Despite best intentions, I am by most definitions a political animal. Delighting in politics since the age of ten, I have this definite need to get in there, to do more then this ritual "participation" of voting. Last spring's provincial (British Columbia) elections drifted into my area of expertise -- networking / website design -- and served as an immediate excuse to get involved, resulting in this article. While much of the information is necessarily out of date (J Reynolds won the election, and several of the candidates interviewed below will not run again), it is still a rather intriguing capsule of information in this, the first rays of an altogether different dawn.

An examination of the websites, email, and philosophy of our suddenly-online candidates.

by Joseph McLean -
May 31st 1997

So there I was, sorting through various campaign papers in the wake of the all-candidates-meeting, when I suddenly noticed that every party -- every singe one -- listed the address of a complete website. As someone who spends his entire life enmeshed in website design, my interest was immediately peaked -- was this a simple push for publicity, or something genuinely progressive? How did sites compare? Were actual candidates wired? I had a feeling the answers would be markedly different from each party, and as the evening progressed I journeyed through each site, scribbling notes and collecting email addresses for a single, bulk-emailed message. By midnight, it was sent:

This is a test message of sorts, an impromptu survey sent to all candidates in my riding (West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast). My goal is to test the strength of your online presences -- this time around, every party has a website, but are they being used to their *full* potential? I'd be interested to see who writes back first -- and no auto-generated messages, please! By understanding how each party approached the task of "internet presence", I hope to gain a clearer view of your approach to the future.

I would like to know what make of computers and operating systems (ie, Microsoft vs. Macintosh vs. Unix) was used in the construction and hosting of your website, and why you consider a website to be a viable resource during (and after) your campaign, plus any real-life examples you might have. I would also like to know if any of my Candidates were personally involved in the design and content. Since some of these questions may be too technical, I've sent copies of this message to your "website designers" as well.


As we near the end of this hectically short election, I'd like to know your closing thoughts, final comments et all, to take with me to the polling booth.

I ask these questions out of personal curiosity, but your interesting answers will reach some 100 to 600 people here in the Powell River area.

Thanks for your time,

Joseph McLean, founder & chief webspace designer SFIS

Without further adieu, here's the results. The total bulk of this "report" is pretty big -- I wanted to quote party responses in full, and politicians like to talk -- so my statistics come first. If you don't have the half hour to wade through the whole thing, these at least bear a long and pondering glance:

[note, there are *two* PC websites reviewed, one the national party and one belonging solely to local candidate Dave Thomas]


Time until response (smaller is better)
[all responses written by campaign workers except the final one]

Reform........ 3 hours
Natural Law... 5
PC National...30  [national party]
PC Dave.......46  [local candidate]

Size of Message (higher is better)

Natural Law...8 kilobytes
PC Dave.......5
PC National...3

Understanding of Website Displayed in Message
(star rating, out of 5 -- extrapolated further down)

Natural Law...5 stars
PC Dave.......3
PC National...1

My Review of Websites  (star rating, out of 5, extrapolated further down)

[Websites were reviewed prior to learning what computer 
environment they were created in, to ensure no bias 
on my part.  Primary considerations included content,
speed, interface, interactivity and ease of use]


NDP...........5 stars..Macintosh...

Natural Law...4........Macintosh...



PC Dave.......2........Windows?....
  (Dave of PC)

PC National...1........Windows.....
 (PC proper)

D e t a i l s : / John Reynolds
Reform offers full PDF files for download & printing -- professional, and good. They're also the only site to use bloody FRAMES, and they use the really archaic kind -- awful! The site's "Secure ID Badge" is the funniest of all, supposedly a "high security badge reserved only for sites that are authorised to use the name represented by the site". You guessed it, that's an internet scam, and Reform quite simply fell for it. Design generally average, content was very large, featuring a minisite (as opposed to a single page) for each candidate, including Reynolds. Reform's was the fastest as well, being hosted on a high end SunSparc -- speed is obviously their strong point, they were also the first to respond to my midnight query, in a message posted at 3:00am!

Mr. McLean:

Thank you for your email message.

As an aside, while I knew that all of the major parties have a web site, I do
not think that all of the candidates in our riding have their own web site 
(not counting a solitary page on the party's main site).  Obviously our
candidate (John Reynolds, Reform) has, and I think the PC candidate has,
but that is all I know of.

Our web pages were constructed on a UNIX system (by hand, I
have no patience for HTML editors) with the photos scanned in on a Windows
machine but colour corrected and adjusted on a UNIX machine prior to being
sent by FTP to the server.

As you are no doubt aware, web sites are an extremely cost-effective
method of providing detailed information to constituents.    The other
major advantage is the ability to post time-sensitive information (for
example, we put a warning up on the weekend telling visitors that Monday
would be their last chance to participate in the Advance Poll should 
they be out of town on election day).

Because we have so much to do apart from the web site we have not had 
the opportunity to exploit the technology to the extent that we would 
have liked to have seen but in future we would want to have forms that 
visitors could complete to easily communicate back to the candidate.

We would also like to have mailing lists that people could subscribe to
for periodic information from the candidate.

John and I discussed the material that would go up (in general) and he
reviewed some of the pages in detail and made specific suggestions prior
to them being put up. / Phil Boname
Beautiful graphics, excellent content, weird overproduced layout and very slow -- 100% Windows/Intel design & hosted, this site snubs its nose at W3 web standards (note, for example, Phil's url above -- it doesn't even exist as a "html page", but a command in a core windows program). They even quote Bill Gates on this site, achk! Their response message arrived third, at 12:00 noon, several paragraphs sounded pre-fabricated to me. Of all the parties, they were the ones who pushed rhetoric the most. "It is only natural for the liberals to support websites, what with out amazing information initiatives...". Actual internet understanding beyond policy seemed limited.

Our Website was constructed using PC / Windows systems.

The Website has been a great communications tool during the campaign. It has allowed us to present all 301 Liberal candidates, with a brief profile and contact information for each. It is also a great way to make our platform, Securing Our Future Together, available on-screen, and for downloading. We have answered more than 500 questions from Canadians since the campaign began, and responded to many more requests for information or documents. During the televised debates, many people wrote in to offer their support to the Prime Minister and the Liberal team, particularly on the issue of National Unity.

Between elections, Websites increase the opportunity for contact and exchange of information between citizens and the political parties, as well as government and bureaucracies. Press releases, speeches and documents are readily available to Canadians from all parts of the country.

Candidates have been involved in developing the content of their Candidate Profile pages. Volunteers and members of the party have been responsible for assembling the information that is available on the site.

It is only natural for the Liberal party to be so supportive of Websites and Information Technology. The Liberal government is currently linking all of Canada's 16,500 schools and 3,400 public libraries to the Internet, through our SchoolNet program. Our Computers for Schools Program provides surplus federal government computer equipment to Canadian secondary and elementary schools. The program aims to distribute 100,000 computers to schools by the year 2000. The Community Access Program is a Liberal initiative that supports community-based efforts to establish Internet access in rural Canada. Projects are developed at the community level and funded on a shared-cost basis. The 1997 Budget provided $30 million over the next three years, to connect as many as 5,000 Canadian communities. These programs represent a commitment to making Information Technology available to Canadians of all ages and in all regions.

Closing thoughts to take with you into the polling booth? We believe that the Liberals are offering Canadians a government with a truly national vision, one which is responsible, both fiscally and socially. We're not saying that everything is perfect. There's a lot to do, particularly in the area of employment. But our plan is balanced and forward-looking and our team is talented and experienced. We hope Canadians will agree. Dave Thomas, Progressive Conservative
The plus: this isn't a generic party website, this is "Dave's Website". Dave is the only person to have his own domain name and site, that is *good*. Dave has his own email address, that is *good*. Dave is in charge of content, that is *great*. But does all this have an ulterior motive? Nowhere on his site will you find a link to the main PC website, a fact that underscores the quiet embarrassment over his party as expressed in his campaign literature. Or maybe he just dislikes the PC party website as much as I did (when I finally found it).
He was the LAST person to get back to me, however, it was not campaign worker -- it was really him, and it was obviously a "real" email message rather then a pre-fab. Dave was also the only one to stress the interactivity aspect -- they all talk about "getting the message out to the people", but having the people talk back is often overlooked. If he was elected, there is no doubt in my mind that I'd be able to reach him via email -- a reassuring thought. He also used the opportunity to leverage an anti-reform press release -- an act still preferable to the unrestrained back-patting the Liberals sent me. One thing is clear: Dave is the most net-savvy *candidate* in our riding, and the only one to really grasp its potential aids to democracy. The other parties have cyber-smart campaign workers, but we can't vote for them personally.

dear joseph,

thanks for the e-mail.

i'm happy to see you taking such an interest in my web site.  the truth is
that I have been so busy that I didn't have as much time to devote to the
web site as I had wanted.  my intention was/is to make the web site fully
interactive, because the internet is a great tool and will, i believe, be an
even more important tool in a democratic society in the future.

the content and concept for the website came from me, but a friend of mine,
Mike, is the guy that actually did the hard work of putting it together. I
have posed just three questions (issues) at this time, to show people how
the web site would work if I were elected.  i would include many more topics
in the future.  i wanted you to be able to e-mail me your comments on each
subject as an option, along with "agree" and "disagree", but i still have
some work to do on the web site.  i know it's still a little hard to work with.

I use e-mail every day in my work, usually downloading three times a day.
however, during this election campaign, it seems i only get in front of my
computer once every three days!  it's a huge territory to cover.

did you come to the meeting in powell river?  the meeting the following
night in west van was by far the biggest and most controversial.  I thought
you might be interested to read the following press release that came out of
that meeting.

thanks again for your comments.  let me know what you think about the
interactive web site concept.


Dave Thomas
PC Candidate
West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast

MAY 28, 1997


WEST VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - At an all-candidates meeting in West
Vancouver last night,  Reform Party candidate John Reynolds refused to opt
out of his gold-plated federal pension if elected.  Reynolds will be
eligible to receive the pension in less than six months, thanks to his
previous service as a Progressive Conservative Member of  Parliament.
Reynolds is currently receiving a British Columbia pension for serving in
the B.C. Legislature.

When asked by an audience member if he would sign an affidavit declaring he
would forfeit his pension, as have 50 of 51 Reform M.P.'s, Reynolds rejected
the idea.  Later in the meeting, a second audience member questioned him
about giving up his pension and Reynolds again turned down the opportunity
to put it in writing.  Under the current eligibility requirements, only John
Cummins of  Delta-South Richmond and Reynolds, if elected in West Vancouver
- Sunshine Coast, would qualify for receiving the federal pension.  The
point was also raised that in 1989, Reynolds approached Senator Gerry St.
Germaine about adjusting the pension eligibility rules.  In 1990,  Reynolds
also lobbied Senator Marjory LeBreton for a Senate appointment.

"The pension issue is one that the Reform Party has been trumpeting about
for years," said West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast P.C. candidate Dave Thomas.
"Preston Manning claims all his candidates will give up their pensions and
do politics differently, but the candidates seem to have different ideas.
Reynolds had an excellent opportunity to opt out of the pension plan, in
front of West Vancouver voters, but he turned it down.  The fact that he is
already receiving a government pension from B.C. and will be double-dipping
if elected, makes it all the more appalling."
Annoying, sluggish, overbearing, multicoloured, misused, colourblind, entirely awful website featuring horrificly scanned pictures of Charest that made him look like a grinning alien. Several ill-fated attempts at interactivity fall through due to bad implementation, like the "members forum" for posting comments that is overweighed with complex (and unnecessary) JavaScript, taking 7 full minutes to load on my browser. Least content of any party, the site was none-the-less updated frequently and featured related opinion polls and other breaking news. Not enough to make you forget the grossly amateur design though... no wonder Dave has his own site. And the email response? Hyper!

Good evening...

Did we pass your test???

We are using Windows 95 and Windows NT.  Our site has been up since
1995 and will stay up after the election.  It's an excellent communications
tool.  No candidates were involved in the design of the web site.

>And as we near the end of this hectically short election, I'd like to know
>your closing thoughts, final comments et all, to take with me to the
>polling booth.

Simply, the choice is clear...  make a statement on voting day...
elect the team that will keep Canada together, the Jean Charest team!!! / Lisa Barrett:
Hark, a separate website for the province of bc... that's unique, and good. Lots of pertinent information, but the graphics are entirely awful, they look like clipart from ten years ago. If they only improved their structure, the information contained therein would become explosive. No one over there seems to know what computer their website was created on(!), but my guess is Windows 3.1. Although high in content, it is extremely unpleasant to navigate and my least favourite of any site (except, yuck) -- I guess Green Party people aren't that cyber-inclined.

Dear Joseph,

Thanks for your message.  Closing comments?  We see in this election many
people feeling disenfranchised.  In effect, under the current system, it is
quite likely the majority of voters will lose since no candidate is likely
to get a majority.  So we Greens feel it is time to move to a proportional
representation system so that every vote will count both during and between
elections.  Incidentally, all the other candidates in our riding have said
they support this idea.  So what are we waiting for?  :-) / Clark Banks:
Easily the most professional site of any party, the quick loading NDP pages were a sight (site?) for sore eyes, literally. Content was MASSIVE, including a huge list of transcripts from parliament and an impressive links section that listed, among other things, the websites of every political party, and the open invitation to compare rhetoric. Meanwhile, graphics actually looked *nice*, not like they'd been scanned from the backs of campaign pamphlets but like they'd been created by a band of computer artists. Cutting edge Java implementations invite users to "click here an watch unpaid corporate taxes grow!" in realtime -- no other party seemed to know what Java was. As a website designer, this is only site that really impressed me. Still, Clark Banks had no email addresses -- and they were the second last to respond to my email, indicating a need for more humans behind the site, more opportunities to interact. The message when it came seemed faintly pessimistic, but did touch on a simple truth: 1997 was the internet's virgin electoral trip in Canada. The way is now paved for a much bigger role.

Hi, the site was designed on a Mac... our server is on a Unix ... i do liason
with the site on a PC.

>and why you consider a website to be a viable resource
>during (and after) your campaign, plus any real-life examples you might

Viable? Hard to say whether it really is during this campaign. I don't know
if there's a real live cyber-vote out there. But it's helping people get
our platform and our message. That's important. It's a service to people
who have internet access and want to find out more about us. We're
averaging well over 10,000 real live visits a day (about 60,000 "hits"), so
I think it's outstripping expectations. No one really knew how much of an
impact it would have. This was the  internet's virgin electoral trip in
Canada. From now on, it will have a much bigger role, I'm sure.

>And as we near the end of this hectically short election, I'd like to know
>your closing thoughts, final comments et all, to take with me to the
>polling booth.

If you care about things like jobs, health care, education and overal
security of living -- sending the NDP to Parliament is the strongest
message you can make. The Liberals have shown over the last 3 1/2 years
that they can't be trusted to follow through on their promises, like the
GST, job creation, and a more caring society. And when the only opposing
voices are Reform, Conservatives, and the Bloc, the Liberals are pulled
even further to the right. We need balance back in Ottawa. Therefore we
need more NDP MPs there to fight for what ordinary Canadians care about. / D Grayson :

While the NDP & Liberal sites undoubtedly consumed vast amounts of computers and volunteers, the Natural Law party reached these standards with a great deal less resources. With a grand staff of five untrained volunteers, NLP created a website that offers just as much content as their massive competition. This email arrived second, just after Reform's, and proved the largest and the most comprehensive by far, demonstrating genuine vision and a through understanding of the internet.

Dear Joseph:

Here are my responses. I have also forwarded to BC so it can go to our 
candidate in your riding.

>  By understanding how each party approached the task of "internet
>presence", I can get a clearer view of your approach to the future.


>I would like to know what make of computers and operating systems (ie,
>Microsoft vs. Macintosh vs. Unix) was used in the construction

Our design and email handling etc. is 
done almost entirely on Macintosh, 2 Mac 8500's , a Quadra 630 and a 
Motorala 180 mzh Mac clone.

I use Claris Emailer to handle all email. We use Claris Home page for 
basic documents.

>and why you consider a website to be a viable resource
>during (and after) your campaign, plus any real-life examples you might
1. Our message is available 24 hours a day , 365 days a year at very low 
cost versus conventional publicity.
2. Immediacy of message. We can post a press release or a tour 
announcement and reach more people faster than fax or even email.
3. We found during this campaign that journalists came to our site for 
background information. The sites provides much more information than we 
could every conveniently fax to them as background information.
4. Immediate response to public. We can answer questions and provide 
information very quickly. No time delay as with postal mail etc.
5. NLP is an International movement. There are parties in over 70 
countries. The Canadian party is one of the most advanced. Our website is 
being used by our sister parties throughout the world and by public in 
those countries (not many have websites or have websites as large as ours)
6. Internal use. Our candidates and members use the site to keep up to 
date. Inform themselves of policy etc.
7. Direct contact with candidates. All our emails asking policy questions 
are answered by  candidates. We forward them to a team of candidates. 
Responses are usually within 24 hours.
8. Feedback. We got immediate feedback on what the public thinks of us. 
We pass this information onto the party leader and candidates.
9. Web is very safe way for the public to review material. They don't 
worry that they are going to be talked into something or put on a 

Practical examples during this campaign:

1. Many emails requested information on their local candidate, how to 
reach him/her etc. or how to get information. We responded very quickly, 
often forwarding the message to the local area so they could get a local 
response. In one case I forwarded an email to a candidate who was able to 
drop by the person's house later that night to drop off campaign 
2. Reuters, and several news media requested interviews through our web 
3. We received by email requests for speakers at debates, requests to 
become candidates, requests to help campaign. We were able to respond 
very quickly. We really liked the ability to forward the request to the 
local area.
4. Several emails said that they had reviewed the material on the website 
and would now be voting for us.

Regards using the web to ful potential. We have 5 people working on 
design, content and management and about 5 answering email. All our 
people are unpaid volunteers (including myself) and most are working 
part-time. The core team works in one place with 2 or 3 others who 
collaborate at distance. The cost of creating our site for this campaign 
is about $6,000. Most of which is food and rent and long distance phone 

We would to have liked done more but it is a miracle what we have 
achieved with a volunteer staff and little resources.

...and that's that. Fascinating, yes? Although there were obvious winners in each category (Reform was fast, NDP was well designed, NLP was intelligent), even the low-rated sites proved usable and educational. I've spent four days of my life on this but it doesn't feel like a waste; each page showed me something I'd never seen on media or campaign literature. Like Guy Harvey said, you can't hope to fit all the relevant info onto a single pamphlet, confining your statements to short soundbytes & buzzwords. In the age of information, there's suddenly a lot more to know about these things... and it's all a mouse click away.

Some relevant information to leave you with...

Elections Canada Riding Info for West Van/Sunshine Coast:
Email Addresses of Candidates:
[Liberal and Reform never responded, use general party addresses shown]

Dave of PC:
Linda of Green:
Phil of Liberal: /
John of Reform: /
PowerBook toting Natural Law BC Spokesperson:
NDP hotline: for me, I'm -- 'till next time, don't ya dare forget to vote!

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