Francois Legault on Twitter: From hero to zero

Francois Legault

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently the Quebec correspondent covering the provincial election for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared.

This week’s lesson in 21st century campaigning: blocking critics on twitter is like refusing to shake a voter’s hand.

On Tuesday of last week I discovered that Francois Legault’s twitter account had blocked me. A quick look around the social media site revealed I was not alone. On that day he had apparently blocked dozens of people, for unknown reasons.

Blocking critics left and right, making widely ridiculed “demands” of Quebec students (which spawned the derisive, and hilarious, hashtag #laCAQdemande) and falsely accusing a writer covering the election of engaging in personal attacks are all textbook examples of doing it wrong on social media.

I took to twitter to point out that blocking critics was an unwise thing for a politician to do, especially one running to be leader of the province. I described it as earned negative publicity, a point made clear the next day when CBC Radio’s Homerun show covered the issue. The CAQ and Legault did not respond to an offer to participate in that segment.

In the interview, which is unfortunately not available online, I speculated that I had either been blocked for a feature profile I did of fired CAQ candidate Kamal Lutfi, in which Lutfi was highly critical of Legault, or for a tweet criticizing Legault’s changing position on Bill 78.

The next day Legault was interviewed on Homerun, where they played him a clip of my interview and asked him to comment. He repeatedly asserted that the only people he had blocked on twitter had engaged in personal attacks against him, and implied that I had been sending him insults and personal attacks.

I created a Storify with the transcript of Legault’s interview, and all of the tweets I sent to him in the week before he blocked me. I was critical of him on a couple of occasions, which is my job, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if anything I wrote qualifies as a personal attack.

Today, at the insistence of a CAQ staffer, Legault finally unblocked me on twitter.

The irony of this story is that I had written an article ten days ago ranking each of the different parties prowess on social media. I gave the CAQ high marks and singled out Legault for being the only major party leader using the medium. I argued that he was using twitter effectively, and embracing the interactivity of the medium.

If he had set out to prove me wrong, and demonstrate how quickly one can go from hero to zero on twitter, he could hardly have done a better job.

After a promising start, which earned him widespread praise and respect, Legault’s gaffe-filled week should serve as a cautionary tale for other politicians on Twitter. I maintain that a little common sense would do wonders in avoiding such blunders, but that seems to be in short supply among Quebec politicians who are learning how to use social media as they go.

 

Bits and pieces from the campaign trail

My sources inform me that a memo was sent to all NDP staffers in Quebec, instructing them to stay out of the provincial election campaign. While it’s understandable that the NDP would not want to be seen as taking sides, many staffers are unhappy about being prevented from helping out their chosen party, or even commenting publicly on the campaign. I am told the staff union is contemplating a grievance.

***

photo: John Morstad (McGill)

While four party leaders will take part in Radio-Canada’s official campaign debate, rival network TVA stirred the pot this week by announcing plans for anadditional three debates which will exclude Quebec Solidaire, and feature only the leaders of the PLQ, PQ and CAQ.

As far as I’m concerned, all the debates should include not only QS, but also Option Nationale and the Quebec Green Party. However, I do understand the rationale for excluding ON (polling below 1%, sole MNA is a floor crosser) and the PVQ (polling around 3.5%, no MNAs).

Quebec Solidaire on the other hand is polling around 10%, and boasts an elected MNA. In fact, they are polling higher in this province than the NDP were at the beginning of last May’s election campaign, and hold the same number of Quebec seats the NDP did then, and we all know how that turned out.

It has been pointed out frequently on twitter and elsewhere that TVA is owned by Quebecor, the massive media conglomerate run by Pierre-Karl Peladeau. To say that the man behind Sun News Network opposes the policies of QS would be putting it mildly, and I certainly hope this exclusion is not politically motivated.

Whatever the reason for it, excluding QS from these debates will fundamentally alter the landscape of this election. For many voters, the debates are their best opportunity to assess the leaders and make up their mind. If QS is excluded from these debates, it is likely they will slip off the radar of many voters.

Agree or disagree with their politics, we should all acknowledge that QS has earned a seat at the table, and pressure TVA to re-consider.

***
photo from CBCWill Prosper, the co-founder of Montreal-Nord Republik and its main spokesperson, announced today that he would be running for Quebec Solidaire in the riding of Bourassa-Sauve. Montreal Nord-Republik was born out of the riots that engulfed Montreal North after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Fredy Villanueva by Montreal police officers, who were  later cleared of wrongdoing in the case.

A passionate and articulate advocate for the marginalized and immigrant communities in Montreal’s North end, Prosper and his organization have been tirelessly fighting the widely acknowledged racial profiling Montreal’s police force routinely engage in. But Prosper is more than an activist with an axe to grind against the police. He is an ex-cop himself, who spent five years with the RCMP before becoming the de facto spokesperson for Montreal North.

The riding of Bourassa-Sauve has a high concentration of immigrants, and a significant black community. Prosper is one of the most widely respected leaders within those communities, and if he can convince their members to engage with the political process, and even help out on his campaign, this could become a riding to watch. Here’s an old profile from the Toronto Star.

Follow Ethan Cox on twitter, where he keeps tabs on all the latest news from #Qc2012 and the #ggi:@EthanCoxMTL

*Photos from Rabble.ca, John Morstad, and CBC.

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