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Government policy decisions, in 140 characters or less

Industry Minister Tony Clement makes an aerospace announcement in Montreal on Jan. 13, 2011.


Forget press releases or exclusive interviews - for the populist Harper government, Twitter has become the tool of choice to speak directly to Canadians on the "unlimited Internet access" controversy.

Both Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement have used Twitter, an Internet instant messaging service, to make significant announcements this week aimed at placating the raging consumer backlash against a CRTC decision on the price of Internet service.

The Prime Minister's Office turned to Mr. Harper's Twitter account - followed by more 85,000 people - to signal its displeasure with a CRTC ruling that would effectively kill "unlimited access" Internet accounts.

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Then, on Wednesday evening, Mr. Clement used Twitter to drop a bombshell ultimatum, confirming reports in The Globe and Mail and elsewhere that the Tories would overturn the CRTC decision unless the regulator did so itself.

"True. CRTC must go back to drawing board," Mr. Clement tweeted after being asked if it was correct the government would act "if the CRTC does not back down."

Breaking government policy decisions via Internet messaging isn't sitting well with everyone.

Former CRTC vice-chair Richard French said the Tories are sidelining the normal due process for making far-reaching decisions: "This is government by tweet, and amateur night at the Industry Department."

The Tory government has effectively tailored the medium to the message this week in selecting the rapid distribution power of Twitter to demonstrate to Internet users and potential voters how they're handling the consumer controversy.

Mr. Clement is the most avid Twitter user in the federal cabinet, having posted more than 2,500 messages, and more than 8,300 people follow his messages.

Even before he overruled the federal regulator on Wednesday, the Industry Minister used his Twitter account to turn up the heat on CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein, who was scheduled to defend the "usage-based billing" decision to MPs the next day.

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Mr. Clement said he would be "looking forward to the CRTC chairman's appearance before the House Industry Committee … to explain his support for the UBB decision."

It was just hours later that he instead broke the news that the Tories would undo the decision unless the CRTC does it first.

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