Some things have changed dramatically. Other things are exactly the same.
In terms of technology there was no internet, no web casting, no blackberries
when I was here last. The fundamental machinery of government and the fundamental
machinery of the House has not changed. What I do perceive after thirteen
years in the private sector is more cycnicsm and more misunderstanding
of Parliament. I sense that the place is in ill repute. Perhaps it is because
of the scandals or perhaps there are other reasons. This led me to reflect
on how I might play a small part in changing that. So one of my goals
in politics is to give people the opportunity to know more about Parliament
and their elected members by means of the internet.
Not really. I am basically a journalist and an entrepreneur. In 1993 I
joined CTV and became a business Editor for them. I authored seven best-selling
books on business and finance, hosted the country's most watched business
television show. I spent eight years on the speaking circuit, going coast
to coast giving seminars on personal finances. Six years ago I founded
Toronto-based Millennium Media Television an independent producer of network
television programming. The company has produced series for CTV, Global,
YTV (Youth TV), TVO (TV Ontario) and other Canadian and international broadcasters.
My wife Dorothy and I founded the Credit River Company. Our mission statement
was heritage, landmarks and environment and we brought back as viable
businesses many heritage buildings. I have always felt our Canadian built
heritage has been overlooked.
Like many Canadians in and outside of Parliament I was aware of the general
disillusionment with politics. This was reflected in low voter turnout
and various other ways.
No but like most people I expected the government to be defeated in the
Spring of 2004. Shortly after winning a hotly contested nomination for
the Conservative Party in May 2004 I realized it was going to be months
before the election was called. For eight months I campaigned every day.
It was a fantastic opportunity to take the pulse of the riding. I knocked
on over 25,000 doors in my riding of Halton. Immediately after being nominated
I started a daily diary or Blog on my web site and I have been very careful
to keep it updated. It has proven to be quite popular and within three
months I was getting more than a million hits per month.
How would you describe your web site?
Like all sites it is a work in progress. However it is important to have
an underlying philosophy and from the beginning I wanted my web site to
be primarily an interactive political portal and not a photo album, a vanity
site or a forum for partisan advocacy.
The site has three main elements. It is a bona fide daily news service
from which viewers can receive national, international and local news.
I want this to be hard news and not necessarily political spin. The second
element is my Blog which I try to write every day. It is my personal reflections
on politics and public life and it tends to provoke reactions of both praise
The latest element of the site is streaming web video which I call MPTV.
While still in the early stages, I am convinced this is the way of the
future and there has been tremendous response since I started broadcasting
MPTV in June 2006.
The site also contains other content including links to a number of newspaper
articles that I wrote in the past and a number of audio podcasts that I
did during my first few weeks in Ottawa after the election. Audio is probably
the least effective medium for the internet and while I may do a few more
I think we will focus on more video than audio in the future.
What type of things do you cover on MPTV?
I did a number of interviews with some high profile individuals and with
some others who are probably less well-known outside of Ottawa. For example,
I turned the tables on several journalists by interviewing Mike Duffy of
CTV, Bill Rodgers of the Sun, and Hannah Boudreau of Global TV. I also
interviewed the Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken, several
cabinet Ministers including the President of the Treasury Board, John Baird
and Health Minister Tony Clement, and one party Leader, Jack Layton. But
the majority of interviews have been with ordinary members of Parliament,
from all parties. The mainstream media tends to ignore anyone who is not
a Cabinet Minister or party leader and I think a number of private members
have interesting stories to tell and deserve to be better known.
I do not try to replay Question Period or score political points. My goal
is to give viewers a look at the human side of politics by talking about
daily life on the Hill with all its joys and frustrations. In this way
I hope the average citizen will be able to identify with the men and women
who serve them in Ottawa and perhaps end up with a slightly better opinion
of us as a group. We also have to get along in Parliament and these sessions
can contribute to better relations between individuals from different parties.
Among the MPs I interviewed during the first month of MPTV were Garry
Breitkreuz, Myron Thompson, Lee Richardson, Gord Brown, Helena Guergis,
Ron Cannan, Senator Marjory LeBreton, John McCallum and Peter Stoffer.
I also gave viewers a tour of the newly renovated Library of Parliament
and in the future I will take them to other parts of the Parliamentary
Precincts rarely seen by most Canadians.
These interviews were broadcast live at 7:00 pm on Thursdays in June and
they are archived and available for later viewing on my site. In the
fall I hope to expand MPTV to do daily broadcasts.
Aside from interviewing fellow parliamentarians can you give some other
examples of how you use or plan to use the web site?
The possibilities are endless. The only limit is our imagination. In a
minority Parliament members cannot travel home as often as they would like
since there may be votes going on in Ottawa. If I am stuck in Ottawa I
can walk into my studio, flick on four switches and be on the internet.
I can have a video conference with someone in my constituency office or
in his or her home or office. If that person has a computer and a web cam
we can meet in real time and I can try to help them with their issues.
If a constituent is celebrating a 90th birthday or a 60th wedding anniversary
I can arrange to send them video greetings or even make an appearance,
in real time, on their computer at the time of the celebration. If there
is an event in my constituency stick a monitor on a desk and I can be there
even though I am really some 400 kilometers away in Ottawa. We are just
scratching the surface of what we can do. Eventually I may have online
office hours when my constituents can interact with me as easily as if
I was in my constituency.
There does not seem to be an obvious Conservative connection on your website
That is deliberate and I have taken heat for not having a Conservative
logo on my website. But there is a reason. I am the Member of Parliament
for all the people of Halton. I represent all my electors whether they
voted for me or for the Liberals, the NDP or even if they did not vote
at all. The last thing I want to do is to push a party logo in the face
of some constituent who is asking me to help with some particular issue.
I think many members of Parliament are losing a great opportunity to connect
with their constituents when they turn the content of their web sites over
to party headquarters.
I should add that I am willing to make my studio and facilities available
to other Members of Parliament regardless of party if they find themselves
stuck in Ottawa for a vote when they have an important meeting in their
Your website must consume enormous resources both in terms of time and
money? Do you have extra staff to manage your web site?
Not at all. The site is completely controlled by me and my two office staff
in Ottawa. We select the items that appear in our news service. We do
the filming, editing, graphics, postings and virtually all other ongoing
work in connection with the site. I did pay, out of my own pocket, about
$20,000 for the necessary cameras and related paraphernalia. The bandwidth
for MPTV is provided by the House of Commons since it has excess and unused
capacity in the evening hours. Any other expenses come out of a regular
office budget that is available to all MPs.
I did have some assistance in designing the site from William Stratas of
Planetcast. He created a page that is hand-coded to the highest technical
standards, as specified by the World Wide Web Consortium, the authoritative
global technical governance body. The page can be viewed in French, German,
Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. I won't go into any of the technical gobblygook
but the web site conforms to the highest accessibility compliance requirements
for users with physical handicaps. I know of no other web site for federal
elected representatives or government departments that offers such a high
level of accessibility for disabled Canadians.
How much of your own time is devoted to this project?
The major task for me is writing the Blog. It is about 700 words every
day. I tend to do this at around 11:00 pm each night and it takes an hour
or so. I also spend some time responding to comments from my BlackBerry
but this can be done while I am in the Chamber or in committee or at the
airport. I enjoy writing and I can do it fairly quickly so this is not
too onerous a task. The MPTV interviews take about 2 hours of my time per
week. I would estimate that my staff spend about 20 hours a week on web-related
What has been the reaction of your colleagues to this project?
Well some look at me a bit sideways but after only three weeks MPTV is
fully booked for the foreseeable future. As far as I am aware no other
MPs are broadcasting or creating content for the internet the way I am.
As time goes by more and more of them will come to the conclusion that
this is the way to go. It is not really that complicated. Young people
coming out of university today have all the skills needed to run this technology.
The hardware and software are affordable and easy to learn.
What impact is this going to have on politics and on the media?
I think there are significant consequences for MPs. In an earlier era the
railways were a revolutionary technology. They not only tied the country
together but were the means by which MPs came to Ottawa. Today the Internet
is the technology that brings the country together and takes MPs to their
There will also be a significant impact on the media. Many foresee a decline
in the printed newspaper as a source of information and an increase in
the use of online news services. There will also be a change in the relationship
between journalists and politicians. Members will come to realize that
they do not have to go trolling for microphones after question period.
They can, if they want, get their message complete and unedited out on
the internet and directed to precisely the people they want to reach.
This has huge implications for the mainstream press gallery as we know