Social media can be a powerful tool. Ask anyone running for public office.
The recent protest rally in Metchosin, the one at which many of the 150-odd people in attendance truly believed Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be in the area that day for a Conservative Party fundraiser, saw its numbers soar primarily through the promotion on Facebook of what local party workers say was a rumour-based invitation.
Teresa Sullivan, campaign manager for Conservative candidate Shari Lukens in the Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke riding, was notified by a fellow party supporter a couple of days before the event of the presence of a Facebook event invite page, announcing that Harper would be in Metchosin for a private fundraiser. She found it curious that she and the source had heard nothing about the PM coming to town.
“I was surprised, first and foremost, then I got concerned that people might be looking to crash the fundraiser,” she said.
Sullivan confirmed that the fundraiser, a joint event for Lukens’ riding and the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford riding, did in fact happen on Oct. 3. She stressed, however, that “the prime minister doesn’t attend fundraising events” and added the that the prime minister’s public events are announced via media advisory.
Metchosin resident Wendy Mitchell, one of the organizers of the event, said word came down from “a reliable source” the week before that Harper was “going to be flying in for a very quiet Conservative fundraiser” at a private residence in the district.
By the Friday (Oct. 2), it was clear that the PM would not be attending the event, but organizers didn’t want to stop a respectful gathering of like-minded people, Mitchell said.
“The whole thing took on its own legs,” she said, adding of her group, that “we all knew that we were not going to see anyone, at least not on the ground here.”
Based on the fact many people already knew Harper would not be in Metchosin that day, Sullivan said the Gazette’s headline, “Prime minister no-show for his own party,” was erroneous.
“Everybody has a right to peaceful protest,” she said, “but this was not about the protesters. It was respectful freedom of expression.”
But as Gazette reporter Katherine Engqvist and Mitchell both discovered, a number of people, many of whom came from up-Island, were still fully expecting the prime minister to be in Metchosin that day.