Twenty Years of Digital Politics in Canada

Ideal for a wide-ranging course on the impact of digital technology on the Canadian political system, newly released Digital Politics in Canada: Promises and Realities encourages students to critically engage in discussions about the future of Canadian politics and democracy. In this post, editors Tamara A. Small and Harold J. Jansen discuss their love of digital politics and examine some of the changes that have taken place in Canadian politics over the last twenty years.

Also, tune in this Friday (November 6) for the virtual book launch of the book. Click here for more details.

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By Tamara A. Small and Harold J. Jansen

Roughly twenty years ago, we didn’t know each other. Harold was a new faculty member at the University of Lethbridge while Tamara was completing her Masters degree 200km away at the University of Calgary. But both of us were fascinated as we watched the 2000 federal election unfold online. The novelty of it all! Watching Flash animations that people were creating about the election, looking at web pages, and reading forum posts about Canadian politics. It all seemed so new and exciting.

Today, of course, digital technology is an everyday part of the political process. During an election debate, we post our reactions on Twitter and check Facebook to see what our friends and families are saying. We might go to a party web page to donate money to a political party. A check of our email might direct us to a petition to sign. And we can do this anywhere and anytime thanks to the development of smartphones and other digital devices. The current presidential election in the United States is perhaps the best exemplar of the place and power of social media in an election campaign.

Besides the ubiquity of digital technology in our political lives compared to 20 years ago, we’re also struck by how the debate has shifted. In the early age of digital politics, the debate was whether digital technology would reinvigorate democratic life or leave it relatively unchanged. There wasn’t a lot of awareness about the potential detrimental impacts. Now, we’re all too aware of the way digital technology can foster misogyny, racism, and extremism. That same force that looked so positive and exciting in 2000 has a much darker cast in 2020.

It’s these thoughts that led us to ask our friends and colleagues to reflect on how that earlier promise and optimism has unfolded. Digital Politics in Canada: Promises and Realities is the product of our reflection together. In this, we and our colleagues take stock of how the political process in Canada has unfolded over the last two decades. We consider the impact of digital technology on governments and the public service, political parties and advocacy groups, and women and Indigenous peoples in Canada. Taken together, we find there is little part of Canadian politics that remains untouched by digital technologies. There has been considerable adaptation and incorporation of digital technology across the political process. At the same time, we find that digital technologies have not revolutionized the ways in which Canadians interact politically, either as individuals or institutions.

Looking forward, our study of the last twenty years of digital politics in Canada tells us, we should be prepared for anything. Digital technologies will continue to evolve in ways we cannot foresee. However, we are sure Canadian politics will adapt in their own distinct way.

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Interested in finding out more about Digital Politics in Canada: Promises and RealitiesClick here to read an excerpt from the book.

Need an Exam Copy?

To request exam or desk copies of Digital Politics in Canada or any other UTP title, please email requests@utorontopress.com and be sure to include the course name and number, start date, and estimated enrollment.