OTTAWA – All MPs worked the barbecue circuit this summer, but only some worked the online circuit as well.
During the winter parliamentary sitting, MPs tweeted an average of 2,700 times a week, while in the summer that dropped to about 1,900, according to a new report by Ottawa-based digital public affairs firm Full Duplex.
The drop likely reflects the role Twitter plays for MPs, suggested report author Mark Blevis.
When the House of Commons is sitting, Twitter is a tool MPs use to feel like part of the action and to communicate with constituents or issue-based stakeholders.
But when Parliament is on a break, there’s less of a desire to be online, he said.
“I think a lot of MPs probably put their BlackBerrys and iPhones and iPads down for the summer so they can go around and shake hands participate in events in their constituencies,” he said.
The report, Peace, Order and Googleable Government, aims to explore whether MPs and the public were talking about the same things online.
Just as MP Twitter traffic slowed over the summer months, so too did that of ordinary Canadians.
Overall, Canadians marked 500,349 of their tweets as relating to Canadian politics during the political off-season, about half as many as during the longer winter session, the report found.
The issues raised were wide-ranging, as people tagged everything from posts about the Olympics to the Quebec election as part of the national political debate.
Six themes dominated: health, oil-and-gas, science, crime, the environment and the robocall scandal.
For MPs, it was similar. They covered a wide variety of topics including their summer barbecues and community fundraising events.
“It wasn’t all social, though,” the report found.
There was still a substantial amount of political rhetoric, and language choice was “clearly aligned to party talking points.”
The dominant themes in the MPs’ tweets were mostly in sync with the public’s conversations.
Five of the six most tweeted themes by MPs were the same as those discussed by the public, with one exception.
MPs largely ignored the robocalls scandal, with immigration being a higher profile subject.
Within the themes were a number of different topics. For example, on oil-and-gas, opposition MPs were focused on an oil spill from a pipeline in Wisconsin, while Tory MPs mostly highlighted a helicopter tour of the oilsands.
In crime, most Tory tweeters reacted to the shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, while NDP MPs were focused on a shooting the night of the Quebec provincial election.
Liberals topped the list of most prolific tweeters, with MPs Denis Coderre and Carolyn Bennett taking the first two spots with 1,682 and 1,276 tweets respectively. Green party MP Elizabeth May came in third.
Five Tory MPs made the top 10 list, including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Heritage Minister James Moore.
Absent was the senior Tory often referred to as the “minister for Twitter,” Tony Clement, who tweeted just over 300 times during the summer break compared with 10th place finisher Tory MP Brad Butt at 429 tweets.
No New Democrats cracked the top 10 though one of the party’s most frequent tweeters, Charlie Angus, publicly quit using the service during the spring.
But when it came to weighing in on issues most discussed by the public, they were collectively out in full force.
More New Democrat MPs tweeted about science, oil and gas and environment issues than Tories or Liberals.
MPs of all stripes were also more likely to engage in conversation over Twitter than the public.
Twenty-one per cent of MPs’ messages were in reply to other people, compared to only nine per cent of public messages.