Editorial: Crossing the line

Published on February 14, 2017

MP Scott Brison chats with a supporter during his annual barbecue for constituents July 27 in Cheverie.

©Carole Morris-Underhill

Politics is a thankless job. Constituents think they own every moment of your day, from the Tim Hortons where you’re picking up a coffee, to the grocery store, to nights out with your spouse.

That’s part of what politicians sign up for: constituents don’t see your full day or the amount of time you spend trying to solve problems and meet needs — they just see the part of it where they want to talk to you. They elected you. You work for them.

So, if you’re in produce, trying to remember whether it was apples or oranges you were supposed to pick up, you can hardly be surprised when someone buttonholes you to give you some unsolicited advice about a new tax or increase in the cost of a driver’s licence.

But there are limits between the intrusive and the threatening — and those limits are being overstepped far too often, and all too often against female politicians.

The National Post reported Monday that there were 412 reported incidents involving Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, 26 of which were forwarded to police. Before that, and before social media was being monitored, there were only 55 security incidents in the years 2003-2015 — with 19 of those in the last half of 2015, when Notley was in office.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Finance Minister Cathy Bennett called a meeting of news media to outline the threats and offensive material she receives on a regular basis.

In January, a survey of female members of Parliament in Britain showed more than half had received physical threats, with a third of them considering quitting. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot to death last summer, increasing fears that more threats could mean a greater likelihood of violence.

In Alberta, MLA Sandra Jansen left the Progressive Conservatives after enduring threatening and abusive attacks at a party policy convention. Here’s a sample of the emails she received after crossing the floor. “What a traitorous bitch.” “Now you have two blond bimbos in a party that is clueless.” “Dumb broad, a good place for her to be is with the rest of the queers.” “Fly with the crows and get shot.”

Nova Scotia NDP MLA Lenore Zann told the CBC about “receiving thousands upon thousands of tweets, to the point where at one point during that time my cellphone basically stopped. It just kind of died because it was overloaded, saturated by these hate tweets, horrible things,” she said.

Nova Scotia cabinet minister Joanne Bernard: “Calling me up and telling me you're going to shoot me is not OK.”

Think it’s all just talk, just angry constituents blowing off steam?

Think again.

Our legislators have to defend their actions. That doesn’t mean, male or female, they have to take your abuse.