Ryan Dochuk wanted to keep track of what his elected representatives were up to: follow them on social media, create a few news alerts, the usual. There was just one problem: a place with this info didn’t exist. “This surprised me, but there really is no single website you can go to,” Dochuk says. “There’s a site for MPs and for provinces, and some big cities have sites for councillors — but it’s a mess. The first time I tried to find all my representatives manually, it took me a couple hours.”
So, Dochuk decided to create his own app. After all, he’s one of the founders of Toronto start-up success story TunnelBear, a virtual private network (VPN) app with 50 million users, and now runs the tech company OnlyForward.
In just six weeks, Dochuk and his team designed and launched Gov’r. Type in your postal code, and Gov’r finds all your federal, provincial and municipal elected reps and candidates in all the major parties, and provides news, tweets and other feeds concerning them. It’s sure to come in handy for the upcoming elections, but Dochuk hopes that it will be helpful year-round for folks looking to stay informed. “We saw an opportunity to create a modern platform that makes politics more accessible,” he says, “especially for young Canadians who have different needs for how they want to engage.” The app is available on iPhone and iPad, with an Android version arriving next month.
Users can ask candidates and reps questions via the app, too, whether it’s inquiring about why they voted a certain way on a bill or what their upcoming priorities will be. Politicians can then post short video responses in the app that are shared with the whole riding. If all candidates and reps answer the same question, the responses can be played back-to-back in the app, creating a sort of on-demand micro-debate (no town hall attendance required).
A dozen Ontario MPPs and candidates are already on board with Gov’r. “We think democracy works best when representatives and candidates hear more voices,” Dochuk says. “People want to know they’ve been heard, that their reps are acknowledging and representing them in government.”
Chris Glover, the MPP for Spadina-Fort York, is one of them. “I’m thrilled to support a local start-up based in Toronto, especially one that is doing the good work of making democracy more accessible to our communities,” Glover says. “I’m especially excited that this app is going to engage young people by giving them a quick snapshot of what their representatives are saying and doing on a day-to-day basis. It is important for people to reflect on their values and do research to learn which party’s platform is the one they want to support, and technology also allows them to search their party’s track record of keeping promises.”
Beyond the upcoming provincial election, Dochuk is excited to add more federal MPs and support the Toronto election candidates in October: “Democracy is stronger when it has informed, engaged citizens.”