October long weekend dealt a heavy blow to the BC Liberal Party’s election campaign after a leaked video showed candidates making and laughing at sexist comments about a female NDP candidate.
The video, posted on Twitter Saturday evening by Vancouver-based podcast host Mo Amir, shows a group of BC Liberal MLAs on a Zoom call in which they meant to ‘roast’ former West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan.
In it BC Liberals’ North Vancouver-Seymour candidate Jane Thornthwaite is seen commenting on interactions between Sultan and the NDP’s North Vancouver-Lonsdale candidate Bowinn Ma.
“Bowinn, as you know, very pretty lady, and she knows she’s got ‘it,’ and she knows how to get Ralph going,” Thornthwaite says in the video.
She goes on to discuss how the two were seated “very, very close together for almost the entire time,” at an event at Capilano University, alleging that “Bowinn knows how to get you.”
“Bowinn would be right up, right next to him, cuddling, cuddling, a little bit of cleavage there and Ralph would be enthralled with her,” Thornthwaite goes on.
Thornthwaite’s largely male audience of BC Liberal candidates, including Sultan himself and party leader Andrew Wilkinson, can be seen laughing at these remarks.
I’m not going to editorialize this.
Rather, I’d like to hear from women on how they feel about this clip.
— Mo Amir ॐ This is VANCOLOUR (@vancolour) October 11, 2020
The video went viral on Twitter, garnering accusations of sexism, solidarity with Bowinn Ma, and calls for apologies from the Liberal Party candidates.
“Today is the #DayOfTheGirl; I’m furious this is what they see political ‘leaders’ doing to female colleagues,” tweeted Victoria MP Laurel Collins.
“Bowinn Ma is a phenomenal MLA. She deserves an apology. But the BC Liberals should also apologize to all young girls who want to see a place for themselves in politics.”
BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau also weighed in, along with other Green and BC NDP candidates.
“This is appalling. If women are not warm in the workplace, we are castigated as rude. If we are friendly, we get this,” said Furstenau.
“This clip reveals common racist & sexist dynamics in politics/work: A White woman (with dyed blonde hair, like the other woman in the clip) gains points with a group of White men by sexualizing and belittling a successful and outspoken young woman of colour,” writes UBC Sociology professor Dr. Jennifer Berdahl.
Mere hours before Amir shared the explosive video, Thornthwaite shared one of herself discussing the need to reduce stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
Within minutes of her sexist comments going viral, the comment section under that video was flooded with posts accusing Thornthwaite of hypocrisy and further calling for an apology.
The next day, Jane Thornthwaite took to Twitter to share a post that was largely decried as a non-apology, drawing attention to herself as a woman who had to “push through glass ceilings.”
I have huge respect for all women who push through glass ceilings. I’m one of them. So is Bowinn Ma. Ralph Sultan has the same respect and a soft spot for his fellow UBC engineer, and I made light of that at a roast. I have always and will always support more women in politics.
— Jane Thornthwaite (@jthornthwaite) October 11, 2020
“This is not adequate. This is not an apology. You can’t explain away something like this,” wrote Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone.
“You’re only making it worse by trying to minimize the impact of your words. The laughter of your colleagues when they should have interjected demands more from all of you.”
About two hours later, Thornthwaite appeared to realize her mistake, issuing a second tweet with a full apology.
“The comments I made at the roast for my colleague Ralph Sultan fell flat and were inappropriate. I unreservedly apologize for making these comments. I have reached out to Bowinn Ma to apologize to her directly as well,” she wrote.
Twitter also did not fail to note a pointed silence from party leader Andrew Wilkinson who held no media availabilities on Sunday or Monday, instead choosing to share the following tweet in response to the controversy:
Jane Thornthwaite has apologized for comments she made during a Zoom retirement event for Ralph Sultan. On reflection, those comments were inappropriate, and it was right for Jane to apologize.
I want to apologize to @BowinnMa, as this never should have happened. 1/2
— Andrew Wilkinson (@Wilkinson4BC) October 11, 2020
The BC Liberal Party leader’s first live comments on the subject were issued on Tuesday morning in the aftermath of a full platform reveal.
On October 13, the day of the first all-party leaders’ debate in this election, Wilkinson told media that he has issued an invitation to Bowinn Ma to speak further on this issue.
When asked why he did not stop the roast when it was happening, Wilkinson said he was embarrassed but “it’s hard to stop the train in a social event.”
Now on Bowinn Ma apology. Thornthwaite's remarks were in incredibly poor taste, says Wilkinson. Includes himself in fault.
— Tim Ford (@TimFordWrites) October 13, 2020
On October 11, the wronged NDP candidate Bowinn Ma issued a response to Thornthwaite’s misogynistic remarks, stating that she is no stranger to casual sexism having worked in male-dominated industries her entire life.
“Like many women in these situations, I found myself making choices about the way that I act, dress, or carry myself to avoid having sexist interpretations read into my interactions — interactions such as, for instance, deliberately speaking closely with an elder who is very hard of hearing,” wrote Ma.
“The video of BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson watching on as a multi-term BC Liberal North Shore MLA sexualized my interactions with another multi-term BC Liberal North Shore MLA is a deeply uncomfortable characterization of my efforts to extend kindness across partisan lines.”
She went on to add that politicians must work harder to create an environment void of sexism if they want more young women and people of colour to enter politics in B.C.
Multiple NDP candidates, including party leader John Horgan came to Ma’s defence in the aftermath of the video.
We need to be a province that enables young women to take on leadership roles without fear of sexism. British Columbians deserve better from their political leaders. pic.twitter.com/sE3MbnKbSZ
— Bowinn Ma (@BowinnMa) October 11, 2020
— John Horgan (@jjhorgan) October 11, 2020