Dear Speaker Kowalski,
As an active participant in what you recently described as the “virtual wonderland” of the Internet, I am hopeful that Internet technology and online social media hold great potential to reconnect citizens, elected officials, and government in our province.
I would urge you to revisit your initial reaction to the use of online communications from the floor of the Assembly. I agree that Members should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, but it is important to understand the limitless potential that these technologies now play in connecting elected Members to citizens outside the Dome.
During the February 4, 2009 Members’ Services Committee meeting, you warned MLAs about taking the advice of “hotshot” staffers in their Caucuses who were pushing the elected representatives to become more Internet savvy. These comments lead me to believe that you may not fully understand the power of these technologies to reconnect citizens with their democratic institutions, such as the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. A democratic institution remains effective only as long as those occupying it remain relevant and connected to the citizens the Assembly exists to represent. With less than forty percent of Albertans having participated in the last election, this is a very real concern.
Online social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, have developed quickly, and it is understandable that someone in the position of Speaker would not be fully exposed to their nuances. Instead of instituting a blanket ban on technology during Question Period, I would ask that you reflect on the changes in technology that have occurred since you first stepped into elected office nearly thirty years ago.
This technology has the real potential to engage citizens with MLAs on the floor of the Assembly.
If you are interested in learning more, it would be my pleasure as a citizen of Alberta to meet with you and offer reflections on my personal experience of how online social media and internet technology can re-energize citizenship in our province.
PS. I’ve taken the liberty of posting this letter on my blog, http://www.daveberta.ca, so that other Albertans can have the opportunity to join this debate online.