Dear Future BC Politicians,
Well, this is actually for all politicians but since this letter is inspired by recent events in BC politics, it's addressed to you because technically everyone is hoping to either win their job back or get it for the first time.
I've seen what's happened over the last several days and I am compelled to write you because I just can't take it anymore.
What's the issue? A BC Liberal opposition party candidate who is running for reelection was part of a roast for a retiring colleague. She, yes, she, decided to make her roast of her retiring 87 year old male colleague not about him but about a neighbouring MLA who is young and female. And not just young, BC's youngest MLA from the governing NDP party.
Her comments were about how she uses her youth and gender to her advantage when dealing with her colleague. Mentioning how close she gets to him, how she has observed her behaviour at events, how they interact with one another. How she basically preys on their fellow colleague.
What was happening while she was making these totally inappropriate comments that shamed a fellow politician for just doing her job and interacting politely with their mutual colleague? Men watched in amusement and even laughed at her very rude and unfunny comments. Not one person told her to stop. Not even the party leader who was taking part. And did I mention this was a live online event and people around BC were watching?
After a recording of the video was leaked by someone concerned with the comments the backpedaling and apologizing started. And it wasn't a good apology. Basically it was a non-apology. Kind of like saying I'm sorry but than crossing your fingers behind your back and them immediately after telling your friends what a joke it was. It was like that. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity to directly address the very real barriers women in politics face, it became a distraction and continued to be an issue because of the bad initial non-apology from the woman and then from the party leader.
Everyone running for office, well, almost everyone, believes that there should be more women in politics. So what would a young girl interested in politics think when hearing about the comments made about the youngest female MLA in BC? Probably that politics isn't a place where she can dream to be an MLA. That being a woman is something to be used against you even by other women that you might work with. That men who do the same job as you will think that you use your youth, beauty and gender to your advantage. That girls and women have to work harder, be smarter, but less feminine, less of who we are in order to be taken seriously in politics.
But wait! Aren't some of the people involved who shamed this young woman parents themselves?! Or maybe they have wives, sisters, mothers. Of course they didn't actually mean what they were saying because they have women and girls in their own lives. But that doesn't actually stop the beahviour. It's an excuse trotted out as if it makes what was said ok. And it doesn't.
What would have made this not great situation better was if the party leader or any one of the other current or former politicians watching with their microphones unmuted had said something. But according to what the party leader said in the leaders debate last night it was a roast for a retiring 87 year old MLA. So if that isn't the right time when would it be? Would it be wrong to say something when a colleague is making an inappropriate comment about a staff person or MLA? Would it be wrong to address the inappropriate behaviour of an MLA? When exactly would it be ok for the old boys and establishment of BC politics think it would be the right time to address serious issues of systemic sexual harassment, sexism and misogyny in politics? I won't wait for your answer because I can't wait that long.
To say I'm disappointed in everyone involved would be an understatement. But do you know who I'm not disappointed in? BC's youngest female MLA. She did nothing wrong. Do you need me to repeat myself? BC's youngest female MLA did nothing wrong.
Every politician and every party should be doing some serious soul searching individually and collectively about how to encourage and elect more women. This, this nonsense, is not how it will happen. This likely has the opposite effect. The women and girls of BC are watching you and they expect more. And for those who can vote in the election this month this actually might be a deciding factor for them.
This is an opportunity for not only those involved to think about what they could have done differently but for some really serious and thoughtful conversations with women in BC about their experiences and what can be done to address the very real issues of sexism and gender equality in politics and in every workplace.
Oh, and while you're at it, equal pay for equal work would be great too.
PS: I am a former BC Liberal political aide who worked in the BC Legislature from 2007 to 2012. I'm a former party member who donated, served on riding associations, organized and volunteered on countless campaigns before moving in Alberta.
PPS: I really love politics and believe that we need more women, more young women, more Black, Indigenous, people of colour in politics. Make it happen for every girl who dreams of one day sitting in the most beautiful building in BC.