Not to brag, but working at Change.org Canada is a lot of fun. Every week, we get to see the 200 or so petitions Canadians start on all sorts of topics, giving us a good sense of what matters most to people, and why. Throw in an election campaign that has everyone thinking more deeply about what kind of country they want, and it’s like having our own RSS feed that could be called “What Voters Actually Care About.”
It came as no surprise to us that many of the most important electoral issues are at the center of conversations playing out on Change.org. Some of the biggest trending petitions speak to the top issues the party leaders are taking on: Clean energy, Pharmacare, Syrian refugees, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and Canada Post, to name just a few.
In 2015, when an issue matters to a lot of people, they will mobilize using online tools that were unavailable even 5 years ago. These tools allow them to gather support of like-minded people near and far and to show an accurate picture of the full support any idea has. Most importantly online tools like help everyday people to tell their stories, share information, be better-organised and more likely to affect real, meaningful change. Before, many would have simply said “there’s nothing I can do to make a difference.”
But for anyone who cares to go deeper than the top headline-grabbing issues, things get even more interesting when we look at the lesser-discussed electoral issues that are gaining traction through petitions. If a problem isn’t getting much attention on the campaign trail, Change.org petitions are proving to be an effective way to get a candidate’s attention.
Here are just a few examples. Hoping we’ve learned some lessons from Ashley Smith’s tragic death, over 10,000 want to end to solitary confinement for women; about the same number support Sara Gilbert, grand-daughter of a Coast Guard captain, who is asking to re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard base.A recent petition to “close the funding gap” for aboriginal schools is already nearing 2000 signatures.
We expect to the party leaders to address the biggest issues during the campaign head on - they don’t have much choice - but imagine if people could use online tools to get answers from them on these “smaller” issues. It turns out, they can! Thomas Mulcair, Elizabeth May and Justin Trudeau have all responded directly on the Kitsilano petition, for instance, and Trudeau has weighed in on solitary confinement as well.
This bodes well for the promise of politics in the digital age: because Canadians are able to mobilise online effectively, issues that may never have made it on to the news or in party platforms are nonetheless getting some attention - and some commitments - from the candidates for prime minister!
This article also appeared on Huffington Post Canada