Rachel Notley made her support for pipelines crystal clear during her tenure as premier. As the second woman ever to be premier of Alberta, and the first New Democratic Party premier of the province, there was a lot riding on her shoulders. Strategists figured that making Notley the kind face of support for oil and gas was their best shot at re-election.
Common thinking is that the Alberta NDP would have put a nail in their coffin had they rejected pipelines. And so, Notley became one of Canada’s fiercest advocates for new pipeline projects.
The Alberta NDP’s support for pipelines may have been strategic but the party missed another crucial electoral insight: if they really wanted to win a second term, Notley should have offered up her place for a man.
The suggestion should make any fair-minded person balk, but the proof is hard to ignore. In 2013, there were seven premiers in Canada who were women. Today, there are none.
No woman has ever won a second term as premier.
'Progress is a myth'
Of the 292 premiers to hold office in Canada, only eleven have been women. And only three of those women led their party to victory over an incumbent.
Only two of these 11 women were not white: Nellie Cournoyea, former premier of the Northwest Territories, and Eva Aariak second premier of Nunavut.
We’ve been fed a myth of progress for decades now, where we’re supposed to believe that things are always getting better. Break through that glass ceiling and others will come. Representation will show to the nation’s youth that it’s possible for them, too, to seek office. That even though we haven’t solved all of the world’s problems, things are always, slowly getting better.
At the same time, politics has become more vicious and unpleasant. The thin illusion of shame doesn’t seem to keep politicians in line anymore. Politicians are using their inside voices more on the outside, knowing that it doesn’t really matter what they say, that social conditions are making people increasingly desperate. A desperate population is easier to govern, as long as the vocal minority is kept somewhat comfortable.
The internet has become the most intense location to control who gets in, and who is expelled from political life. A sophisticated global troll network can make or break politicians, in the same way that it can make or break an individual's career.
The intense hatred directed at women online has a direct impact on who runs, who wins, and who governs in Canada.
Relative to the area she served, Notley might be the most threatened Canadian politician, ever. It’s easy to see threats made against her online; just look at any right-wing Facebook page or forum and it won’t take long to find them. In 2018, a cache of more than 300 violent threats, including 11 death threats, was handed to Alberta police, though Notley’s executive council blocked the release of these documents when they were requested through freedom of information.
Of course, Notley’s in good company. This past week, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante received increasingly violent threats in response to her opposition to Bill 21 – the provincial government's proposed ban on religious symbols.
Online threats pose a serious problem
Even women experiencing life as a politician for a day aren’t safe from threats. During the Daughters of the Vote event in Ottawa earlier this month, many racialized delegates received threats, including being made into memes and shared across Islamophobic and racist platforms.
The proliferation of online threats poses a serious problem for any politician who isn’t a white man, and some of the same insults hurled towards women are used against particular men. Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are often interchangeable in online posts.
The intense hatred that woman get for existing has a direct impact on who runs, who wins, and who governs in Canada. We’re far from being able to know how to adequately stop these threats.
The threats push women away from running, and also make it easier for critiques of women to propagate. When someone is denigrated over and over, the message that they are also bad at managing the economy is easier to peddle. he politicians who benefit from this world are the politicians who know that their followers are prepared to engage in this kind of harassment.
Alberta’s new premier routinely challenges his critics online. They later get harassed by an army of followers, trolls and fake accounts that swarm those who are challenging the oil-rich province’s status quo. In the past year, Jason Kenney has directly targeted Tzeporah Berman was targeted 16 times on Twitter, each time garnering hundreds of reactions, because of the Notley government’s decision to appoint the well-known environmental activist to the Oilsands Advisory Board. I was targeted twice in 2018, both times resulting in a torrent of abuse that resulted in Twitter locking me out of my account.
On the eve of the Alberta election, the sprawl reported, Twitter suspended more than a dozen accounts of Kenney critics, among them a reporter and NDP and Alberta Party volunteers.
Using online harassment as a political tool will make things even more difficult for women and racialized politicians to win elections or rise through the ranks of their parties. While the federal government focuses on what they say is the big threat facing the 2019 election, foreign influence in politics, the real threat is domestic. And if we don't figure out how to address it, our political scene will look more like 1930 than what we imagine it should be in 2030.