Nova Scotia

Port Hawkesbury mayor opens up about threats, abuse she's faced

As Brenda Chisholm-Beaton prepares for another mayoral campaign, she's speaking out about the threats and abuse she's faced during her first four years in office.

'It is so important that new female leaders are not blindsided'

Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton was acclaimed in 2016 and is running again in this fall's municipal elections. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

When the mayor of Port Hawkesbury, N.S., began receiving misogynistic and threatening messages from a man online last year, she immediately hit delete.

Then Brenda Chisholm-Beaton realized she needed other people to see what she and many other female politicians experience. She took a screen shot and shared it.

"Proponents of this negative kind of behaviour, they only have power if you continue to let them, so we do have to have these conversations," she told CBC's Information Morning

As Chisholm-Beaton prepares for another mayoral campaign, she's speaking out about what it's like to be a woman in politics.

Last week, she shared a personal essay online detailing some of the abuse and threats she's faced since becoming mayor in 2016.

She said while criticism is part of the job of an elected official, some comments cross the line and are directed at her simply because she's a woman. 

The current Mayor of Port Hawkesbury is running for office again this fall, despite the threats and abuse she's faced in office. She has advice for other women: raise your voices and expose the truth about the dark side of politics. 8:38

"I've been referred to as 'that stupid blonde B*tch' (our Council chambers double as a small concert venue and have very good acoustics)," Chisholm-Beaton wrote in her essay.

She also wrote about a man who sent her disturbing texts and social media posts over the past year until the RCMP stopped him.

"He kept leaving these messages on my mayor's page, usually in the middle of the night, so that it was sitting there for hours before I even noticed it was there," she said. "And one of them started off with, 'Change your tampon, honey.'"

Chisholm-Beaton said she was conflicted at first about sharing some of her experiences. It's not meant to scare other women away from leadership roles, but to let them know they're not alone, she said.

"We need more women to lead at our council tables and at band council tables as well as municipal tables, and it is so important that new female leaders are not blindsided."

Leadership school held this month

Earlier this year, Chisholm-Beaton said only 22 per cent of politicians in the 10 municipalities and six Indigenous communities in eastern Nova Scotia are women.

On Aug. 22, she was involved in hosting a leadership school for women to help change that.

The conference, which took place in Membertou, was about encouraging more women to get involved in leadership, but it also became a place where they could have frank conversations about what they've been through.

"Some women were sharing their experiences in quiet conversations during breaks and in the hallways and at their tables," Chisholm-Beaton said. "And it really is a tough conversation to have."

Municipal election day in Nova Scotia is Oct. 17 and candidates have until Sept. 8 to join the race. 

Chisholm-Beaton said she feels like one of the lucky ones despite what she's experienced because she's had strong mentors to lean on.

"I feel fortunate, and I do feel sad for some of the other politicians who are victims of this kind of, you know, the dark side of politics ... and may not have a safety network," she said. 

"It's important to have citizens and mentors who do have your back when something unfortunate like this occurs."

With files from CBC's Information Morning