A former central Alberta politician says she can empathize with the harassment and online abuse directed at Calgary MLA Sandra Jansen before and after she left the Tories and joined the governing NDP.
Kerry Towle says she received more than 1,000 angry letters and 750 phone calls when she left the Wildrose party to join what was then the Progressive Conservative government two years ago.
She says most of the comments were brutal and in some cases vulgar.
Towle says there was even a suggestion her teenage daughter should die.
Jansen dropped out of the Tory leadership race and crossed to the NDP after taunts at a policy convention and social media attacks which she said had become unbearable.
Towle, the former MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, says she was astounded she could provoke so much hatred when she left the Wildrose for the PCs.
"It was a dangerous time," she said. "I left a party. I didn't murder my mother."
One of her campaign posters for the 2015 election was defaced with the drawing of a penis and a crude suggestion of a sex act she would do to get votes.
"Anybody who watched my Twitter feed regularly would know that it was terrible," recalled Towle.
Jansen, the MLA for Calgary North West, stood in the legislature last week and recounted some of the language she has been subjected to since joining Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats.
It included terms such as "dumb broad," "bimbo," "traitorous bitch" – and worse.
"I told (Jansen) that I felt bad that she had to go through that," Towle said. "I said I (had) also felt discouraged, (but) didn't have the strength at the time to release what I went through."
Although many consider the messages to Jansen sexist, Towle sees them as a sad commentary on incivility and negativity in the age of social media. She suggests both male and female politicians are targeted by individuals who feel they "own" them, and who react with aggression whenever their representatives act contrary to their wishes.
Towle said she argued with a man who said Notley deserved to be shot.
"I said, 'She is somebody's mom. Does that mean if anyone disagrees with you, they deserve to be shot?"' Before losing in the 2015 election, Towle, who now works in the private sector, made a point of contacting everyone she could who had vented at her. She said she discovered about 60 per cent had never engaged her in any previous conversation.