Your criticism is scaring away other good political candidates

Chris Campbell

The other day I saw a tweet from someone touting a radio segment dealing with how to ensure that elected representatives reflect the look of your community.

It’s a real problem in politics today. Too many civic leaders look old, male and white. More and more women are being elected as councillors and school trustees – which is fantastic - but few get elected as mayors.

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People of colour aren’t represented enough. People with disabilities aren’t represented enough. Indigenous people aren’t represented enough. Young people aren’t represented enough.

Sure, a long list of white mayors have decided not to run again, but an even longer list of white men have tossed their hats into the ring to try and replace them.

Like I said, it’s a major problem and a reason why so many people feel disengaged from the political process. It’s hard to feel you’ll be listened to when there is nobody elected that has walked a mile in your shoes.

The issue the person was tweeting about was a good one, but the lack of irony from the tweeter wasn’t so much. That’s because this person is someone I’ve witnessed savage other politicians and candidates on social media. I’m not talking about criticism of policies. I have no issue with that. If you think a policy is wrong, then fly at it.

I’m talking about how people who go for the jugular of candidates on social media. They swear. They bring up a person’s social or financial status. They use derogatory nicknames.

The past few months have been pretty ugly on Twitter towards people running for public office. And yes, I realize that white politicians get trolled online too, but come on, the abuse hurled at them is a lot different that what's thrown, for example, at a woman or a Chinese-Canadian.

The reason I bring up the lack of diversity in civic politics and the savageness of social media is because I think the two are connected.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a total of seven friends who represent various minority groups who have told me they want to take a run at elected office to serve their communities - but won’t.

They want to run because they feel their local councils or school boards lack diversity. They think they can make a difference.

And yet, they can’t bring them to run for office because of the abuse they fear they’d suffer online. The abuse they see so many others suffer.

Now, you might scoff at this and say politics is a bloodsport and that’s just the way it is. Chances are, you’d be white and have the privilege of thinking this way.

If you’re a member of a visible minority, you’ve likely suffered this kind of abuse your entire life. And then you look at the political landscape and the trolls on the internet - who would blame you for not wanting any part of that.

Again, I’m not talking about basic criticism. Every politician or candidate is going to be criticized for their stances on issues.

It’s the stuff beyond that. The endless trolling. The name calling. The expletives. The subtle or not-so subtle threats. This stuff is building and building.

Look no further than Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read. She supported a homeless shelter and has been bullied for years into not running again. I read about one incident in which people were posting live comments about Read on Facebook as she ate out in a restaurant. She’s been called a “ho” and much worse.

Fine if you don’t like her policies, but this isn’t criticism we’re talking about. This is savagery.

So, please, continue to attack candidates on social media. Swear at them. Attack their social status. Get real personal and dirty.

Just don’t complain that there aren’t diverse candidates running in elections because it’s this social media atmosphere you’re helping to create that is scaring away a lot of really good people.

Follow editor Chris Campbell @shinebox44

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