MONTREAL (Reuters) - Social media claimed another victim on Wednesday in Canada’s federal election campaign as the centrist Liberal Party dumped a candidate and denounced online remarks he made that suggested the country’s national police force was the Canadian Gestapo.
Alberta candidate Chris Austin, who was removed for having views that were “irreconcilable” with the party’s values, is the latest would-be politician who has had a career derailed by the democratization of the vetting process via the Internet.
“Now we’re vetting in public,” said Fenwick McKelvey, a communications professor at Montreal’s Concordia University who has been studying Internet use and political campaigns in Canada since 2006.
“Members of the public who are politically active can investigate a candidate’s entire history,” he noted.
The Liberal Party’s decision to remove Austin after his comments were circulated on Facebook comes a day after the rival Conservative Party dumped a Newfoundland candidate for making sexually explicit and racist comments on social media.
Dale was the seventh Conservative candidate to be dropped by the party for various gaffes, according to punditsguide.ca, an online database of federal election statistics. With Austin, the Liberal party has dropped five candidates, with the NDP losing another two, the site said in a tweet.
“In the past we went through the garbage in our driveways. Now we’re going through the garbage online,” said Mitch Joel, president of Mirum, a global digital marketing agency.
But McKelvey said the explosion of social media use in modern elections has also raised concerns over whether certain candidates are being targeted by political rivals under the anonymity of the Internet, or are being unfairly attacked for remarks made in their youth.
He pointed to one blogger who targets the Conservatives by digging up their candidates’ online history.
In Canada’s mostly French-language province of Quebec, an 18-year-old candidate for the separatist Bloc Quebecois was ridiculed in August for online remarks about wanting her “cell, a penis and lots of chips” in the event of a nuclear disaster.
The Bloc decided not to remove the candidate, VirJiny Provost, in part to show other young adults that an embarrassing online remark from the past should not derail a political career, party spokesman Dominic Vallieres said.
“What she said was something that was awkward maybe, but it wasn’t racist or misogynist,” Vallieres said. “This is a new generation of young people who have no filter on social media.”
Reporting by Allison Lampert; Editing by Lisa Shumaker