Any good talk radio host understands that the show doesn’t belong to the host, it belongs to the listeners. And if this past weekend’s annual general meeting is any indication, talk radio host-turned-Premier Danielle Smith might be taking a similar approach as leader of the United Conservative Party.
Aside from a nod to protecting parental rights during her keynote speech, Smith largely stood out of the way as more than 3,700 delegates packed into Calgary’s BMO Centre to vote on party policy and elect a new executive board. It was an impressive crowd and probably the largest provincial political convention in Alberta’s history.
The last comment was made by UCP education critic Mark Smith, who is running for re-election in Drayton Valley-Devon. Smith made the remarks in a sermon from November 2013 that was posted on the website of the Calvary Baptist Church in Drayton Valley.
“You don’t have to watch any TV for any length of time today where you don’t see on the TV program them trying to tell you that homosexuality and homosexual love is good love,” Smith said in the sermon. “Heck, there are people out there, I could take you to places on the website I’m sure, where you can find out, where pedophilia is love.”
Smith also questioned how any woman who has an abortion could say that it is done out of love. His comments were made public today by the CJSR radio program GayWire.
Postmedia reports that Smith was also the author of a 2015 document circulated to his fellow Wildrose Party MLAs arguing that Christian public schools had a constitutional right to fire teachers who are gay.
Edmonton-GlenoraNDP candidate Sarah Hoffman was quick to criticize Smith’s comments, stating in a press release that his comments were “offensive, homophobic and completely neglect women’s rights.” She called on Kenney to fire Smith as a candidate.
Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandeltweeted that “By endorsing this candidate, Jason Kenney has shown he doesn’t understand Alberta in 2019. Albertans care about jobs and the economy, absolutely. But we also expect a fair, tolerant, pluralistic society where EVERYONE is equal.”
Even popular conservative radio host Charles Adler weighed in, tweeting that “No mainstream political leader who I have known, federal or provincial, aspiring to be the head of gov’t would be endorsing this candidacy. I hope Jason Kenney changes his mind.”
The two UCP candidates who made the other comments I mentioned at the beginning of this article quickly resigned their candidacies after their comments became public.
With the deadline for being placed on the ballot having passed last Friday, Kenney cannot remove Smith from the ballot. Kenney can send a strong message that these comments are unacceptable in the UCP by telling Smith that he will not be welcome to sit in the UCP caucus if he re-elected on April 16.
But it appears that Kenney will continue to support him.
In a written statement released online this afternoon through Kenney’s @UniteAlberta twitter account, Smith said he did not recall making the comments and apologized if his words offended anyone. It was a classic non-apology apology.
In statements from Smith and Livingstone-Macleod candidate Roger Reid, who was also facing criticism for comments he made during a sermon in 2012, the UCP candidates said that “Albertans are tired of revisiting old, divisive debates from many years prior.” I think many Albertans are tired of UCP candidates revisiting these old, divisive debates.
While the UCP tries to focus on its economic message, the constant stream of bozo-eruptions shows that on social issues and human rights, some members of Team Kenney continue to be way out of step with mainstream 21st century Alberta.
Ryan Jespersen calls out Mark Smith, homophobia and hate in Jason Kenney’s UCP like only he can:
Conservative radio host Charles Adler interviews Jason Kenny about his views on gay rights and UCP candidate Mark Smith:
With more than 2,500 party members in attendance, this weekend’s United Conservative Party founding convention was one of the biggest political events in Alberta’s recent memory. It was a big show of force for the official opposition party, which continues to dominate in the polls and fundraising.
Fifty-seven percent of convention delegates voted in favour of a policy that would out students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. Supporters of the policy claimed it was about parental rights, but that did not stop three MLAs from going to mic to plead with UCP members to end the madness.
“This is about outing gay kids,” said Calgary-Hays UCP MLA Ric McIver as he pleaded with party members not to pass the policy. “Don’t be called the Lake of Fire party, I’m begging you. This will really severely hurt our chances at winning. Don’t do that to yourself.”
“When we’re talking about freedoms, that means all people’s freedoms. That means making sure that children have safe spaces in schools,” urged Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer.
But the pleas from the MLAs were not enough to change the minds of members, including a well organized contingent of social conservatives, at the convention.
It could, and probably will, be argued that Kenney’s denouncement of this policy contradicted his “Grassroots Guarantee” that the party membership will determine the party’s policies. Kenney used the “guarantee” as a way of circumventing any substantive policy debates during the 2017 UCP leadership contest.
It is not clear what other member-endorsed policies Kenney will choose to ignore if and when he becomes Alberta’s next premier.
UCP members also adopted policies to eliminate the carbon tax, reintroduce a flat tax, increase privatization in health care and education, and require parental consent for invasive medical procedures on a minor (this motion was cheered by anti-abortion groups).
All things considered, it is hard to imagine that Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats could have hoped for a better outcome this weekend.
The presence of a federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer as a keynote speaker would have been unheard of at any provincial party convention in recent years. Scheer was joined at the convention by a number of Conservative MPs, and former leader Rona Ambrose, who spoke at the convention on a panel about women in politics.
The relationship between the federal and provincial conservative parties has always been complex, but it has been exceptionally complicated over the past three decades. The rise of the Reform Party and collapse of the federal PC Party in the early 1990s meant there was no formal alliance between the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta for many years.
Almost as soon as the Conservative Party of Canada was formed in 2003, the Alberta Alliance, and later the Wildrose Alliance and Wildrose Party split the provincial conservative movement, leaving federal Conservative MPs divided in their loyalties for the PC and Wildrose parties.
While most of the focus has been on the Wildrose-PC merger, Kenney’s “unity” extends to the federal party as well.
“Feminism is Cancer” was the subject line of an email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the showing of the film “Red Pill.” The Wildrose club planned to screen the film, which online reviews describe as exploring Men’s Rights issues, on the U of C campus on International Women’s Day.
The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” and I will assume that the Young Wildrosers who wrote the email were not referring to cancer by its purely medical definition.
The email and the event are offensive and after a swift backlash online, the club responded on twitter that it had fired its director of communications and was no longer co-sponsoring the event.
The federal Conservative Party club also announced it would no long co-sponsor the film screening but the event is still being held by another co-sponsor, a group calling itself the “Canadian Advocates for Freedom and Liberty.” It is bizarre that even a campus political club would be so tone-deaf and insensitive, especially with talk of creating a new conservative party before the next election.
It would be easy to chalk up the “Feminism is Cancer” email to student tomfoolery or immaturity if it were not already part of a trend of Wildrose Party bozo-eruptions that go all the way back to the 2012 election.
Back in 2012, before the Lake of Fire became part of the province’s political lingo, then-party leader Danielle Smith confirmed the existence of a good conduct bonds of $1,000 to be paid by anyone who ran for a Wildrose Party nomination.
Maybe it will be time for Brian Jean and Jason Kenney to increase the good conduct bond to $10,000?
The rally featured Neal Bernard “The Roughneck” Hancock removing his shoes and throwing them at the doors of the Legislature, former federal cabinet minister Chris Alexander appearing to nod as protesters chanted “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, and climate change denying, anti-gay and anti-immigration messages on signs and pamphlets.
While the crowd certainly included Albertans who are frustrated and angry at the economy and the government, the bizarre program and assortment of weird fringe groups distracted from any anti-carbon tax message they hoped to send.
“A screen shot of a Facebook message posted earlier Friday evening by Mr. Fildebrandt and shows the message referred to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment adds to Mr. Fildebrandt, “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”
Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology, but wondered whether a man would have faced the same kind of vicious attack.
Mr. Fildebrandt made headlines last week after he took to the floor of the Assembly to attack Ms. Wynne’s record as premier as she sat as a guest in the Speaker’s Gallery in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”
Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Premier Rachel Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. As unabashed advocates for oil pipelines in all directions, the timing of the Wildrose critic’s hyper-partisan rant was baffling.
The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson fit naturally into his role as the Wildrose Party’s chief attack dog but his anticssometimes attracted more attention than his party’s actual message.
As the Official Opposition Finance critic and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fildebrandt was one of the most high profile opposition MLAs and the New Democratic Party government’s most uncompromising and unrelenting critic. He will now sit as an Independent MLA.
Alberta’s opposition parties are preparing for a spring by-election in Calgary-Greenway. The east Calgary constituency was represented by Progressive Conservative MLA Manmeet Bhullar from 2008 until late 2015, when Mr. Bhullar was killed in a traffic accident on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway. A by-election is expected to be called before the end of May 2016.
I am told the New Democratic Party has scheduled its nomination meeting for Feb. 20, 2016, though this is not publicly listed on the party’s website. Past NDP candidate Don Monroe posted on his Facebook Page on Feb. 1, 2016 that he is “wondering what’s going on in Greenway concerning representation” and is still waiting for the party to inform him when a nomination meeting will be held. Mr. Monroe earned 36 percent of the vote in the May 2015 election, placing eight points behind Mr. Bhullar.
Aryan Sadat has announced his intention to seek for the PC nomination. Mr. Sadat challenged former MLA Teresa Woo-Paw for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the Calgary-Northern Hills constituency in January 2015. In 2014, he hosted a fundraiser with then-PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice and Mr. Bhullar.
Some PC members have expressed hope that Calgary police chief Rick Hanson will seek the nomination. Mr. Hanson stepped down as police chief to run as a star candidate for the PC Party in the May 2015 election, but he was defeated by New Democrat Ricardo Miranda in the Calgary-Cross constituency.
Memories of the 2012 election could haunt the Wildrose Party. Four years ago, the party’s candidate in Calgary-Greenway helped destroy Wildrose chances of winning the election when he was quote as saying he had a Caucasian advantage in this multi-cultural constituency.
These comments hit the newspaper headlines about the same time as the Lake of Fire blog post from another Wildrose candidate was made public. Those two comments have saddled the Wildrose Party with a reputation as being the party of social conservatives in Alberta.
The Liberals have scheduled their candidate selection meeting for Feb. 29, 2016. A recent annual meeting of the local Liberal association was attended by the party’s interim leader David Swann, recent federal candidate Matt Grant, and Calgary-Skyview Member of Parliament Darshan Kang. Mr. Kang was the MLA for the neighbouring Calgary-McCall constituency from 2008 to 2015.
It appears that the Alberta Party has yet to schedule a date for a nomination meeting.
A short few months ago, it almost felt inevitable that the Wildrose Party would sweep into a majority government at the next election. Their support in the polls was skyrocketing and the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives looked corrupt, broken and battered. But over the past few weeks, it appears the Official Opposition is stumbling into disarray.
Leader Danielle Smith’s plans to reenergize her party after its four recent by-election loses were sabotaged by social conservative party activists who rallied to reject a motion in support of equality at the party’s recent annual meeting. The defeated motion would have pledged the Wildrose to defend the rights of all people, “regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.” The vote has cast a shadow over the party.
After spending two years trying to distance herself from the “Lake of Fire” comments that cost the Wildrose its chance of winning the last election, it appears that Ms. Smith is back to square one.
The defeat of the motion led Terrence Lo, the party’s vice-president in Calgary-Glenmore, to publicly resign.
“This vote confirmed to me that the misguided angry beliefs of a minority of the rank and file holds actual sway in party policy,” Mr. Lo wrote on his blog.
Lawyer Chris Bataluk, who ran for the Wildrose in Edmonton-Decore in the 2012 election, posted a stinging critique of his now former party on Facebook today.
“At this point I feel that the Wildrose Party was a noble but failed experiment,” Mr. Bataluk wrote. “It is of little joy to participate in a party that allows itself to be branded as the party of backward homophobes.”
Mr. Bataluk also noted that he did not renewed his party membership when it expired in August 2014.
Mr. Bataluk’s Facebook post was notably “liked” by Little Bow Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s colleague, Joe Anglin, recently left the Wildrose Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA, citing an internal civil war.
The opposition party’s sudden turn is an important reminder of how quickly a party, or a leader’s, political fortunes can turn from good to worse.
Ms. Smith still has time to turn her party’s fortunes around, but the Wildrose Party is increasingly beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The party has a dedicated base of supporters and has shown its ability to raise significant amounts of money, but it now struggles to find relevance in a post-Alison Redford political environment. Can the Wildrose Party be more than a protest party?
While PC Premier Jim Prentice is still surrounded by many of the MLAs and party activists who stood loyally with Ms. Redford until her spectacular end, he has skillfully distanced himself from his predecessor’s legacy. The PC Party is once again masterfully attempting to reinvent itself in the image of its new leader.
After 43 years in power, it seems that anytime an opposition party gets close to defeating the PCs, they soon get knocked out. Not long after Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party to near victory in 1993, infighting and floor crossing destroyed any opportunity of a second chance at unseating the PCs.
Perhaps a sign of the PC Party’s versatility are two key players from Mr. Decore’s 1993 surge who now sit comfortably in the government ranks. Former Liberal MLA Mike Percy is now Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff and Gene Zwozdesky, first elected as a Liberal MLA, is now a PC MLA and the Speaker of the Assembly.
Those disenchanted Tories took a big political risk when they stepped out of line with Alberta’s Natural Governing Party to help start the Wildrose. The dangerous question for Ms. Smith is whether they are beginning to regret making that choice?
The day after it was revealed that Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver attended and endorsed the March for Jesus, a group which has posted hateful homophobic rants on its website, Mr. McIver was nowhere to be found.
Instead of publicly defending his support, or denouncing the extreme elements in that organization, the former cabinet minister and Calgary MLA hid behind a Facebook comment, and an unclear one at that. It felt uncharacteristic for a leadership candidate who has painted himself as a populist conservative.
It seems that, once again, the PC Party has committed self-immolation by tossing away one of its strongest playing cards – the ability to paint the Wildrose Party as the province’s only ‘Lake of Fire‘ Party. While short-term Premier Dave Hancock is a moderate conservative, who participated in Edmonton’s Pride Parade last week, it is clear that the elements of the big-tent PC Party are not as supportive.
Even if, or perhaps more likely, when Mr. McIver is defeated by PC leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice, the damage could be hard to be undone.
As the last provincial election proved, these type of extreme views may have found a home in the mainstream views of Albertans 30 or 40 years ago, but do not represent the views of modern Albertans in 2014.
Meanwhile, Wildrose Party strategists are sitting back and watching as the PC Party help to make them look less scary in the minds of Albertans.
“Last year alone, Calgary’s streets were flooded with people of wrong sexual preferences during a homosexual parade of over 30,000 attendees and none of them were embarrassed the slightest to publicly even present their nakedness in front of families and in front of future generations to openly proclaim and manifest that they are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan) and in the same way not concerned with provoking greatly the wrath of the Living God.”
The quote above was taken from an article on MarchForJesus.ca, which has been circulating on social media this weekend. The article also features a photo of Calgary MLA and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver as the parade marshal for the group’s 2013 event. Mr. McIver tweeted a photo while attending this year’s march in Calgary on Sunday, June 15.
Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.
Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.
Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.
Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.
Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.
Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.
The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire. And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.
In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).
Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)