BY LANA MICHELIN
When Alberta MLA Sandra Jansen read out the torrent of abuse heaped on her by Albertans this week, it was all too familiar to Kerry Towle.
The former Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA said she received 1,028 angry letters and 750 phone calls when she left the Wildrose Party to join the provincial Tories late in 2014. Most of the comments were “pretty brutal,” recalled Towle, who was slapped down with the C-word that’s used to denigrate women, and was even told her teenage daughter should die.
“It was a dangerous time,” added the former politician, who was astounded she could provoke so much hatred. “I left a party, I didn’t murder my mother.”
One of her campaign posters for the 2015 election was defaced with the drawing of a penis, and a crude suggestion of a sex act she would do to get votes.
“Anybody who watched my Twitter feed regularly would know that it was terrible,” recalled Towle, who empathized after Jansen was called ‘traitorous bitch,’ ‘bimbo,’ ‘tit,’ ‘dumb broad’ — and worse — in angry messages after leaving the PC caucus to join the NDP on Nov. 17.
“I told (Jansen) that I felt bad that she had to go through that. I said I also felt discouraged, (but) didn’t have the strength at the time to release what I went through.”
Although many consider the messages to Jansen sexist, Towle sees them as a sad commentary on incivility and negativity in this age of social media. She feels both male and female politicians are targeted by individuals who feel they “own” them, and can react with aggression whenever their representatives act contrary to their wishes.
Towle was disturbed by the murder of British MP and Brexit opponent Jo Cox, as well as vulgar condemnations of our former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper and his Liberal successor Justin Trudeau. She argued with a man who said Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley deserves to be shot.
“I said, ‘She is somebody’s mom. Does that mean if anyone disagrees with you, they deserve to be shot?’
Towle feels too many people have forgotten about kindness and the right to free speech and self-determination.
Before losing the 2015 election, Towle, who now works in the private sector, made a point of contacting everyone she could who had vented venom at her. She discovered about 60 per cent had never engaged her in any previous conversation.
Despite this, Towle said she still loved her job as MLA because helping constituents made up for the abuse.