POLITICS

Elizabeth May Debate Absence Didn't Stop Her From Tweeting Her Way In

09/17/2015 07:46 EDT | Updated 09/17/2015 11:59 EDT
Chad Hipolito/CP

There were three podiums on the stage for Thursday's federal leaders' debate on the economy, but it was the one Elizabeth May set up on Twitter that captured most of the social media attention.

The Green party leader fired a steady stream of digital salvos into the federal leaders' debate Thursday, tweeting from afar on matters of trade, infrastructure, clean energy and job creation.

May wasn't invited to the Globe and Mail newspaper's debate in Calgary on the economy, so she turned to Twitter instead in an effort to elbow her way into the conversation.

May — piqued at the Globe's snub and calling the debate a private, corporate event — assembled hundreds of supporters at a Victoria church, where she videotaped short bursts for distribution via social media.

The sort of exposure a national televised debate can provide is vital to the Green party in its bid to build on a parliamentary beachhead of two seats. But May's Twitter tactic might well have been the next best thing.

She grabbed headlines this week for her bid to become part of the discussion — at least online, if not on stage. But it remained to be seen whether she would be tweeting to the converted or reaching a broader audience with her video missives.

May said Thursday she expected to reach thousands of Canadians, although "the disadvantage is, I can't say, 'Mr. Harper, with all due respect, that isn't true,''' she acknowledged.

The Globe defended the Calgary format, saying it would lead to focused discussion on the Canadian economy.

The brush-off prompted Twitter Canada's Steve Ladurantaye to suggest a parallel digital debate, something he helped the Scottish National Party do in Britain earlier this year.

According to post-debate statistics compiled by public-relations firm North Strategic, May attracted considerable attention in the Twitterverse.

As the other three leaders sparred in Calgary, May churned out a steady series of video statements and fact checks, and retweeted platform blurbs from her party.

"Under Stephen Harper, our immigration and refugee system has been completely destroyed,'' she said after a vigorous debate exchange on Canada's response to the world migrant crisis.

Canada's housing crisis is much more than a discussion about rising prices in Vancouver and Toronto, May said. She drew cheers when she said, via video, the leaders were neglecting the hugely important issues of poverty, homelessness and affordable places to live.

May called her virtual venture a success, but added, "I'd rather have been in the room with them.''

She said her opponents were "scripted and phoney,'' and the debate quickly generated into "three guys yelling at each other.''

Whether the debate changed any minds remains to be seen, but it generated more online interest in May overall — Twitter says she earned 5,000 new followers.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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