Comments a BC Liberal election candidate made during a roast for a retiring MLA have become an election issue, after being widely circulated on social media Saturday night.
The comments were made by North Vancouver-Seymour candidate Jane Thornthwaite in a Zoom video leaked to This is Vancolour podcast host and CKNW contributor Mo Amir and have generated accusations of sexism and misogyny and calls for an apology.
In a story apparently meant to tease former West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, Thornthwaite recounts a series of interactions he had with North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP candidate Bowinn Ma while in opposition.
Sultan had pledged to hold Bowinn to account on behalf of the Liberals, Thornthwaite said.
“Except Bowinn, as you know, very pretty lady, and she knows she’s got ‘it,’ and she knows how to get Ralph going,” says Thornthwaite in the video.
The two then-MLAs ended up seated together on a couch at an event at Capilano University, Thornthwaite said.
“Very, very close together for almost the entire time … we were supposed to be networking and all this, but Bowinn knows how to get you,” she said.
“Bowinn would be right up, right next to him, cuddling, cuddling, a little bit of cleavage there, and Ralph would be enthralled with her.”
BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, along with candidates Mike de Jong, Karin Kirkpatrick and Jordan Sturdy can be seen chuckling in response to the story.
Global News has requested comment from both Jane Thronthwaite and Bowinn Ma along with Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson about the video.
Thornthwaite responded to the video in a pair of tweets Sunday morning.
The candidate initially wrote that she has “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,” she said.
In a follow-up tweet, Thornthwaite apologized “unreservedly.”
“The comments I made at the roast for my colleague Ralph Sultan fell flat and were inappropriate,” she wrote.
“I have reached out to Bowinn Ma to apologize directly to her as well. I commit to doing better moving forward.”
Ma also responded with a statement on Twitter, saying Thornthwaite’s story “sexualized my interactions with another multi-term MLA” and was “a deeply uncomfortable characterization of my efforts to extend kindness across partisan lines.
“As a woman who has worked in male-dominated industries my entire life so far, I am sadly no stranger to casual sexism,” wrote Ma.
“Young women deserve a province that encourages them to take on leadership without fear of sexism … the comments and reactions in that video do the exact opposite.”
Both BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and BC NDP Leader John Horgan also took to Twitter to respond.
“On reflection, those comments were inappropriate, and it was right for Jane to apologize,” wrote Wilkinson, adding his own apology and that “this never should have happened.”
“I understand why many people are upset, and I continue to be committed to doing everything I can to make sure women are welcomed, encouraged, and treated with respect in politics and public life.”
Horgan posted a brief tweet calling Ma a “powerhouse and a role model.”
At a campaign announcement Sunday, Burnaby-Lougheed NDP candidate Katrina Chen also slammed the video.
“Yesterday I was very, angry … but today I’m very, very sad,” she said.
“Nobody should deserve comments like this, it’s ugly sexist comments that are not acceptable, whether it’s a private setting or a public setting.”
The video also drew a barrage of online criticism, including from BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau who called the comments “appalling.”
“If women are not warm in the workplace, we are castigated as rude. If we are friendly, we get this,” wrote Furstenau.
“@BowinnMa is incredibly professional and her ability to forge friendships across party lines makes the legislature better. She is owed an apology.”
Ravi Kahlon, the NDP’s North Delta candidate, took to Twitter Sunday to point out that racialized women face even larger barriers in politics.
“This is infuriating. Women of colour always have to work three times as hard to be seen as legitimate,” wrote Kahlon.
“In this clip they undermine all the work that it took for @Bowinn Ma to achieve what she has. They fear drive, work ethic and a change to the status quo.”
Several other prominent female politicians have also weighed in on the video, including former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer.
— More to come…