The dif­fi­cult ten­ure of women politi­cians in Canada

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL MACDON­ALD

Joanne Bernard from Nova Sco­tia speaks out on the dif­fi­cult ten­ure of women politi­cians in Canada

Joanne Bernard re­calls the shock she felt when she left Nova Sco­tia’s non-profit sec­tor to work in pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics, and sud­denly be­came the tar­get of the worst kind of on­line vit­riol, in­clud­ing fat sham­ing and ho­mo­pho­bic tirades.

She said she soon learned this was the norm for fe­male politi­cians across Canada, cit­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of On­tario Pre­mier Kathleen Wynne, Al­berta Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley and for­mer B.C. pre­mier Christy Clark.

“It is not some­thing women in pol­i­tics are pre­pared for,” said Bernard, who served as Nova Sco­tia’s Com­mu­nity Ser­vices min­is­ter un­til late May, when she was de­feated in a gen­eral elec­tion. “Most of us come from dif­fer­ent walks of life where this is not part of our re­al­ity ... It wasn’t un­til I was elected that I be­came a tar­get.”

Cathy Ben­nett stepped down as New­found­land and Labrador’s fi­nance min­is­ter Mon­day, cit­ing per­sonal rea­sons. Though she didn’t elab­o­rate, it was only six months ago that she called to­gether a group of fe­male jour­nal­ists to de­scribe the “vile and sex­u­ally ex­ploita­tive” abuse she had en­dured on­line.

Ben­nett cited var­i­ous emails that de­scribed her as “a mon­ster” and “a witch,” while an­other said: “I hope she chokes on her break­fast,” and “You should do the world a favour and kill your­self.”

Bernard said she spoke with Ben­nett about cy­ber­bul­ly­ing last month, when the two women took part in a me­dia in­ter­view on the topic. The pair also trav­elled to the United Na­tions this year as part of a na­tional del­e­ga­tion to the com­mis­sion on the sta­tus of women.

“She (Ben­nett) went through some very hor­rific per­sonal at­tacks,” said Bernard. “Ev­ery­thing from how she looked to re­peated re­quests that she kill her­self ... It took a toll on her.”

Ben­nett, the CEO of her own con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany be­fore she ran for of­fice, did not re­spond to a re­quest for an in­ter­view Tues­day.

De­spite the ad­vances made by women at all lev­els of gov­ern­ing in Canada, Bernard said a back­lash against that progress seems to be get­ting worse on so­cial me­dia sites like Twit­ter and Face­book.

Last Novem­ber, when two fe­male can­di­dates quit the Al­berta Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship con­test, Cal­gary leg­is­la­ture mem­ber San­dra Jansen said she had faced on­line in­tim­i­da­tion that in­cluded hav­ing her so­cial me­dia feed “filled with filth.”

A few weeks later, af­ter she crossed the floor to join the gov­ern­ing NDP, Jansen is­sued a state­ment re­count­ing some of the abu­sive com­ments she said had been di­rected at her. Among other things, she said she had been la­belled “dead meat,” a “use­less tit,” a “dumb broad” and told that she should stay in the kitchen.

“Let us be strong and clear in our re­solve that no mat­ter where we sit along po­lit­i­cal lines we stand to­gether against this,” Jansen told the house. “Please op­pose it. Don’t ig­nore it. Don’t look the other way. Don’t ex­cuse it. Be­cause our daugh­ters are watch­ing us.”

Jansen was given a stand­ing ova­tion from politi­cians on both sides of the aisle.

In 2015, Al­berta En­ergy Min­is­ter Marg McCuaig-Boyd tear­fully spoke about feel­ing cy­ber­bul­lied and con­cerned to go home over a plan to change farm health and safety rules. The fol­low­ing year, Op­po­si­tion leader Brian Jean apol­o­gized for hint­ing at vi­o­lence against Not­ley at a townhall meet­ing.

Wynne, mean­while, has been bom­barded with ho­mo­pho­bic abuse on so­cial me­dia, while Clark was once asked by a DJ what it was like to be a “MILF” - a lewd term re­fer­ring to her looks.


For­mer N.S. cab­i­net min­is­ter Joanne Bernard

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