways that you can sort through the database. On the right, a dropdown box contains dates from June 5th to the present day. By selecting a date from this dropdown, you can view the newspapers from that day. Try browsing today’s newspapers or view how the various newspapers differ in covering a certain event, such as the Toronto 17 (June 5th, 2006), the Dion leadership victory (December 3rd and 4th, 2006), the Virgina Tech shootings (April 17th, 2007) or the Conrad Black verdict (July 14th, 2007). The other dropdown menu contains a way to view each newspaper by month. Thus, you can see a monthly spread of each newspaper.

When flipping through the newspaper archive, if you double-click on a particular paper, it will load the original PDF of that cover. I recommend trying this because some of these covers come in beautiful detail and those that appreciate design and layout will want to take a closer look.

I also designed this application as a media monitoring/research tool. A significant number of Canadians get their news from Canadian newspapers and some researchers may find it worthwhile to track the evolution of a story as expressed to Calgarians via the Herald, or to Torontonians via the Sun, to give two examples. To illustrate another example of this tool’s use, one might find it interesting to see how the National Post was covering the Conrad Black trial in comparison to other newspapers. Further, some believe that papers cheer for political parties during elections. It may be interesting to see if this is true by tracking Globe and Mail or Sun media headlines over the course of a writ period. A lot of power resides in news media as reporters, editors and columnists are able to influence millions of readers by a carefully crafted headline or by highlighting/burying scandalous details above/below the fold. As Canadians, we ought to be savvy media consumers in order to be informed participants in our democracy. Hopefully, as a comparative tool, this Newspaper Viewer application will help contribute.

I do hope that you enjoy this project. I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, bug reports via email or in the comments section below.

Click here to launch the Newspaper Viewer

Blogging Tories launches Facebook applications

Blogging Tories was the original political blogroll/aggregator in Canada and today it continues to break new ground.

As many readers already know, the Facebook phenomenon is getting blanket coverage in the media and among bloggers and it is the largest online social network assembled in the history of the world (that may sound like hyperbole… but it’s true). People have reconnected with old buddies from high school, are announcing social get-togethers across their network of Facebook friends and are associating and assembling among shared groups with common interests.

The last time I checked, Facebook had over 9 million users and has recently edged out eBay for daily page-views. (I just re-checked. Facebook has 20 million users)

So, what does this mean for the future of the Internet? I’m not sure, but like Blogging Tories, Facebook is inherently community-based and it would be useful to bridge both media. That’s why when Facebook opened up it’s web architecture to developers and other nerds, I got going trying to figure it out so that Blogging Tories could leverage the ‘other Internet’ that is Facebook.

I’ve developed two Facebook applications. The first application displays the most recent five Blogging Tories postings from the BT aggregator. Now you can add the most recent news and gossip from the Blogging Tories bloggers into your Facebook profile page. There are also useful links into other facets of the BT community available from the application.

The other Facebook application is a “I support Stephen Harper” image switcher. A set of images is contained within the application and the installer of the application can switch to a favourite image and fix it in place for visitors to their profile. Simple yet functional!

Press shuts down blogger

A couple of weeks ago, I headed down the street to Parliament Hill to cover the budget for my blog and for Blogging Tories. You can see the product of that effort here, here, here, and here. I have a Hill pass that indicates that I have been pre-screened by security and allows me access to a variety of places in the Parliamentary district. While hovering on the periphery of a budget-day scrum with Jack Layton, I was spotted by Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette. She scolded me and expressed to this lowly blogger that he wasn’t allowed to scrum with Layton. Largely ignoring her, I continued to mind my own business and started to needlessly check my camera settings. Thompson alerted Parliamentary Press Gallery President Richard Brennan to my presence and minutes later, security asked me to leave the foyer area.

I left the hallway outside of the foyer and walked over to the railway room to interview some ‘stakeholders’ of the budget. This went off without incident and during that time, I cheerfully chatted with some reporters that were in the same room.

Having completed my interviews with the stakeholders, I left and headed on over to the Rotunda where I had a friendly chat with Jack Layton. Elizabeth May and her assistant were also hanging around chatting when I saw Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc walk by. Having heard that his party was the lone opposition party supporting the budget, I asked him for an interview. He agreed. After the interview something ugly happened.

An official from the Press Gallery walked over and informed me that he had received “complaints” about me. “Thompson?” I inquired. “Complaints”, he seemed to acknowledge. I pointed out that we were currently in the Rotunda of Parliament and that my pass allowed me to be there. “But you have a camera” he informed me. He called over a security guard to escort me from Parliament.

Unbelievable!

Yes, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with no powers granted to it by constitution or statute, used security to remove somebody who had the right to be present on the Hill granted to him by the Speaker of the House.

A similar incident happened recently when two female staffers from the Conservative Resource Group were similarly removed from the Hill by security when the Liberals complained to the Gallery.

After the incident, the Prime Ministers office called the sergeant-at-arms (who works on behalf of the Speaker on Hill security) and was told that the Gallery and Liberals were wrong to ask for the ouster of the CRG staff from Dion scrums (and scrums in general).

Of course, this brings up a few questions. If security on the Hill is the responsibility of the Speaker, and if I have been granted access to most non-privileged areas of the Hill by the Speaker, what authority does an official of the PPG have in calling in the guard to have me removed from perhaps the most public area of the Hill? Elizabeth May was also present in the Rotunda, yet she is not an elected member, nor is she associated with an elected party in Parliament. She has also been granted security clearance to the Hill by the Speaker. So, is it the camera? What is so offensive about my camera? Since I am cleared to be present on the Hill, is it because I haven’t been cleared to use one of the Press Guild’s many tools? Would May be ejected by the Gallery if she was in possession of a camera? What if I am invited by a politician to use my camera on the Hill? Is this forbidden? Was this interview with Jack Layton in the NDP leader’s office violating some unwritten rule of the media powers that be? Does the CRG/Dion Hill incident (and the aftermath) set a precedent for my presence (with camera) on the Hill? Again, why does the power reside in a largely unelected, unaccountable body of Parliament that is not defined by statute? I’ve made a sport out of taking on institutions with artificial and inflated senses of entitlement, maybe the Press Gallery is next.

Or, you may ask, why don’t I just suck it up and join this all-powerful guild as some of the friendlier gallery-folk have suggested? I’ve always been unsure about this move as I am a declared partisan, yet I am not employed by the Conservative Party. Still, should partisan media exist? Should it be allowed? Since this blog is de facto media and it already operates in a partisan manner, should the CRTC or Elizabeth Thompson shut it down? Frankly, I can understand reasons against ‘official’ recognition of my media status in the Parliamentary precinct. After all, couldn’t I flood Conservatives with long and friendly press conference questions to waste time? (yes). Would I? (no). Would I sell out my media brethren and sign up for ‘the list’? (yes).

But then again, the game is changing and bloggers are becoming a new category in a variety of forums they intersect. Will the next evolutionary phase be a smooth one or will it require direct action?

As the concept of “press” is being redefined to include bloggers, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that some of the “officials” that are trampling on our rights include members of the “dead tree” division of the guild we wish to complement.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that I am ineligible for membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery because I am not employed as a journalist by any organization. Do you think that the evolution of media and reporting should change some of the traditions and practices on parliament hill?

Hello Steve Janke!

There’s a lesson here: never throw out the B-roll!

As some of you may know, I, along with Tasha Kheiriddin and Greg Staples armed ourselves with video cameras and stalked the halls of the Liberal Party leadership convention in December looking for interesting people to talk to and fun moments to catch on tape.

Steve Janke has the post of the day (already featured on Bourque, National Newswatch and Rutherford) about John Duffy’s hypocritical position on climate change. Duffy is co-founder of the website www.climateliberal.ca and was pushing the issue of climate change at the convention. As Steve Janke brilliantly points out today, Duffy’s position is… um… unsustainable as the former Paul Martin confidante was a lobbyist for the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (a front for the bromine producing industry) where he worked to keep bromine off of Environment Canada’s list of toxic chemicals. Bromine is “the most effective heat trapping greenhouse gases of all” according to Environment Canada.

Anyway, do go and read Steve Janke’s excellent post!

And, now… watch the following video that Tasha was able to shoot for Blogging Tories during the Liberal convention.