On Monday afternoon, Canadian opposition party the New Democrats (NDP) hosted a virtual question period on Twitter… three days after Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, shut it down.
Canadian politicians were alerted on Friday that they wouldn’t have to come to work for another month. Prime Minister Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament had been granted that afternoon, which meant that the current session of Parliament came to an end.
In this case, Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament because most of legislation he sought to pass since the beginning of the session two years ago had been passed – but not all politicians were happy with the extended vacation.
As the CBC reports, the NDP decided to host question period – a roughly 45-minute daily session where politicians can question the government on issues of the day – on Twitter since they couldn’t do it in person.
Using the hashtag #QPQ the party leader Tom Mulcair and several other members tweeted the questions they would have asked Mr. Harper and his government if the House of Commons were still in session.
Mr. Mulcair kicked off the virtual question period with this question, which earned a whopping 172 retweets:
— Thomas Mulcair (@ThomasMulcair) September 16, 2013
And although it was directed to the Prime Minister’s Twitter account, Mr. Harper did not respond – but that didn’t stop the NDP and other Canadians from chiming in with their own questions to the government. For instance NDP Member of Parliament Chris Charlton asked:
— Chris Charlton (@ChrisCharltonMP) September 16, 2013
And the Minister of Industry James Moore even responded (after he tweeted that he couldn’t respond due to being on the road at the time):
— James Moore (@JamesMoore_org) September 16, 2013
Other members of the NDP attempted to engage Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Treasury Board president Tony Clement with their questions on Twitter.
And as the questions started picking up steam, the stunt picked up a wide Twitter audience, too.
According to Hashtracking, #QPQ has seen 384 total tweets, with 129 of them being originals, 232 being retweets and 23 being @mentions. The hashtag has been delivered to 2,369,471 timelines with a reach of 769,991. NDP Leader Mulcair (@thomasmulcair), MP Olivia Chow (@oliviachow) and CBC reporter Rosemary Barton (@rosiebarton) were among the most influential tweeters participating.
Of course, this is just one of the many ways that Twitter is being used by governments around the world, but it’s a sign that social media helps foster transparency between representatives and their constituents.