POLITICS

Budget gets muted response on social media as sales pitch continues

03/22/2013 04:21 EDT | Updated 05/22/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Gauging the reaction to the Conservative government's budget depends on who you ask.

One metric? The volume of online discussion about the 2013 fiscal plan wasn't loud enough to attract any spam.

Finance Canada used Twitter, video and photo-sharing sites Thursday to publicize the budget, a first-of-its-kind multimedia campaign for the department.

It included Finance Minister Jim Flaherty giving a behind-the-scenes look into his day.

Digital public affairs analyst Mark Blevis tracked the resulting Twitter chatter by following two common identifiers for budget-related posts, #eap13, which was promoted by the government, and #bdgt13, one adopted by the public.

He found that during the day Thursday, there were about 8,600 posts using either, with about an even split between the two tags.

About 3,000 came in the hour after the Flaherty began to deliver the budget in the House of Commons.

Usually, when a common ID or subject suddenly spikes on Twitter, like the budget did Thursday, spammers jump into the mix to take advantage of the traffic.

Blevis said hardly any piggybacked on budget talk, possibly because of a lack of buzz.

"There was really nothing exciting that happened during the day," Blevis said.

"It was pretty blah in terms of following Flaherty, who he is and what he's doing — all elevators and meetings."

How best to use social media to engage with Canadians remains a work in progress for the government, said Andrew MacDougall, the prime minister's director of communications.

"People aren't going there expecting traditional news products or traditional communications products so you have to make an effort to adapt your content, and I think they did that," MacDougall said of Finance's efforts.

"This is a first attempt, perfection certainly wasn't an expectation, but it was a good attempt and something the government is going to keep on trying as we go forward."

The digital sales pitch did continue Friday, with budget ads showing up on major Canadian news sites and many MPs — including the prime minister — continuing to actively promote the plan on their own Twitter accounts.

But there's no substitute for face-to-face pitches, and cabinet ministers were sent across the country Friday to make their case in front of chambers of commerce, trade associations and community centres.

"By sticking to the long view, Canada has picked the right path and the right plan. By staying the course, our government will continue to promote economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity for all Canadians," Flaherty said in a statement from Vancouver where he was giving a speech.

Reaction from the provinces was a bit more heated than the online community.

The "Canada Job Grant" proposed in the budget would see Ottawa, the provinces and employers share the costs of a $15,000 grant to help train workers for specific jobs.

Ontario suggested it was a shell game that might hurt those who need it the most, while British Columbia said it was worried about footing the bill.

The Quebec government has formally requested to be excluded from the program altogether, arguing that labour training is a provincial program and its program works.

The budget, as presented, created a great deal of uncertainty, said NDP Finance critic Peggy Nash.

The nitty gritty details behind some of the measures announced Thursday — and how Parliament will get to evaluate them — are not likely to emerge for some time.

Nor has the government indicated whether the measures will be tossed into an omnibus budget bill, a legislative tactic that's seen several surprises tossed at Canadians in the last few years.

"This has more to do with spin and Don Draper from Mad Men than it does with actual detail and what it means to Canadians' lives," Nash said, referring to a television show about the advertising industry in the 1960s.

"So we don't know what the detail will be. We’ll have to see the Budget Implementation Act and see what the details are."