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Alberta MLA Shannon Phillips Quits, Citing Right-Wing Abuse and Lies

The former NDP environment minister was spied upon by never-charged Lethbridge police officers.

David Climenhaga 11 Jun 2024Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on X @djclimenhaga.

Shannon Phillips, the high-profile NDP MLA for Lethbridge-West with a reputation for toughness and commitment, is leaving politics. Her resignation will take effect on Canada Day.

Phillips, first elected in 2015 and environment minister in Rachel Notley’s NDP government, made her bombshell announcement Saturday in an interview with the Globe and Mail, citing the disinformation and viciousness characteristic of politics today, especially as experienced by female politicians, particularly if they are on the left.

It would be fair to add “especially in Alberta,” as well, but the Globe did not quote Phillips saying that. “I’m the next in a line of woman politicians who are taking a pass,” she told the Globe.

“These conditions are not improving,” Phillips said. “The right is only getting more crazy and more bonkers, and disinformation is just getting worse.”

It is impossible to disagree with that part of her analysis, and not just in Alberta. It’s also hard not to blame her for giving the scoop about her decision to leave politics to a Toronto-based media organization. Throughout her political career Phillips has not been treated particularly well by local media here in Alberta.

But then, as a general rule, nor have most politicians on the left, especially if they are confident, sometimes bluntly spoken women like Phillips.

That the harassment to which Phillips was subjected included being illegally spied upon and photographed by members of the Lethbridge Police Service, and her inability to do anything about it despite her position as an MLA, undoubtedly influenced her decision.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, Alberta’s toothless police watchdog, found that the officers acted in violation of the provincial Police Act, yet the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service refused to lay charges. The Speaker of the Alberta legislature was silent.

She fought back hard, as befits a politician whom Maclean’s magazine described in 2016 as “a tenacious social democrat with roots in activism, feminism and organized labour, and whose toughness follows her outside the office. It has to, when you’re determined to succeed as a roller-derby player and single mom of two.”

It must also be noted that Kathleen Ganley, the NDP leadership candidate supported by Phillips, does not appear to be cruising to victory. Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is widely expected to be announced as the victor in the race to replace Opposition Leader Notley when the results of the membership vote are announced in 12 days, probably on the first ballot.

While Phillips told the Globe this is not the reason for her departure, it does mean that, had she decided to stick around, it would have been in a party likely to drift even more toward the centre than under Notley, and that is, moreover, bound to be quite different from the NDP she joined and long served in.

Phillips, 48, is an advocate of much stronger positions on the environment than she was able to take in either government or opposition, so we can expect her to land on her feet and quite likely to continue to be a thorn in the side of Alberta’s United Conservative Party government.

Whether she will want to continue to do so from Alberta remains to be seen. She grew up in Spruce Grove, a bedroom community west of Edmonton, and studied at the University of Alberta. It wouldn’t be a surprise, though, if opportunity elsewhere beckons.

Unsurprisingly, the Globe’s reporter couldn’t resist the temptation to note that Phillips’s resignation opens a seat for Nenshi to run in only nine days after he’s chosen as leader.

I’m sure everyone reading this or the Globe’s report understands that Nenshi would have to be insane to agree to that. Not only would a parachute candidate from Calgary be less likely to win than a local candidate to replace Phillips in Lethbridge, but it would be a wonderful opportunity for the UCP to mess with Nenshi’s freedom to campaign for months from outside the legislature and then win a whopping victory in a safe Calgary riding.

Said the Globe: “Chima Nkemdirim, a campaign director for Mr. Nenshi, said that, should the former mayor win the leadership race, his team will examine various avenues for him to obtain a seat in the legislature.”

Yeah, well, Nkemdirim couldn’t really say anything else, especially to the Globe and Mail, could he?

So I’ll say it for him, with the tone the Globe deserves, not the one it is able to expect: Shut up! Do you think we’re nuts? Nenshi has the perfect precedent to cite, after all. After winning the leadership of the UCP in October 2022, Danielle Smith could have and should have chosen to run in the Calgary-Elbow riding, left open a month earlier when former UCP justice minister Doug Schweitzer resigned.

Instead, she waited for a compliant MLA to step aside in Brooks-Medicine Hat, so she could win easily in a rural seat safe for the UCP.

Fair enough. But as for Calgary-Elbow, her government left it unrepresented for half a year to avoid the embarrassment of an NDP victory in Calgary. Which was not fair enough. (Calgary-Elbow is now capably represented by Samir Kayande of the NDP.)

Anyway, when the UCP army of bots attacks Nenshi for not jumping at the chance to be defeated in Lethbridge-West, they can be dismissed with scorn.

Nenshi can be the leader of the NDP and not the leader of the Opposition in the legislature until a more congenial time of his choosing.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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