Senior Alberta NDP legislature member Shannon Phillips to resign seat

  • Canadian Press

Alberta New Democrat MLA Shannon Phillips is expected to detail why she's stepping down before finishing her third term in office. Phillips speaks during an announcement in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON -- Shannon Phillips, a member of the Alberta's Opposition NDP and a former environment minister, is quitting public life, citing toxic politics and police surveillance.

"The coarsening of political discourse in public life is very problematic," Phillips told a news conference in Lethbridge on Monday, adding that climate makes it more difficult to attract good political candidates.

"There's no question that many of these dynamics are worsening.

"There is also no question that I am well-placed to be able to speak about them."

Phillips is a three-term member for Lethbridge-West, first elected in 2015. She said she plans to resign from the legislature July 1.

As environment minister under the former NDP government, she was a key architect of the provincial carbon tax, accelerated phaseout of coal-fired electricity and worked to expand protected parks.

Her departure comes after the province's law enforcement watchdog recommended Crown prosecutors charge Lethbridge police officers who carried out unauthorized police database searches of Phillips in 2017 and 2018.

An investigation determined Phillips had been surveilled and targeted over her environmental policies.

Despite that finding from the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, prosecutors decided in May not to charge the police.

Phillips warned that legislative assemblies, legal systems and political parties aren't prepared to counter the effects of organized misinformation.

"The far right is responsible for whipping up disinformation and anger and hate," she said.

"It did have an effect on my decision-making and it is important to recognize it. Sweeping it under the rug or other responses do not work. And it won't. It leads down a dark path."

Phillips joins a growing number of public figures facing intimidation and threats.

Former federal environment minister Catherine McKenna needed beefed up security protection after being targeted by misogynistic harassment before leaving politics in 2021.

Deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland was met with a tirade of profanities outside an elevator in an office in Grande Prairie, Alta., sparking an RCMP investigation.

Last year, a man was convicted in Alberta of a criminal offence for sending a threatening email to Edmonton-area NDP legislature member Marlin Schmidt.

University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young said while politicians across the board are experiencing threats and abuse to varying degrees, women and racialized minorities are hit harder.

"(Phillips) got some of the worst of it," said Young.

Speaking out about it runs the risk of empowering the harassers, she added.

The experience of Phillips and her willingness to speak about it is "evidence that she understands this as a systemic problem and something that needs to be addressed in systemic ways," said Young.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley, said in a statement: "Shannon was an important leader in the Alberta NDP government and played a pivotal role in making sure country-leading environmental progress happened right here in Alberta."

Her exit comes as New Democrats in the province are set to vote June 22 to pick a new leader to replace Notley.

Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the presumed front-runner, is the only leadership candidate without a seat in the legislature but would be able to run once a byelection is called in Lethbridge-West.

In a statement posted to social media Monday, Nenshi praised the work of Phillips.

"While I understand and appreciate Shannon's reasoning for stepping down, it's disheartening that the public discourse and outright intimidation from police officers in her own city means that we are losing an incredible female public servant," he wrote.

Phillips has endorsed leadership candidate Kathleen Ganley, legislature member for Calgary Mountain-View.

Phillips said the timing of her announcement isn't about the leadership race.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024.