NDP candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Bowinn Ma, introduces NDP Leader John Horgan during a campaign stop at Seaspan Shipyards in North Vancouver B.C., on Friday, October 9, 2020. A provincial election will be held in British Columbia on October 24. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

NDP candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Bowinn Ma, introduces NDP Leader John Horgan during a campaign stop at Seaspan Shipyards in North Vancouver B.C., on Friday, October 9, 2020. A provincial election will be held in British Columbia on October 24. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

QUINN’ QUIPS: Words matter: especially when running for election

How does something like this happen in 2020?

With the immediacy of social media, the MeToo movement and the repeated calling-out of politicians’ past transgressions, election candidates have got to know if they’re running for office their actions must be above reproach.

I am still shaking my head after watching a video that came to light on Thanksgiving weekend of a B.C. Liberal candidate sexualizing an NDP candidate during a virtual event. Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver-Seymour) and NDP candidate Bowinn Ma (North Vancouver-Lonsdale) are both running for election in the Lower Mainland. Thornthwaite told a couple of stories about retiring Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan and his interactions with Ma, claiming Ma swayed Sultan with her appearance.

How does something like this happen in 2020? Especially when the Zoom event was public (not hacked by the NDP, as one person on Twitter posited)?

The old “wink wink, nudge nudge” attitude toward that kind of talk is no longer acceptable—especially when it is a public figure directing the demeaning behaviour to another public figure.

Thornthwaite’s commentary was uncomfortable and awkward to watch in the video. The most painful part, though, is she reduced an opposition party candidate to her looks. If Bowinn Ma were also a Liberal, perhaps the roasting comments could have been construed as “playful.” Instead, Thornthwaite’s so-called joke fell flat and comes across as a cheap shot.

Thornthwaite continues to take heat on Twitter for her initial portrayal of Ma and her subsequent apologies—many comments coming from other women who didn’t like her objectifying an opponent. I appreciated Ma’s gracious response, which read in part: “Young women deserve a province that encourages them to take on leadership roles without fear of sexism. If we want more young women and people of colour to enter politics, we must commit to creating environments that respect them.”

Speaking of respect, I also question the sound of crickets that came from party leader Andrew Wilkinson, who participated in this public roasting but said nothing at the inappropriate comments.

Look, no one wants to be a Debby downer at an event that is supposed to be “honouring” a retiring MLA. I’ve been the finger-wagger at people before and I don’t much like the immediate reaction. With the job I have, I know how much words count—and how thoughtlessly people use them, whether intentionally or not.

Would I have been brave enough to be the one to speak up if I had been part of the Zoom conversation? I’m not sure.

But if it had happened within a group of people I hoped to lead following an election that is less than two weeks away, I like to think I would have.

Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

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