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For as long as they’ve both been in office, Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau have been kindred political spirits. Both bring the kind of youthful glamour to public office that only seems to come around once in a generation. Both share the same progressive values on issues like climate change, diversity and social inclusion. And both have seen their popularity at home decline in the face of proactive pandemic policies and the vocal opposition to them.

But while Trudeau has been adamant about sticking around to fight the next election, Ardern shocked everyone with her recent announcement that she would be stepping aside after just over five years in power. “I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said.

It’s been tempting for Canadian pundits to draw a line between Ardern’s decision to leave and Trudeau’s insistence on staying, especially since both have faced similarly underwhelming poll numbers of late. But there’s another line they should be drawing, one that points to the spike in abuse and violent threats these leaders have contended with.

For Trudeau, that abuse has become part of the background noise of his political life over the last couple of years. Sometimes, as with the ugly protest in Hamilton the other day that saw an angry crowd surge toward the prime minister and his police protection, it gets a bit scary. But Trudeau, who has yet to back away from a fight in his political career, wasn’t about to let it cow him. “We're not going to let a handful of angry people interfere with the democratic processes that Canadians have always taken pride in,” he said.

But in some respects, they already are interfering in the democratic process.

Anti-vaccine activists routinely consume far more of the political oxygen than their numbers would suggest is appropriate, and they often pride themselves on directing vitriol and abuse at elected officials. That makes it more difficult for those officials to meet with constituents, interact with the public and otherwise do their job. “Those kinds of things suck your energy,” Liberal MP Hedy Fry told the Toronto Star. “I can understand the concept of burnout but I also think contributing to that is all the threats [Ardern] got online.”

And make no mistake: there’s a different kind of vitriol that gets directed at women in public life right now. Ardern refused to blame the threats she faced for her surprise departure from politics. But as Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative MP for Calgary Nose-Hill, pointed out in a post on her Substack, it’s hard to ignore the correlation there. “While both Trudeau and Ardern have had to contend with increased threats of violence, Ardern has battled a higher degree of sexualized violence,” she wrote. “Indeed, unlike Ardern, Trudeau hasn't had to deal with things like being asked if he was going to have babies as a qualifier for his suitability for serving as prime minister or being asked if he met with another world leader because of his age and gender.”

Ardern’s departure may represent a victory for the anti-vaccine movement and the misogynists in their midst, but make no mistake: it’s a loss for almost everyone else. We’re facing a tragedy of the political commons, one that is rapidly eroding the public’s trust in both elected officials and the offices they hold.

And the more our political commons are polluted with things like rage-farming, conspiracy theories and toxic partisanship, the less attractive it becomes for anyone of standing or substance to run for public office.

If people like Jacinda Ardern are finding the cost of public service to be prohibitively high, it’ll be the rest of us who end up paying the price in the end, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #JacindaArdern

This is not a new problem, and it didn’t just start when Trudeau was elected prime minister. As Harper-era cabinet minister James Moore noted on Twitter, “I, and many other cabinet colleagues, had multiple death threats and elevated security at work and at home. It was frequent.”

There should be an incentive, then, for everyone involved to reduce the temperature and restore at least a modicum of civility to our politics.

If they don’t, they’re painting themselves — and us — into a pretty dangerous corner. Who, other than the political lifer (hello, Pierre Poileivre!) or the hereditary torch-bearer (that’s you, Justin Trudeau!), would want the job of prime minister right now? If you’re an accomplished doctor, lawyer, business person, social worker or teacher, do you really want to give up your livelihood, move to Ottawa and get abused on social media 24/7? And how are we supposed to attract more women and other underrepresented groups to public life when they’re the ones who tend to receive the brunt of this abuse?

The answer, if we stay on this path, is that we won’t. That probably suits some people just fine. But if people like Jacinda Ardern are finding the cost of public service to be prohibitively high, it’ll be the rest of us who end up paying the price in the end.

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I can't say this is driving the unending growth of "communications departments", and indeed the "communications consultants" that everybody, including Poilievre, was just gigged for spending public fund upon. My employer (municipal government) had only a few people in the "Communications" department in the mid-90s, but in the 2000s, they grew like crazy to over 200 people, everything now goes through "Communications", which specializes in restricting information, making it vague, and hard to find.

But, public relations being so routinely awful means that we'll all be dealing with "Communications People" for the rest of our lives. Who would want to interact directly?

About all we can do is interact politely ourselves, never get drawn in, and make fun of those who act like children. At the end of the day, it is childish: they're basically having a tantrum and stomping their feet.

I totally agree. We're entering dangerous territory, with so much rampant abuse of politicians -online and in person. How can it be stopped? Do we need to pass laws that regulate this type of behaviour? Laws that regulate hate speech directed towards politicians?

What happened to respect and basic civility in our society? Unfortunately, social media seems to amplify negative and hateful behaviours.

I'm worried about the state of our democracy in Canada- and everywhere in the world.

Yes, we do need regulation in online spaces. If a person would suffer legal consequences for what they said in person, then the same should apply online. We're seeing innocent people victimized online.

Removing the option of anonymity in public social media spaces is essential, too.

Removing the option of anonymity has its own problems, mind you. And not just in terms of fear of repressive governments; the alt-right has a history of doxxing people so that they can then bring the death threats right to their homes instead of keeping it to relatively harmless online harassment, and so that the online harassment can follow them everywhere they go rather than being restricted to a particular place where they have a particular handle. Gifting them everyone's real identity is a worrisome idea.

On social media: To be specific, CORPORATE FOR-PROFIT social media amplifies negative and hateful behaviours. Partly because such behaviours are, in the short term at least, good for profits. Partly because the repugnant ideologies that underpin those behaviours are good for corporate tycoons, so they back them; Musk is just the tip of the Zuckerberg here.

Women understand what's happening here as a result of their unique position versus men. Firstly they give birth to and raise them, while simultaneously partnering with them, but in large part compromised as they are by the demands of the former, the latter has primarily been regarded as an auxiliary function throughout human history. But that has also afforded them a unique vantage point of a birds-eye view of the workings of men in power i.e. the dominant group.
Men know this as well and among all the little boys who have grown into smaller men, being told what to do reminds them of being dependent on their mothers as children that only morphs into another helpless need for sex, so women are hugely problematic for their inflated but fragile egos. So to such men, women on a par/women in power is absolutely anathema. As has been seen recently in the U.S., so is even a half-black MAN. So rampant feminism becoming entrenched is bad enough, but add on the blanket "inclusiveness" now evolving in society, and then throw in a pandemic where the "nanny/mother" state naturally comes to the fore, and.....on the news in Lethbridge last night we heard AGAIN, a desperate plea from women offering services for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse because their numbers are soaring.
So Jacinda Ardern's resignation aroused many feelings in women I'm sure, the main one being understanding but also deep sadness that genuine intelligence, warmth, kindness, courage and empathy STILL can't win the day.
Women wait and have their whole lives for this to change, for time to temper mens' brute force, and for "nice guys finish last" to change, and there HAVE been some real shifts of late. So maybe the current right-wing insanity and the hysterical misogyny of social media is some kind of last gasp?
Pushing boundaries IS a common male trait after all, but that's also where mothers step in, and shine.
"Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.....another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
Arundhati Roy---"The Cost of Living," 1999.

Arundhati Roy, with the advantage of a mixed heritage, seems to have freed her imagination from the strictures of the misogynistic ancient culture, much warped by successive waves of invasion, alien oppression, and internecine strife. The crippling weight of its caste system, the fratricidal wars over religion and irreconcilable cultural divisions, messily fomented by the drive to survive a hostile land base and a catastrophic climate; seems to have locked the inhabitants of India's subcontinent into a trap of mutually assured self destruction. The Hindu hunger for hegemony was just gaining strength in 1999 but Ms Roy, managed to imagine, amidst the cacophonous clamour of that over populated land, the vision of a new world coming, and to imagine a quiet day on which she can hear her breathing.

Perhaps if we can lower the cacophony of our own fraught world, we too, can hear her breathing.

The thought makes me weep; it's the whole concept of "quiet," such a salient and restorative feature, but I do think that much more "feminizing" ("mother naturing") of our "fraught" world is our only hope. Another word that I love in that context is "rewilding."
A big part of doing that is recognizing and overtly challenging ubiquitous religion with its increasingly irrelevant not to mention basically absurd man-made doctrines that openly sanction male hegemony. Destructive, disrespectful, and now demonstrably stupid "dominionism," refers specifically to dominating nature but that's everything really.

Fawcett: "Both share the same progressive values on issues like climate change, diversity and social inclusion."

Really? Does Jacinda Ardern buy and build oil pipelines too?

Trudeau sometimes lets the mask slip. Recall his real contempt for First Nations and their suffering:

"Trudeau apologizes after telling First Nations mercury poisoning protester, 'Thank you for your donation'" (Global News)
"'Unacceptable and offensive': Trudeau gets called out over sarcastic response to Grassy Narrows advocate" (APTN News)

You may have missed the point of the article.

If New Zealand was an oil producing nation, then yes she might find herself having to support the industry and its workers, while at the same time trying to get them to transition to an energy industry that isn't going to cause global warming.

Transitions start by moving in the direction you wish to travel. Doubling down on fossil fuels takes us in the wrong direction. When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Pipelines, LNG plants, and oilsands mines are not intended to last a few years. Major fossil fuel infrastructure takes decades to recoup its capital costs. You don't build big infrastructure projects only to run them for a decade. Making such huge investments locks us into a fossil-fuel future.
Alberta's drive for fossil fuel growth is irrevocable. There is no redemption of this policy. No going back. No path from oilsands expansion to lower emissions and Canada's climate targets.

The hugely profitable O&G industry can pay for its own transition. It does not need taxpayer help.
Most O&G companies are irrevocably opposed to an energy transition. Waiting for the O&G industry to jump on board a transition that impairs their profits and sidelines their industry means waiting forever.

Among oilsands industry leaders, Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix has made no secret of his opposition to the energy shift:
"Cenovus CEO says future of energy is diversification, not transition" (Canadian Press, June 8, 2022)

O&G companies are not going to become renewable energy companies. If O&G workers are to work in the renewables industry, they will work for renewable energy companies. Oilsands majors have no plans to move into renewables. Suncor just divested from renewables last year.

"This week, Cenovus, Canadian Natural Resources and Imperial Oil all reiterated their stance they have no appetite to build their own wind or solar. Instead, the focus is squarely on being oil & gas companies. …
"'The preference is to stick with what we know and what we're good at,' said Tim McKay, president of Canadian Natural, during the Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium.
"Cenovus chief executive Alex Pourbaix said the only renewable energy consideration would be potentially purchasing the electricity from a third party.
"'Where we're likely to remain is focused on oil & gas production. 'Don't look for us to become a late-entrant renewable-power developer.'" (CBC, Apr 09, 2021)

"The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) also encouraged its members to submit feedback, with high-level recommendations like … ensuring any 'just transition' policy is aimed at cementing Canada as a global supplier of fossil fuels, rather than transitioning out of the industry."
"Industry and climate groups face off over just transition consultation" (National Observer, 06-Oct-21)

"It's difficult for Big Oil to even cast itself as committed to helping the world transition to a low-carbon future, since the investments by them in renewable energy are dwarfed by the money spent on new oil and gas projects."
"COP21: Big Oil in hiding at Paris climate talks" (CBC, Dec 07, 2015)

It seems to me an insult to Ardern to compare her progressiveness with Mr. T's.
Then again, Ardern has a 4 yo ... and might have decided she wanted to spend more time with family.

It's misleading of Harper-era cabinet minister James Moore to suggest that things were just as bad back then, and it's particularly self-serving in light of the role of Harper and his IDU in promoting authoritarian populist rhetoric. Similarly, Michelle Rempel Garner is happy to overlook the sexual violence of the "Fuck Trudeau" and "Justine" crowd who are just as viscious as the misogynist attacks that she has endured.

And we should all be grateful (including you, Max) that we have a hereditary torch-bearer to serve as PM during these troubled and scary times. There are far worse candidates who would like the job, but very few willing candidates who could do better.

Agreed. Piling on Trudeau, even in the face of the truly apocalyptic alternative, is also just another insidiously successful conservative narrative; it's like another algorithm in that people don't even seem aware of it.

Good and relevant article. Thanks Max.

Comment est Justin Trudeau «progressif» sur changement climatique? Voyons arrête avec ces mensonges.

Jacinda Ahearn was more than just a politician. She was a leader. The world of power has continued to destroy humanity. Like business, it's only about power, threats, sound bites, winning. Lies reveal a lazy majority of voters. Those who want to believe they are in the right camp and who want a supply of scapegoats.

Misogyny has enabled the dehumanization of masculinity so they are unable to contemplate the loss of not being allowed to feel, only act, not allowed tenderness only muscle. Men have been made to be soldiers, even those who don't have the skill to be part of the military. Thugs and bullies allow those who hold power over others to reign by threat, not leadership or intelligence.

Integrity has been trashed as 'pussy'. Taking care of the needy is soft but blowing up nations and cities is portrayed as powerful, strong. We live in the age of threat and cannot allow ourselves to admit fear. Intelligence is a threat to the status quo.

It has long seemed to me that the answer is to charge the trolls and on line abusers. It likely isn't as difficult to find who many of them are and have law enforcement pay them a visit. The idea that social media is a forum of impunity, and that on line we can violate laws against slander and violence against who ever, has to be challenged.

The problem is the virtual world beyond consequences that we've collectively created. Uttering death threats should be a crime....and our clever hacker/computer geek community should be able to figure out how to police it. Sure it would cost some money.....but it would also create some jobs more socially beneficial than many we have now.

A death threat is a death threat. Prosecute a few and see how the fashions would change.