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Politics and the public good

Political Science faculty, instructors share expertise with voters

By Terri Coles

The ongoing provincial election is unusual in more ways than one.

But faculty members from the Department of Political Science at Memorial are helping voters make sense of the situation through public engagement.

Dr. Kelly Blidook, an associate professor in the department, made a video explainer to help people understand Newfoundland and Labrador’s current political circumstances.

A question from anti-poverty advocate Dan Meades prompted Dr. Blidook to make the video, he says.

“There wasn’t anything out there that kind of captured the whole thing,” he said, adding that interviews with media can be piecemeal because they are usually reactionary and focused.

With the video, he hopes to provide a beginners’ overview of the situation.

“I tried to think of it as a regular lecture for an introductory level class, or even for a high school class,” Dr. Blidook said. “It was meant to bring together a lot of different ideas and try to figure out what the best path is.”

Watch the video below.

Sharing expertise

The video is one of several ways that he is contributing to public discourse about the election, which moved to mail-in ballots only when the province went into another pandemic-related shutdown in mid-February.

Dr. Blidook is also a regular commentator for CBC. He also does interviews with other media outlets and contributes to conversations online via Twitter.

“Academics, in Canada at least, are significantly funded by the public,” Dr. Blidook said.

Writing books and articles is one way he and his colleagues provide a public good, he says, but most people won’t read them. Social media and media interviews are a way to share knowledge and spur conversation in real time.

Department-wide contributions

Dr. Blidook is one of several instructors and faculty members in the department who are sharing their political science expertise with the public.

Dr. Amanda Bittner also does regular media interviews and appearances, and shares insights and expertise on social media.

Dr. Amanda Bittner, wearing a beige shirt and a black blazer, looks at the camera and smiles.
Dr. Amanda Bittner is a professor in the Department of Political Science.

“This election is tough to navigate — both as a “regular” citizen and an expert on elections and voting,” Dr. Bittner said.

She says she values the behind-the-scenes conversations she has with colleagues as they try to make sense of both the election and what it means for the province.

Some of those Political Science colleagues are having conversations with the public, too. Dr. Russell Williams uses social media to engage on the election and also does regular media interviews.

And along with lawyer Lyle Skinner, his colleague Dr. Alex Marland helped with Dr. Blidook’s video content.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues for sharing their expertise on social media and in traditional media interviews,” Dr. Bittner said.

A positive response

Dr. Blidook says the response to his video, which he uploaded to YouTube a week ago, has been largely positive so far.

The 22-minute video has almost 600 views and sparked discussion on Twitter. In the meantime, Political Science faculty and instructors continue to do media interviews as the election continues.

Amid the ongoing discussion, Dr. Bittner says that nobody has a crystal ball for the province’s future. But she hopes the importance of planning and preparation is one takeaway from the “pandemic” election.

“We have much to learn from this. It is my hope that on a go-forward basis, we take political processes more seriously in the province.”


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