Some N.W.T. incumbents still using their MLA social media accounts

Social media is now a part of most election campaigns, but there are few rules in the N.W.T. governing incumbent candidates' use of Facebook and Twitter accounts that they used in their role as MLAs.

Though eight incumbents were defeated in the last election, it's generally believed that MLAs seeking re-election have a big advantage over their challengers, mainly due to the public profiles they build while travelling and serving as members of the Legislative Assembly.

Part of that build-up is done through the use of Twitter and Facebook. Most MLAs post photos of themselves at meetings, talk about their work in the legislature, post messages about government programs — it is a quick and easy way to communicate with constituents.

Though most incumbents seeking re-election have deactivated, or at least renamed, their MLA social media accounts, some are still active. Of those, some include photos that appear to be taken by staff, at taxpayer expense.

Though there are few rules governing social media accounts, there is a general rule that incumbent MLAs cannot use any resources paid for by taxpayers in their bids for re-election.

For example, Wally Schumann, who is running for re-election in Hay River South, still regularly posts to his MLA Twitter account, which features a profile photo that appears to be an official photo taken at the Legislative Assembly. He uses the same photo as his profile picture on a Facebook account set up for his re-election campaign.

Similarly, Sahtu incumbent Daniel McNeely's MLA Facebook page is still active, with profile photos of himself in the Legislative Assembly chamber. Nunakput incumbent Herb Nakimayak also has an active MLA page on Facebook with a profile photo that appears to be from the same photo shoot as Schumann's.

Schumann said he and other MLAs were instructed not to hold themselves out as MLAs on social media during their campaigns. He said he instructed one of the people helping with his campaign to change the description under his name on his Twitter account from "Wally Schumann Hay River South MLA" to "Wally Schumann for Hay River South MLA."

That was done shortly after Schumann spoke to CBC News.

'Don't worry about it'

Twitter

Schumann's rival for the Hay River seat said he has been alerted to Schumann's MLA account.

"Some people had mentioned that, but I said, 'Don't worry about it,'" said Rocky Simpson. He said social media is not as important in small northern ridings as it is in ridings with populations in the tens of thousands.

"It's more boots to the ground for us and talking to people on a personal level, face-to-face," said Simpson. "That's the approach I'm taking."

Schumann said social media has become an increasingly popular way for northerners to communicate.

Chief electoral officer Nicole Latour said she has received complaints about incumbents renaming social media accounts they had as MLAs to allow them to continue to reach all of those who followed them during their tenure as MLAs.

She said there's nothing in the act that says that's wrong.

"People say that's an advantage to have that guy having that many people following him," said Latour. "But how many of those people actually belong in their electoral district?"

Facebook

The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly has been careful to eliminate any advantage its website provides to incumbents. Before the campaigning began, it featured photos, names and ridings of each MLA on the site, as well as a similar list showing photos and portfolios of each cabinet minister. All of that is now gone.

The clerk's office at the assembly, which is the authority on rules governing incumbent MLAs during election campaigns, did not respond to repeated requests from CBC for information about what rules govern the use of social media.

At the federal level, an official with the Office of the Speaker said the House of Commons does not regulate incumbent MPs' use of Facebook or Twitter during election campaigns.