This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.
It was 1996. Jean Chretien had been prime minister of Canada for three years, and he had another seven to go. The right wing of Canada's political spectrum had not yet united—Preston Manning led the Reform Party, Jean Charest was leading the Progressive Conservatives. The Bloc Québécois, led by Lucien Bouchard, was the country's second-largest party, and Alexa McDonough was the head of the nearly demolished NDP.
It was a simpler time. It was a time when MS Paint was top of the line, Java reigned supreme, and Adobe Shockwave was but a dream. Political parties were just beginning to explore the possibility of shilling for votes on the vast, open internet.
It was also a time when, upon logging onto the World Wide Web address of http://www.liberal.ca/home.html, you would be greeted by this hideous red-on-black design over the governing party's website. Clicking a little red maple leaf marked "English" would bring you to the homepage.
"You have arrived at the home page of the Liberal Party of Canada. Perhaps you know who we are?"
The strangely familiar WebMaster had, just for you, created a website with such useful web portals as the InfoNet, which carried the daily InfoFax, full of political news.
Also, in case you had gotten yourself lost, the Liberal Party of Canada website carried a list of helpful links: AltaVista, a link to Al Gore's homepage, and an entire subhead featuring "Techno Stuff."
We are able to take this trip down memory lane thanks to Archive.org's Wayback Machine.
Ontario MP John English, on top of some seriously sick HTML skills, also showed off the best that fashion in the 1990s had to offer.
English's colleague, Sue Barnes, had "Merry Christmas" in ten different languages on the landing page of her site, as it was December. Also, this kick-ass red book:
The Honorable John Manley had this sick-ass page, best viewed in 800 x 600 screen resolution, which features a picture of Jean Chretien shaking hands with Bill Gates. Manley was minister of industry, so he had a link to the "Info. Highway." Get it?
The stuffy folks over at http://www.pcparty.ca/ took a more minimalist approach.
Before you even get past the splash page, the eerily pleading website is already asking: "Looking for somebody???"
Once you get onto the site itself, a black-and-white picture of Jean Charest is waiting for you—peering into your soul from the series of tubes that make up the internet.
"Building a state-of-the-art consultation and feedback system to connect members and parliamentary representatives which is systematic, predictable, and accountable," reads an entirely out-of-context quote floating in the middle of the page.
Crawling through the website, you could enter the PC Party's bulletin board, which served as a proto-social media site, where you could read C Hastilow from Vancouver complaining that the party has insufficient resources in his province or check in on Ottawa snarkmaster B.G. drop some seriously '90s burns, like "WINDS OF CHANGE (NOT!)"
The most mysterious part of the website is the "Elsie File," a page featuring a bio of New Brunswick MP Elsie Wayne and a link to Wayne's email address, and nothing else.
You can click on the community centre to get information on candidates and ridings, and to learn the name of the party's newsgroup (alt.reform.fresh-start). You can click on the building marked "The News," which is ostensibly a newspaper, to get the Reform Party's press releases and to subscribe to the party's mailing list (which you can also do if you click on the house-sized mailbox). You can click the welcome arch to see a message from party leader Preston Manning and to get a map of the website. Clicking the clocktower brings you to a page about Parliament, for some reason.
Reform was so forward-thinking that it built a website for each of its MPs. Diane Ablonczy, who is still a Member of Parliament, had one—"best viewed with Netscape Web Browser"—as did former BC representative Paul Forseth, whose website inexplicably has a grey wallpaper featuring the word "NEW" repeated endlessly.
They were even nice enough to link to the other parties' websites. (Although their link to the NDP site is just a page with a fallen skier.)
Ex-spy-review boss Chuck Strahl also had a webpage on the internet which featured a 23-second audio greeting (95kb, .wav), a hit counter (I was visitor 2,900), and a very dignified sandstone wallpaper.
Then-rookie politician Stephen Harper had a page, too, that took minimalism to a new level.
The internet homepage for the New Democratic Party has got to be the biggest letdown—the Wayback Machine doesn't have anything for them circa 1996. Their 1998 site is archived, but all the links are broken.
Once Jack Layton got elected leader in 2003, however, he seriously upped their internet game. (To see the full gif, click here.)
Yes, a Bush Lied, People Died gif. An honest-to-god Bush Lied, People Died gif.
The NDP weren't the only ones with some sweet gif action, however. The Communist Party of Canada—which ran both a radio station and a video channel on its 1998 site—managed to Star Wars an entire description of class struggle into a single, incredible, 100-by-300-pixel animation. (To see the full gif, click here.)
The Bloc Quebecois site remained largely text-based for much of the 90s, before the party saw the error of its ways and came out with a pair of seriously aggressive shit websites in the new millennium.
The separatists' March 2000 site, the top one, appears to show a thousand damned souls crying out in pain and horror, trapped inside the Bloc Quebecois logo. Their update, in June, looks like my dentist's website from this year.
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