Politicians, all politicians, including those at the local level, must be accountable to the public.
But that doesn’t mean constituents should have the right to harass and intimidate them beyond all reason.
Most of the harassment is, unsurprisingly, taking place online. While some local politicians have reported face to face interactions that were inappropriate or even scary (Cowichan Valley Regional District board chairman Jon Lefebure having his family threatened), these are few and far between compared to the vitriol people feel entitled to spew online.
Bob Day, a councillor at Lake Cowichan, reported a man who came to his workplace with a placard and followed him around for two days. We don’t believe it was the time or place for such protest. Bring your sign to a council meeting — we’re all for it. Want to picket your municipal hall? We’ll probably take your picture. But these are not professional politicians. Leave them in peace at their day jobs.
But those close encounters are the least of it, according to Day. With the advent of social media, the tone and the scale of comments people can direct towards their target has changed. Many feeling secure behind a screen will say things through the internet that they would never dream of saying to someone’s face.
It’s concerning that the prospect of having to deal with this kind of thing is turning good people away from running for public office. It’s easy to see why someone would decide it’s just not worth the hassle. Nobody’s serving on Lake Cowichan council for the big money, after all.
So before you hit send on that message or post in the next thread, perhaps consider whether you would say what you’ve typed if the setting was a public debate, or you were sitting down for coffee with your elected representative.
Civility is a good thing.