Watching Grant Clitsome lace up his skates in the Jets dressing room and talking hockey strategy with his teammates, you probably wouldn’t expect the NHL defenceman to have politics on the mind.
The cross between hockey and politics may be an unusual one, but Clitsome’s interest in public affairs began at a young age. “I’ve always been interested in politics,” says the Ottawa native. “I minored in political science at Clarkson University (and majored in entrepreneurship) and I also took political science classes at the University of Ottawa. I think growing up in the nation’s capital too, you’re exposed to so much of that on a daily basis. I grew up less than ten minutes from the Prime Minister’s house.”
Once he leaves the MTS Centre, the 29 year-old can’t think of much else. After spending months locked-out during the 2012-13 season, Clitsome and his childhood friend, Nicolas Mann, came up with an idea that has since been consuming his every spare minute. The project is a website called YourDemocracy.ca (VotreDemocratie.ca in French) that is set to launch in the near future. The purpose is to help educate and encourage Canadian youth to make an informed vote.
“Essentially what we’re trying to do is make politics more accessible and less intimidating in a platform that’s multi-partisan. So people can see in one spot the different view points from the different parties and compare them in one easily accessible area,” explains Clitsome, talking animatedly in the MTS Centre while his teammates can be heard practicing on the ice only a few steps away.
“Really, beside the fact that I’m focused on the Winnipeg Jets and my hockey career - which is a given, this is something that I’m focused on and I really believe strongly in,” admits Clitsome, who missed most of the 2013-14 after undergoing surgery in January for a herniated disc in his lower back.
“I strongly believe in a well-informed and a well-educated electorate and I think your democracy is only as strong as your electorate,” continues Clitsome, who is clearly in tune with his country’s politics and the disconnect with young voters. “In today’s times, everything is about quick access to information and making things simpler and easier. Everything is on the go with cellphones and Ipads and the Internet, so people just don’t have a lot of time in their day to search for information,” he explains, noting that keeping track of parties and their policies on a daily basis can be difficult and time-consuming.
After discussing the issue with Mann, who lived with Clitsome during the lockout, Decanted Media was born and the idea turned into a concrete project.
“We thought of Decanted Media – if you think of a decanter, its literal purpose is to make wine better by airing it out. So we’re hoping to try and take the media that’s out there and to make it easier to understand,” laughs Clitsome, explaining how he and Mann chose their company name.
When Clitsome left Ottawa for Clarkson University, Mann headed to Carleton University where he majored in political science. He then joined the Royal Canadian Regiment’s 3rd Battalion and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 before accepting a position with NATO headquarters in Brussels. The former Canadian soldier also found himself out of a job when Clitsome was locked-out from his own. That was over a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, the two have held meetings with members of parliament to get as much input and feedback as possible.
“We ended up getting confirmation from a couple of the parties that they’re excited to participate in his project. I think what makes it unique is that part of the website will have direct participation from the parties, and the content will be generated by the parties themselves. So it’s kind of a direct voice from the parties to the electorate and it allows the parties to talk amongst each other as well,” explains Clitsome.
The website will be divided in two parts – the first will be a list of topical national subjects being discussed in the media. The users will have the option to click on any one of the topics to view the parties’ stand on the subject listed side-by-side for easy comparison. The second component of the site will be interactive. The parties themselves will generate statements, which could then be debated or contested by the other parties. “So it could be about something that happened in the House of Commons that day or it could be something in the news. Then other parties have the chance to make comments on that statement or make their own statement. It makes it interactive and fun for the viewers,” explains Clitsome.
The immediate goal is to get the support and participation from all parties and to launch the site as soon as possible. But the friends haven’t ruled out branching out beyond federal politics if all goes well. “We’re hoping to first of all get up and running and then eventually maybe expand into provincial politics and progress into a more educational role with Universities. We want to try and engage young voters, but we want it accessible for all voters – it’s not just young voters that we’re targeting.”
In a focus-group test of 73 students, two-thirds supported the idea and said YourDemocracy.ca would make them more likely to vote in the next election. The favourable feedback is encouraging, and with the season now over, Clitsome is excited to launch his project and see if Decanted Media can help boost the youth vote in Canada.