CBC's Wish List results push comfort zones
By Jim Coggins
These ultrasound images appear -- with a comment about CBC's Great Canadian Wish List -- at socon-or-bust.blogspot.com
WHEN Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Mike Wise came up with an idea to get Canadians talking, he had no idea what to expect. He certainly didn't expect abortion to be the primary issue Canadians wanted to talk about.
Wise and the CBC launched the Great Canadian Wish List June 28 in association with Facebook and a youth group called Student Vote.
Facebook was founded in 2004 as a website where Harvard University students could talk to each other. It quickly expanded to other universities and high schools, and now has 28 million users worldwide, including three million in Canada. Users register, and then join various groups and discussion forums.
CBC established the Great Canadian Wish List forum and invited users to post a wish for Canada's future and have others discuss it ("Make a wish, tell your friends, build a list"). The results of the discussions would then be reported on Canada's birthday, July 1.
In his introductory post to the list, Wise said the Wish List "wants to harness the power of . . . fibre-optic cable to get people talking about the country's future." He said he was hoping for ideas such as John A. MacDonald's dream in 1867 to build a national railroad -- and he said he hoped people would "take this opportunity to make wishes that push the limits of our collective comfort zone."
Pushing the limits of the collective comfort zone was precisely what happened. Right from the beginning, Wilfrid Laurier University student Dave Gilbert's wish to "abolish abortion in Canada" soared to first place and remained there throughout the discussion period.
Altogether, 32,000 Canadians participated in the forums, making 1,600 wishes. Of these, 9,543 joined the discussion of Gilbert's wish. The second most popular wish was Kirsten Van Houten's "wish that Canada would remain pro-choice," with 8008 participants. In addition, 832 joined the discussion of the 13th wish for "recognition of personhood before birth," and 595 joined discussion of the 18th wish (a virtual repetition of Gilbert's) to "end abortion in Canada."
Not all who joined discussion of a particular wish supported it. Pro-choice supporters joined the discussion of Gilbert's wish, and pro-life supporters joined the discussion of Van Houten's wish. The discussions became so heated that Gilbert and Van Houten made an agreement to try to defend the other's supporters from abusive comments.
In third place, Jacky Leung's wish "for a spiritual revival in our nation" drew 4,508 participants. This was balanced somewhat by the 22nd wish, that "Canada Were Atheist," which drew 544 participants.
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Kara Lynn Turton's wish to "restore the traditional definition of marriage" came fourth with 4,485 participants, and Jonathan Baarda's wish to "abolish same sex marriage" came 27th with 494 participants. However, the wish that "Canada should keep abortions and gay marriage legal" came seventh, with 2308 participants, and the "wish same sex marriages will continue to be legal" came 11th, with 1072 participants.
Other popular topics included lower tuition fees, the environment, health care and political reform.
Some online critics of the wish list complained that it had been "hijacked by special interest groups" and that some groups were "cheating" by mounting campaigns in support of their sites, joining multiple times and encouraging Americans to join.
Pro-life Catholic blogger Suzanne Fortin of Ottawa mobilized people to keep "abolish abortion" in top spot. Pro-choice groups did the same.
However, Wise told CC.com that Facebook had expected its users to mount campaigns, and that the problem of users joining more than once had been resolved. He also noted that the 32,000 participants included only 832 Americans and 272 people from other countries and there was no discernible pattern of them supporting one side or the other.
While critics pointed out that the Wish List results differ significantly from public opinion polls, Wise insisted the format was never intended to be a scientific poll and that to some extent it measured "depth of feeling." He suggested the exercise demonstrated there are "large pockets of strong feeling" on both sides of the various issues.
Noting that most of the Wish List's participants were fairly young -- from high school to their 30s -- Wise said the strong showing for pro-life views demonstrates that "that issue is not closed in a lot of people's minds. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of that politically."
Wise is an elder in Glenview Presbyterian Church, though he said he was careful not to let his personal opinions intrude in the process. He said many critics thought the CBC might try to control the results, but the comments were not censored or moderated. Almost 300 participants even subscribed to a wish to "abolish the CBC."
On the whole, Wise was very pleased with the result. "The participation levels were great," he said, adding that the discussions "for the most part were serious and on topic."
http://www.canadianchristianity.com/nat ... 07cbc.html