News / Vancouver

B.C. Liberal war room accuses NDP's John Horgan of 'mansplaining'

High-level strategists for Premier Christy Clark trot out sexism memes to call out her NDP rival after first leaders' debate.

Here's a word we haven't seen lobbed in a previous British Columbia election campaign — until today:


"When a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of," the Merriam-Webster Dictionary explains. It hasn't yet met the social media savvy dictionary's "criteria for entry," but is on its "words we're watching" list.

It's a word we're "increasingly seeing in use," the dictionary added, but it's not a word we might not expect to hear thrown about during an election confrontation between party leaders.

But that's exactly what happened Thursday morning in Vancouver during a live radio debate, the first face-off between B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark, New Democrat leader John Horgan, and the Greens' Andrew Weaver, on News 1130 radio Thursday morning.

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Can the provincial election's top leadership rival be rightfully said to have "mansplained" his position, promises and putdowns of the Premier in a debate?

That's a question being asked on Twitter following the face-off.

"Every woman watching Horgan right now," wrote B.C. Liberal campaign director Laura Miller on Twitter, accompanied by a photo from the show Parks and Recreation emblazoned with the word "Mansplaining."

(Miller is set to appear in a Toronto court Sept. 11, where she faces criminal charges of breach of trust and mischief over the alleged deletion of documents when she was deputy chief of staff to Ontario ex-premier Dalton McGuinty in 2011. She maintains her innocence.)

Her comment on social media caught on as listeners tuned into a debate marked by Horgan interrupting Clark repeatedly, at one point suggesting she "take a few minutes and read something."

"I have been w/ @christyclarkbc since beginning in 2011 and have seen first-hand how a female leader can be disrespected," said B.C. Liberal insider Mike McDonald, who directed the party's successful 2013 campaign, as well as Clark's own leadership bid in 2011 and her subsequent chief of staff. "But today’s radio debate takes the cake. (Horgan) is clearly threatened by a strong female leader."

"Wow," tweeted Clark's former press secretary, Sam Oliphant. "What a positive campaign."

That might strike some observers as noteworthy — considering the B.C. Liberals have been following Horgan's own campaign bus around with a rented truck covered in anti-Horgan banners and his shadowy face, or long-time finance minister Mike de Jong's press conference Wednesday in which a reporter repeatedly pointing out he was criticizing the NDP for things not in their actual election platform.

Gender is shaping up to be a major determinant of voting intentions, according to early campaign polls.

According to a Forum Research opinion survey of 1,040 B.C. voters conducted earlier this month, British Columbian politics face a gender divide — with B.C. Liberals earning 36 per cent of men's support compared to just 23 per cent of women.

In contrast, the NDP was backed by four-in-ten women, just four points more than men. On party leaders Clark versus Horgan, however, the gender gap appeared even more stark: the Premier's approval rating was just 20 per cent of women (34 per cent men), compared to Horgan's 28 per cent approval from women voters (31 from men).

As might be expected, the "mansplaining" memes and "#calmdownjohn" hashtags trending on social media rubbed some the wrong way, several pointing out that an election debate is the acceptable time to strongly state one's position on a topic, paint oneself as knowledgeable, and point out an opponent's perceived flaws.

"BCLiberals are now calling Horgan a 'misogynist' for not putting up with Clark's spin and disrespect for BCers. He's doing what's right," tweeted University of B.C. student Julia Bilinski.

Others weighed in critically, too.

"To folks saying (Horgan) was too emotional or angry during today's debate, remember when (Clark) accused (NDP) of hacking?" tweeted Vancouver podcaster and comedian Paul Bae, a reference to an incident in February in which the Premier accused her opponents of stealing party member's information, only apologizing after the information was revealed to have been publicly available on the B.C. Liberal website.

"People are debating if (Horgan) was rude? He's funnelling our anger."

Meanwhile, self-described political staffer Zoe Keirstead‏ retweeted Miller's "mansplaining" post with the comment, "We are so lucky to have a strong female leader for young woman to look up to, she is an amazing role model for women and girls everywhere."

The B.C. Liberals' official Twitter feed, meanwhile, referenced a hashtag gaining steam on the social media platfom based on Clark asking Horgan to "calm down": "#CalmDownJohn: reaction from the 1st #bclexn17 leader's debate," the party stated.

Central Saanich Coun. Niall Paltiel‏ remarked that, "It looks like #CalmDownJohn is trending after (Horgan)'s outburst during the NEWS1130 leaders debate!"

As far away as Ontario, former federal Liberal Party strategist and pundit Warren Kinsella continued to circulate the "sexism" allegations against Horgan, tweeting: "B.C.’s NDP leader is a Trump-like sexist jerk," later adding Horgan "reveals self to be sexist, insulting, condescending creep."

In remarks to reporter after the 90-minute debate moderated by veteran broadcaster Bill Good ended, Clark said Horgan's aggressive, interruption-heavy style matched his approach in the Legislature as leader of the Official Opposition, but in a tweet thanked her opponents for a debate she described as "vigorous."

"Thank you (Horgan, Weaver) for the vigorous debate, and (Good) for moderating," she stated.

Weaver told reporters afterwards he was less than impressed by both his opponent's behaviour: "How do you expect someone to listen to you if all you do is hurl abuse at them?” he said. "…It’s not my style to bicker and I find it frankly disrespectful and rude."

But Horgan defended his more aggressive tone: "The Premier was taking liberties with the truth, using facts that were alternative to the reality most people live with."

For Roundhouse Radio reporter Taran Parmar‏, the whole controversy ignored one important context: it was all sparked by an election debate.

"Debates about asking & answering questions," she tweeted. "Strange to say (Horgan) is sexist for interupting (Clark), she did same as well."

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