Social media comments a common deterrent for candidates, some politicians say - InfoNews

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Social media comments a common deterrent for candidates, some politicians say

Ryan Donn
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Facebook
May 15, 2019 - 1:44 PM

KELOWNA - Elected officials face all kinds of challenges in their efforts to represent their communities. Not the least of those is the nasty personal attacks they face and that serve as a disincentive for some to run for elected office.

Earlier today, May 15, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran reacted with anger and fear after a Facebook comment suggested violence for his position on a South Pandosy development. The police detained a suspect.

That’s an extreme example of the nasty personal attacks many, but not all, politicians face on a regular basis.

“I’ve had most of my friends who I was talking to about whether they would be willing to run (for election), tell me ‘never in a month of Sundays would I run’ based on the level of the new on-line discourse,” Kelowna city councillor Ryan Donn told iNFOnews.ca. “That was the number one reason not to run.”

There was a time in last fall’s election campaign that he gave second thoughts to not continuing. He wouldn’t go into details.

“It’s not about the impact on me,” he said. “It’s the impact on your family. That’s where we lose people. I’m comfortable in stepping up in this position to run and be part of the elected world and what comes with that. But nobody in my family signed up for that. I can’t force my family members to shrug it off. I can’t put my family members in a position where they can just ignore it.”

Former West Kelowna mayor and current councillor Doug Findlater said the closest he came to a physical threat was over a dirt bike controversy where someone wanted to meet him and said "I won’t pull any punches.”

Nothing came from that but, Findlater says he is aware someone threatened to burn down the home of another Central Okanagan mayor last year and dead rats were left on the doorstep of another mayor's home a couple of years ago.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I don’t know how you do it. I won’t do it,’” Findlater said, noting that some nasty comments come in letters and emails. While that may be the case, he said, there’s something about the immediacy of social media that loosens inhibitions.

Other Okanagan politicians have faced nasty threats.

Last year, an on-line post threatened to burn down Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin’s house. That was after council approved a controversial five-storey Beach Avenue building.

In 2017, Summerland Mayor Peter Waterman had a dead rat placed on his door step, followed by another one the next day. That was related to a debate over a composting facility.

Tracy Gray got more than her fair share of nasty comments when she was a Kelowna city councillor before quitting in 2018 to run, and win, the federal Conservative nomination for Kelowna-Lake Country.

“I can’t say I was threatened with physical violence, but certainly people make statements like, ‘if you don’t vote this way, I’m going to tell everybody how incompetent you are.’”

She refused to list some of the names she was called, saying “you can just imagine.”

Yet, she has continued on to run on the federal stage.

It’s not been a bad experience for all politicians.

Lake Country Mayor James Baker hasn’t faced nasty attacks, in part, he said, because he doesn’t do social media. Sometimes, staff let him know about some rude social media comments.

Kelowna councillor Luke Stack has the same experience, given that he does not use social media either.

Former Kelowna councillor and current Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country, Norm Letnick, said he also has not faced personal attacks.

“I haven’t personally seen any attacks like that,” he told iNFOnews.ca. “In my 20 years in public life, I have not seen attacks on my family. I know that would not go over well with me if that happened so I can understand the stress that Colin is under.”

Letnick said it’s common for members of his party to attack other parties, and vice versa, but that is kept on a policy level and should not get personal.


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