In May, on Episode #77 of This is VANCOLOUR, I asked BC NDP North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma if she felt targeted by the BC Liberals.
The laundry list of online commentary raised my suspicions: The BC Liberals’ Executive Director expressing the “disappointment” that North Vancouver-Lonsdale had with Ma; the BC Liberal leader’s Chief of Staff taunting Ma; a party spokesperson calling her “unserious and destructive”.
With all due respect to Ma, she was a rookie MLA, the youngest in the B.C. Legislature. Even with a vocal social media presence, she wasn’t exactly the most consequential member of the BC NDP Caucus to warrant this kind of attention.
My speculation was corroborated by the infamous BC Liberal fundraiser over Zoom where BC Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite made disparaging and sexualized remarks about Ma.
“[Thornthwaite] mentioned telling that story before, multiple times. So, multiple times that story was told and nobody had told [her] that…this was was a problem,” Ma reflects in Episode #105 of This is VANCOLOUR this week.
In the full video, Thornthwaite admitted that Ma was a target for the BC Liberal Caucus, albeit prompted by the now-retired MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, Ralph Sultan: “Ralph’s really, really good at telling Caucus that ‘We’ve got to do something about that Bowinn Ma’.”
The BC Liberals took their lumps for this during the last election.
Yet Bowinn Ma remains a focal point of snide discussion in some BC Liberal circles.
On November 27, The Orca’s “#BCPOLI HOTSTOVE” podcast denigrated Ma.
The podcast is hosted by former B.C. Premier Christy Clark speechwriter, Maclean Kay, and former spokesperson for BC Liberal MLA Rich Coleman, Jordan Bateman, who yells out a cringeworthy “Ma, O Ma!” in the episode.
As Senior Advisor to the BC Liberal Caucus Shane Mills pointed out, neither Kay nor Bateman represent the party. However, given their prominent history with the party, their podcast may not speak for the BC Liberals, but it speaks to BC Liberals.
They deride Ma for her “propensity to not put on a filter” as to why she sits at the “kids’ table” not being a “real minister”, undermining Ma’s recent promotion to Cabinet as the Minister of State for Infrastructure.
Bateman claims that Ma handled the Thornthwaite controversy like a “good soldier”, who “did several days of interviews and worked it on social media”, implying that Ma milked the public’s outrage.
Ma conducted one press conference, three radio segments, and one tweet about the incident during the election. For the biggest moment of the campaign, that’s not a media tour. In comparison, Thornthwaite did five radio segments and a multitude of related tweets in one week to blast the BC NDP on the opioids crisis in August.
Kay then recalls an incident where Ma was “publicly swatted down by the Minister of Health [Adrian Dix] during this pandemic”. But, this never happened outside of Kay and Bateman’s collective imaginations.
“I have no idea what they’re talking about,” says Ma. “I asked this to our communications staff and they don’t know what [Kay and Bateman] are talking about either.”
Bowinn Ma is not immune from criticism. With her recent promotion to Cabinet, she should expect more of it. But she should be criticized for her work and professional conduct.
The obsession to demean Ma cost the BC Liberals votes. It’s now costing them a grasp on reality, especially when their former leader continued to insist that the Thornthwaite comments were “the most trivial thing” and the ensuing outrage was “fundamentally unfair”.
Eventually, this derision will be seen as fear: Bowinn Ma scares a certain, vocal crowd within BC Liberals.
It’s hard to ignore the whiteness and — outside of Thornthwaite — the maleness of Ma’s critics. At the very least, it makes for bad optics. Even the Brady Brunch-framed Zoom fundraiser where Thornthwaite’s comments generated laughter plays to these optics.
And maybe it is just optics. But these optics have not gone — and will not go — unnoticed by British Columbians.
Mo Amir is the host of This is VANCOLOUR, a politics and culture podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and www.thisisvancolour.com
Ed. note: A previous version of this article included the incorrect title for Shane Mills. It has since been corrected.