A little-known satirical news site founded by a 19-year-old has been shaking up the federal election campaign in a way that's making observers and political parties take note.
The True North Times, set up by Simren Sandhu — a McGill University student — brands itself as the place to turn to for everything funny in Canadian politics, but some candidates are not laughing.
The publication was thrust into the national spotlight in recent days when it was the first to report that an NDP candidate had made a crude reference online related to Auschwitz, prompting the candidate to defend herself by saying she didn't know anything about the Nazi death camp.
The site also exposed another NDP candidate, who has since dropped out of the race, for comparing the beliefs of one set of Orthodox Jews to the Taliban.
"We want to make people laugh and at the same time make them care," Sandhu told The Canadian Press, describing the site as something akin to American news-satire television program "The Daily Show."
"We often get a bad rap for being a not-so-interesting nation in terms of politics," he said. "We'd like to turn that stereotype on its head and say you're not looking hard enough, because a lot of crazy things are happening."
The True North Times launched in February 2014 and aims to engage apathetic voters. It has been running with the help of a crowdfunding campaign and the financial contribution of its five-member core team. It is updated daily with articles written mostly by students.
The stories exposing the inappropriate posts of the two NDP candidates are part of a series the publication is calling "Nine Candidate Scandals in Nine Days." Next week, it is promising to reveal a candidate who called guns an "instrument of democracy" and another who made "some rather bizarre gay jokes."
The project's content was generated by a team of writers combing through the social media history of hundreds of candidates and uncovering interesting nuggets of information, said Sandhu, emphasizing that everything the publication has reported was publicly available.
"That's the crazy part. These are all public," he said, musing that perhaps party staff didn't have the resources to thoroughly vet all their candidates. "We've just spent the time going through and screen grabbing them."
Sandhu said that The True North Times tried looking at the political landscape with a focus on the amusing and the absurd.
"We're approaching this not as a hard-hitting, your average six o' clock news piece," he explained. "We're sort of in a new uncharted territory of media. We're happy to be at that forefront right now...our purpose is humour and accountability."
Sandhu stressed, however, that the publication does not endorse any particular party and strives for balance in the candidates it exposes.
"At its core, absurdity has no political bias," he said. "It's not just one side that's saying all the crazy things. There's enough crazy to go around."
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