North·First Person

It's not easy being a politician in Nunavut in the age of toxic social media

Politicians need thick skin — especially with today's anonymous keyboard warriors, writes Nunavut MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone.

'There is a cost to public service,' writes Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone

Politicians need thick skin — especially in the age of the anonymous keyboard warrior, writes Nunavut MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone. (©Chickweed Arts/Jamie Griffiths 2021)

This First Person article is by Adam Arreak Lightstone, Nunavut's Member of the Legislative Assembly for Iqaluit-Manirajak. Find out how to pitch your own story to CBC North here.

The life of an MLA is exciting. It is one of the most fascinating jobs in Nunavut, as well as one of the most difficult. I truly enjoy my work, and am grateful for the confidence of Iqalummiut in providing me a second term in office.

However, there is a cost to public service, and being a politician or leader in a small community can be challenging. It is never easy to represent a collective view, which is the essential task of a politician. No matter how legitimate I feel an issue is that I bring up in the Legislative Assembly, there will always be people who will find a way to look at it in a negative light.

The recent territorial general election saw a record number of individuals being acclaimed. That means that nobody chose to run against them, and there was no voting process. I strongly suspect that the challenges and abuse faced by many of our community leaders may play a role in discouraging Nunavummiut from wanting to take on the responsibility.

Shortly after I was first elected, I learned to avoid reading the comment section in the media, as anonymous keyboard warriors have no shame in tearing down the work of others. Nearly every article that is written about issues that I raise will include negative comments that would often include an attack on my character rather than providing constructive criticism or respectful disagreement with the issue at hand.

Putting your name forward opens you up to public scrutiny and criticism. As such, it requires a great deal of courage and thick skin.  With this in mind, I would like to congratulate the 58 candidates who put their name in for the election. For the 36 candidates who were not elected, I know you care deeply for your community. Your efforts to make a positive impact do not go unnoticed — you are a shining example to other Nunavummiut, and your impact shines far beyond the campaign.

Common courtesy needed

I am not trying to absolve myself of mistakes and misgivings, nor do I believe that an incumbent should necessarily keep their job. It's important to understand the struggles that politicians experience — they are our brothers and sisters, and they have the same challenges and feelings as everyone else. I'm by no means complaining about the privilege of serving Nunavut, but I feel I can no longer keep quiet about the need for common courtesy towards our fellow citizens — from the public and political spaces alike.

I was recently facing an onslaught of attacks on Twitter where a number of individuals were making misleading statements. It quickly became apparent that no matter what action I took to try to respond constructively or correct the perpetuation of misleading information, my words would only fuel further attempts to gaslight me. My solution was to deactivate Twitter in order to focus on running a positive campaign. Unfortunately, it's been normalized to speak hatefully and negatively about a public figure on social media. This has to stop — we are better than this.

The biggest factor that sets our assembly apart from others across Canada is not the consensus model of government, but the level of civility and respect that we maintain in our chamber. It would be nice if that same dignity was maintained outside of the assembly as well. We need to work together and I encourage the public to come forward with concerns and ideas to improve Nunavut.

Every Nunavummiut has the right, and should be encouraged to express their concerns. If you are passionate about an issue then I encourage you to put some thought into it, and consider how it can best be addressed. Then take those thoughts and write a letter or request a meeting with your representative (MP, MLA, councillor, Inuit organization director, HTO, etc.) to share your concerns and possible solutions. Social media will always be available for us to express our views or concerns, however, I believe it is most effective if we try to do so respectfully. We may disagree, but anger and outrage are rarely effective tools for building a better community.

We have so much potential to affect our environment in a positive way. It is within our ability to cooperate, even — and especially — when we disagree on the best path forward. We all want the same thing: a better life for our communities and our children. So let's not forget to be kind to each other in the process. Let's work together to improve life for Nunavummiut.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Lightstone is a husband to a beautiful wife and a father to two boys. As an MLA he is committed to improving the quality of life for Nunavummiut.

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