Don't try to set up an interview with Industry Minister Tony Clement through a staff member. Could take days. Instead, send @TonyClement_MP a direct message on Twitter. He'll get back to you within minutes for a chat, and might call, even if it's from Denmark. You have to appreciate the poetry of this: In my case, I wasn't interested in speaking to Mr. Clement about copyright legislation or global bank taxes, but rather about his mastery of communicating online in 140 characters or less: a Twitter phenom.
In the House of Commons, Mr. Clement is the sober, unhip poindexter whose side-part hair and glasses have earned him comparisons to Milhouse from The Simpsons, but tweeting, he's the smartass who drops wry one-liners. "At first, [people] didn't believe it was me, which was a bit disconcerting," Mr. Clement says. "I offered to show them my driver's licence or something."
His Twitter feed is a repository of pop-culture references. He slips in nods to Trekkies ("This morning: announcing $$ for university research infrastructure. Included: human-robot interaction lab! Not The Borg, I trust..."), pop stars ("#taylorswift concert: more costumes than Cher; more angst than Courtney Love!"), and sci-fi blockbusters ("#Avatar:Cameron says BluRay release has longer Navi sex scene. Since they connect their chords with everything that moves, that's every scene!").
Casual and off-the-cuff as his tweets seem, he says he meditates over what he has written before he hits send. "I don't attack other people, including other politicians. I'm not relentlessly partisan. ... Those are just turnoffs."
Met with an IT guy who totally looked like the Asian guy in ‘Hangover'. Only not naked... Tweet by Tony Clement
Indeed, in an oatmeal sea of insipid tweets from other public figures (most of which are pounded out by staff), Mr. Clement's witty messages pop. His updates were particularly refreshing last week compared with, say, those from U.S. cabinet secretaries Ray LaHood, Gary Locke and Hilda Solis (recommended by President Barack Obama to his own four million Twitter followers).
Mr. Locke, at a trade mission in Jakarta, tweeted, "Great lunch with the American Chamber of Commerce here in Indonesia. The special relationship the U.S. has with Indonesia is critical." That same day, Mr. Clement tweeted from the World Congress on Information Technology in Amsterdam: "Met with an IT guy who totally looked like the Asian guy in 'Hangover'. Only not naked..."
The fact that his Twitter feed isn't a Conservative Party soapbox has won him an eclectic mix of followers, since he started tweeting in March.
"May not share poli beliefs with him, but @TonyClement_MP may just be my fave politician...seems very down-to-earth & likeable. And funny," one user tweeted.
Before Twitter, Mr. Clement said he had never been publicly labelled as the funny guy.
"I always thought I had a decent sense of humour, but this has just been an avenue to explore that a little bit."He adds: "But I'm not exactly going to go on tour like Conan."