Rising toxicity and abuse are hurting BC’s political recruitment efforts
Politics has become such a toxic stew of verbal abuse and threats that the leaders of BC’s three main political parties say they’re having more and more trouble recruiting candidates.
BC NDP Premier John Horgan, BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau said they’re worried about encouraging the next generation of people to step up and run for seats in the legislature. The concern comes amid death threats leveled against politicians during the pandemic, most recently Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was accosted by an abusive disruptor who yelled at her, swore at her and called her a “traitor” at a public appearance in Alberta.
“Civil discourse is deteriorating all around us,” said Horgan, who called the attack on Freeland “cowardly” and the man involved a “thug.”
“We’ve seen it through the various campaigns, whether they’re on the left or on the right. Sitting down and working together seems to be a lost art these days.”
Horgan blamed keyboard warriors on the internet who ramped up hate while hiding behind their screens.
“The anonymous tweets, and all that stuff on Facebook and other social media platforms — it’s making our civic discourse toxic, quite frankly,” he said.
“And so encourage anyone to get involved is difficult. And we need the best and brightest to step up to meet these challenges.”
Falcon, who is currently recruiting new candidates as the new BC Liberal leader, said it’s a particularly difficult conversation for women looking to enter public life, given the outrageous abuse that Freeland and other high-profile female politicians face on a daily basis.
“I think we have to do more than tut-tut about the fact there are some real assholes out there that quite frankly we need to deal with much more firmly in terms of how they are interacting with women in politics,” said Falcon, who called for “consequences” to those who intimately elected officials and for laws that will revoke their anonymity on the internet.
“I’ve got women in my caucus, and so do the NDP and Greens, that receive emails that comment on their looks, how they are ugly, and whatever other crazy comments that people make.”
There are many factors that appear to be driving the rise in threats and toxicity — anonymity on social media, personal attacks used by political parties, highly-divisive rhetoric in media, and the spillover effect of extreme polarization seen in the United States.
But all sides agree that things have escalated dramatically during the pandemic.
Some BC MLAs have faced death threats by those opposed to vaccine mandates, while others had their constituency offices occupied by protesters. A few even had their homes and families targeted.
BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau said many of the women she knows in municipal politics are questioning if they want to run again in October’s election.
“There is a chill that this kind of hostility and these personal attacks bring, which makes it very difficult for what democracy is meant to be — which is the debating and sharing of ideas, of different points of view,” said Furstenau, who had to move constituency offices during the pandemic due to continued disruptions and protests.
“Absolutely we can have debates, but we cannot dehumanize people.”
Finance Minister Selina Robinson, a former Coquitlam councilor and family therapist, said the rising toxicity makes it harder to recruit young people into public service.
“They are saying, ‘You are asking me to leave my career… I’m not going to get paid as well, and spend time away from my family working 24/7, only to be yelled at?’” said Robinson.
“Because that’s all they see. Not just online, which you can turn off, but in person now. So [they say]: ‘Why would I do that?’ So we lose good people.”
Robinson also cited the “level of violence” at some of the protests at the legislature, including when groups blocked doors, shouted down MLAs or attempted to disrupt proceedings.
“When people get angry and it doesn’t look like they are in control, it is frightening — and as a small woman, I think that much more,” she said.
“When you yell at me, my ears don’t work. It’s a bind, because I do believe as politicians we need to hear people’s pain, to hear their life experience, but if I’m afraid as a result then I can’t be of any value to you.”
Rob Shaw is Daily Hive’s Political Columnist, tackling the biggest political stories in BC. You can catch him on CHEK News as their on-air Political Correspondent.
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