By Jackie Hong
Justin Trudeau has become the latest big name to visit Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ). In an hour-long stop during his federal Liberal leader election campaign Wednesday, Trudeau toured the DMZ office at 10 Dundas East, speaking with startup company teams and trying out their products.
In particular, Trudeau focused on SoapBox, an online, social media-based application created by Ryerson startup HitSend Inc. that is currently used by Ryerson to gather student opinions. SoapBox allows users to post ideas which other users can vote on, share, and discuss.
Trudeau’s been using SoapBox to voice his political stances since early February, and said that 10,000 people a day are logging on to it to “contribute their ideas, to debate, to actually feel involved for once in what the government is actually supposed to be doing for them.” He praised its innovative approach to engaging Canadians from all demographics.
HitSend Inc founder and CEO Brennan McEachran, a commerce student at Ryerson, said that he met Trudeau just over a year ago. After he announced that he was running for Liberal leadership, McEachran approached Trudeau again and worked with his team to find a way to incorporate SoapBox into his campaign.
“SoapBox is… a great tool for engaging that community across the country, across vast geographic areas,” McEachran said during a demonstration. “Today was great, I think that it was awesome to see [Trudeau] interact with the system… You know he’s hearing the voice of the community.”
McEachran noted that HitSend Inc. is non-partisan, and hope that more politicians will use SoapBox to connect with Canadians in the future.
Trudeau also met with team members from Bionik Labs, a medical technology company focused on creating technology to help people with limited physical ability, and Ping Pong Story, a web-based tool for children that allows them to create stories using a variety of media while building their literary skills.
Ping Pong Story founder Debora Rubin said that it was “great” to meet Trudeau, especially because his stances on education line up with her company’s goals.
“I hope he can take action and, as he said, invest in education… given that our project is to increase literacy in Canada and across the world,” Rubin said.
Shortly before leaving, Trudeau answered questions from the media about his campaign, including voter registration and the need to get Canadians involved in politics.
“A leadership campaign is not a time where you put forward a platform that you then try to sell for the next two years,” Trudeau said. “It’s about actually generating the platform that will allow us to develop a strong policy platform in… 2015, in time for the election.”
He emphasized though, that that did not mean he hasn’t taken concrete stances on issues, citing his opposition to the current Conservative government’s war on drugs and support for electoral reform and the need for a major shift in federal politics as examples.
“I continue to believe that it’s not enough to simply replace Mr. Harper with a different government – we have to replace him with a better government, and I know 100 per cent of Liberals share that goal,” Trudeau said.
The DMZ, a hub for technological innovation and startups, has previously hosted guests such as former premier Dalton McGuinty, former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, celebrated novelist Margaret Atwood, Dragon’s Den co-star Brett Wilson and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.