Game Changers Guest Post: Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister

NOTE: We asked each of our 2009 Game Changers Awards finalists to write about their projects, what they’ve learned along the way and what’s next. This essay submitted by Stuart Coxe, Executive Producer and Guinevere Orvis, Interactive Producer of Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister.

Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister is a game changer. It begins with casting where we were the first prime time show in Canada to use YouTube to cast – a model that has since been copied by Canadian Idol and others.

Next, applicants debate platforms with one another through forums and video replies. Their dialogue grew into the largest online political debate in Canadian history.

We then challenge the candidates to take their political ideas and try to put them into practice in their hometowns across the country. For many, this is the first time they’ve seen their municipal governments work. Some lobby the federal government with petitions, other candidates hold fundraising events for charity and one person even convinced his university to offer a free course to homeless students. The community event challenge is an overwhelming success, resulting in real change taking place in communities across Canada.

A panel of judges reviews all online activity and chooses ten semi-finalists to come to Toronto and compete head-to-head in a weekend long political boot camp. The entire boot camp is taped and footage is released as podcasts with 8,000 downloads per week. From the boot camp, the top four competitors are chosen to compete in the television show. By now, over ¼ million Canadians have watched the online videos and over 7500 people have joined Facebook groups supporting their favourite candidate — and this is all before the show airs.

The show features our top four candidates facing off in front of four former Prime Ministers who grill the candidates with hard-hitting political questions. The candidates respond and debate with one another, then finally audience votes on the winner who receives $50,000 and paid internships. The three runners-up receive $5,000 prizes and paid internships as well. Over one million people tune in to watch these four exceptional young Canadians present and defend their ideas to politicians who have lead the country. Many of our former finalists have gone on to extraordinary experiences as a direct result of the prizing which helps jump-start careers for many who are just out of college.

Minutes after the show aired, we released the complete episode online, DRM-free, using the BitTorrent protocol – the first prime time television show in North America to have done so. The result of this was news coverage worldwide with thousands of positive comments.

We welcome the challenge to better the competition each year. This year, we wanted to encourage not just the competitors, but anyone to get involved. So, we opened up our selection process to the public. Now, anybody can log onto our site, watch the videos and vote for their favourite candidate. Our political hopefuls can earn a place at boot camp, just like a real political would earn his or her political seat. Now we are looking at releasing footage under a Creative Commons license so candidates can remix it and create their own political messages.

The original idea behind Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister was to get young people interested and involved in politics and that goal has been achieved. And now, it’s going to be reproduced around the world in 14 different countries where CBC has sold the format. We hope that the show will inspire youth everywhere it is seen.

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