MP liked what he heard over the phone

Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day held a townhall meeting with thousands of his constituents earlier this week.

And he did it without setting foot in his riding.

The local MP, whose riding includes the Westside, had to be in Vancouver with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, scuttling his original plan to be in Penticton to conduct his first ever telephone townhall meeting.

But his physical absence made no difference as 9,000 people were recorded as participating in the one-hour meeting, which was conducted by telephone. 

“I’m very happy with the way it went,” said Day. 

“It’s one more way to get the message out and feedback in.”

The meeting, which was preceded by a call to 40,000 numbers in the riding inviting those who answered to stay on the line for the event, was made possible by advances in telephone technology, he said. 

It drew thousands more then would normally attend a live meeting.

It also afforded those who listened in an opportunity to ask questions directly of Day and get his direct response, participate in three instant polls he conducted during the event and allowed those whose questions could not be included because of time constraints to leave messages for the MP to follow up on.

Day said in addition to the 17 questions he was asked during the call, 200 other questions were left for him to respond to. 

They covered a wide array of government operations and services.

“There’s no question technology is leading to a greater democracy,” said Day.

In addition to the questions, during the call Day asked participants if the federal government is right to tackle the current $50 billion federal deficit by spending cuts and not raising taxes (79 per cent said yes), if the government should hold the line on operational sending instead of raising taxes (79 per cent said yes) and if federal money should be spent on building new professional sports arenas (80 per cent said no).

During the call, participants were asked to press numbers on their dial pads to get in a “virtual” line-up to ask questions, which  Day responded to.

Most of the questions gave Day the opportunity to tell people what the federal government was doing to help the economy and any suggestions were noted and he said he would present them to finance officials in Ottawa preparing this year’s budget.

Day said of the 40,000 who were called, 28,000 answered and 12,000 others messages left. 

A toll-free number was published in last Sunday’s Capital News for anyone not called who wanted to participate.

Day said he planned to be in the riding to host the meeting but was called to Vancouver to be with the prime minister.

He said the advantage of the telephone townhall meeting was that he could participate despite being out of the riding and did not have to cancel as he would have done with a live meeting.

Despite his satisfaction with his first foray into live telephone townhall meetings, Day said he does not feel they will replace face-to-face meetings with individuals. 

Instead, he said, they are another tool to gather feedback from constituents.

Day said he plans to hold more telephone townhall meetings in future and will recommend them to other MPs when he returns to Ottawa next week.