Politicians laugh as Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite makes sexist comments about NDP candidate Bowinn Ma. Screenshot via Twitter
A leaked video of a group of white B.C. politicians making fun of a woman of colour and colleague has raised wider criticisms about sexism and racism in politics.The video depicts leaders of the B.C. Liberal party laughing over sexualized comments made about NDP candidate Bowinn Ma. Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite tells the group of politicians and supporters that Ma is “very pretty lady” who uses “cleavage” and an “it” factor to her own gain in networking and interactions with colleagues.
This comes just two weeks before the provincial election in B.C., scheduled for October 24.
Ma responded on Twitter: “We need to be a province that enables young women to take on leadership roles without fear of sexism,” she wrote. “British Columbians deserve better from their political leaders.”Initially, Thornthwaite issued a response saying that she has a “huge respect” for women, including Ma, but did not apologize. After backlash to her initial statement, she and B.C. Liberal party leader Andrew Wilkinson, who can be seen laughing at Thornthwaite’s comments in the video, shared public apologies.VICE News has reached out to both Ma and Thornthwaite and will update the story if we hear back.
The virtual event shown on the video is a “roast” of former Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan, held on Sept. 17. At the event, Thornthwaite recounts several interactions she witnessed between Sultan and Ma, including an incident where Ma was sitting close to Sultan on a couch. Ma later called this an “uncomfortable characterization,” and that she sat close to Sultan because he is hard of hearing.“We were supposed to be networking and all this, but Bowinn knows how to get you,” Thornthwaite said in the video.The video was originally shared with Mo Amir, host of the podcast This is Vancolour, by a supporter of the B.C. Liberals who virtually attended the event and said they were bothered by the treatment of Ma.
“We need more young women in politics, and this kind of thing needs to be called out,” they wrote in their email to Amir.
Women are disproportionately underrepresented in politics. A 2019 House of Commons report states that women make up less than 30 per cent of those elected to the federal government, and 38 per cent of politicians in the B.C. legislature.From across political divides, British Columbians shared messages of support for Ma and condemned the political culture that had allowed the comments to occur.“This is appalling,” B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said on Twitter. “If women are not warm in the workplace, we are castigated as rude. If we are friendly, we get this.”Journalist and political science student Kate Korte shared her own experiences with the harmful culture of the ‘Old Boys Club’ within B.C. politics, perpetuated by the “girl-on-girl crime” of Thornthwaite’s comments.Federal MP for Victoria, Laurel Collins, said she felt the B.C. Liberals owed an apology not just to Ma, but “to all young girls who want to see a place for themselves in politics.”B.C. Liberals candidate Jas Johal tweeted, “as a person of colour, I know we have more work to do in encouraging under represented groups to enter public life. The past 48 hours is a stark reminder of that fact.” While the “Old Boys Club” nature of these comments is far from new, Tyee health reporter Moira Wyton pointed out on Twitter that this typically closed-door behavior has taken a new form in the wake of the pandemic.“Thinking about how we only heard @jthornthwaite's cruel comments about @BowinnMa because Zoom is making conversations once behind closed doors happen on camera,” Wyton wrote. “There is so much sexism and racism against young women that doesn't fill a news cycle but harms just the same.”Follow Emily Fagan on Twitter.