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Coming to a politician near you

The range of public reaction to the recent announcement of an Alberta MLA resigning because of intimidation, threats and organized misinformation is proving her point.

Last week, Lethbridge-area NDP MLA Shannon Phillips announced her nine-year job as an elected provincial representative will end on July 1. It didn’t take long for the fallout to begin… and for it to turn ugly…


If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

You get paid well, so take the good with the bad.

I pay your salary. I can say what I want.

These are just examples of some comments easily found by searching the MLA’s name.

Other comments are worse. Much worse.

There are also many who side with the former NDP Environment minister as well, many who think the hurtful comments are a sign of a worsening global mindset.

It’s a mindset that is creeping into local politics as well. More and more, municipal leaders – people who are neighbours and coaches, business owners, bus drivers and moms – are feeling the heat from torches being turned towards them. Many likely won’t let their names stand again; their taste of civic duty has turned bitter as an Internet-driven society continues to distort the adage about saying nothing at all if you can’t say anything nice.

That’s not to say the views and decisions of elected officials shouldn’t be opposed, or criticized or challenged.  Public figures obviously have to deal with the public, and many times they will have to be dealing with a public that has concerns, issues and problems. And sometimes – perhaps many times – those issues will cause some ill-will or emotions. That is part of a very public job they signed up for… to a point.

Fuelled in large part by online digital anonymity, comments quickly turn to the extreme. Half-truths, outright lies, opinions and personal attacks are spewed with little regard for the damage they will do.

Previously, it could be said of an issue that ‘the truth lies somewhere in the middle.’ But with such visceral and extreme waves of political polarization and commentary bordering on hate-speech, that ‘middle’ is nowhere near where it should be.

Should an elected public official expect to face criticism? Perhaps even anger?  Absolutely. Anyone who wants to work in a system to change it or fortify it… or even to break it down to form a new one… should expect a response. And they should have responses of their own.

Unfortunately, as this growing trend of toxic commentary increases, amplified by a global digital reach, the response by many who originally stepped forward to help their fellow residents are now being forced is to abandon them.

Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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