Internet campaigns step up before Canada poll

Harper and his wife shop during a campaign
Canada's Conservative leader Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen shop for apples during a campaign stop at Martin's family fruit farm in Waterloo, Ontario, on April 27. The election campaign has unleashed a flurry of online, youth-led political activity showing no signs of abating before national polls on May 2.

Canada's election campaign has unleashed a flurry of online, youth-led political activity showing no signs of abating before national polls on Monday.

More young people are following the election thanks to a proliferation of "vote mobs" -- university student gatherings that are filmed and uploaded onto to encourage young people to vote.

The events are organized through and Twitter and are intended to tackle Canada's abysmal among young people aged 18 to 24. In 2008, just a third of eligible voters in that bracket cast their ballots.

A vote mob staged this month on the bilingual campus of the University of Ottawa featured students boldly dressed in red and white -- Canada’s national colors -- cheering and waving posters extolling the virtues of the democratic process.

"Today I Realized People Are Dying For Democracy. I Am Voting For Mine," one placard read. The upbeat gathering was filmed and posted on YouTube, to the music of British pop singer Mika's "We Are Young."

Nearly 40 vote mobs have been staged across Canada and posted on sites like, run by an independent, youth-led advocacy group.

Jamie Biggar, co-founder of, said the online mobilization provides "ways for people to have their voices heard and to feel some ownership over this election and over our politics."

The online engagement preceding Monday's poll was nothing short of a phenomenon, said political activist Judy Rebick.

"There's been a massive citizens' campaign. I've never seen anything like it," the Ryerson University professor told AFP.

"Not since the 1988 election have I seen so much citizen action completely independent from the party. Young people are having fun. They're creative. It's inspiring."

Some of the online campaigns target Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Project Democracy and Catch 22 Campaign are two anti-Conservative strategic voting sites that have caught on in recent weeks.

An Angus Reid poll released on April 27 found that more than a third of Canadians (37 percent) are considering voting strategically to reduce the chances of a specific party forming the government, even if it means casting a ballot for a candidate they dislike.

A wholly different anti-Harper website called went viral shortly after it launched on April 13.

An estimated 4.5 million pages have since been viewed on the website, which has registered more than 700,000 hits, according to Sean Devlin, a comedian and filmmaker who created the site that using humour to shake voters out of their apathy.

Another project, the non-partisan, Apathy is Boring, uses art, media and technology to encourage active citizenry on- and offline.

A commercial produced by the group has just aired on video channels MuchMusic, MTV and online, said founder Ilona Dougherty.

Dougherty said the commercial featuring Canadian musicians and celebrities urging to vote has had a "huge amount of circulation," especially on .

"We really want to engage first-time voters. That's really the focus of our campaign. We wanted to do something cheeky and fun. The reaction online has been really great so far," Dougherty said.

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(c) 2011 AFP

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