PHOTOS: Rev. Allan Hunsperger, whose beliefs about the eternal fate of people who live a gay lifestyle contributed mightily to the downfall of the Wildrose Party. (Wildrose Party photo, circa 2012.) Below: Then Wildrose leader Danielle Smith; Jason Kenney, leader of the Progressive Conservatives today; and former PC premier Alison Redford.

Five years ago today, Pastor Allan Hunsperger’s Lake of Fire opened wide and the Wildrose Party fell in.

Have Alberta’s right-wing parties learned anything at all since then? It sure doesn’t seem like it. In fact, if anything, they’re getting worse.

Probably everyone in Alberta who follows politics remembers the unfortunate Rev. Hunsperger – although I’m sure he’d be just as happy if we all forgot about this particular aspect of his career.

Just in case there’s anyone out there who missed the story, Rev. Hunsperger was an evangelical Protestant Pastor from a church in Tofield, east of Edmonton. On April 15, 2012, he was also a candidate for the right-wing Wildrose Party in the riding of Edmonton-South West in the provincial election that was scheduled to take place eight days later.

Therein lay the problem.

Up until then, it looked to a lot of observers as if the Wildrose Party was riding the crest of a wave. Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservative premier who had won the PC leadership the previous October, appeared to be struggling. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith seemed poised to become Alberta’s second woman premier. There was even serious talk in political circles of a new four-decade Wildrose dynasty like the PC dynasty founded in 1971 by Peter Lougheed.

Alas for Ms. Smith and her Wildrosers, Rev. Hunsperger had also been a blogger. Back in 2011, he wrote a blog that I am sure reflected his sincere belief, in which he warned that those who live a gay lifestyle risk eternity in hell. “You will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell,” he wrote. Therefore, he concluded, “accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving!”

Pastor Hunsperger’s first big political mistake was not telling someone about his commentary when he volunteered to run as a Wildrose candidate. His second was leaving the blog post where anyone could find it.

The Wildrose Party’s first big mistake was not checking for stuff like this. When someone Tweeted a link to Rev. Hunsperger’s unfortunate post on the night of the 14th, the End was Nigh.

On the morning of April 15, the story was in the Edmonton Journal – metropolitan daily newspapers still being a thing back then – and while it wasn’t immediately apparent, the Wildrose Party as done for.

As you can see from David Staples’ column, which is still available online, Ms. Smith immediately compounded the error by standing by her man.

While Ms. Redford expressed her shock that anyone could hold such a view and skillfully reminded voters that these were the same people who could soon be choosing a cabinet, Ms. Smith defended Rev. Hunsperger for having strong religious views. “As long as they keep that in their personal lives,” she argued, “I don’t believe we’re doing anything different than other political parties.”

Had she possessed 20/20 foresight, I am sure that Ms. Smith, who most emphatically does not share Rev. Hunsperger’s views on this topic, would have done things differently.

Who knows what all the factors were that made people vote the way they did on April 23, 2012? The Wildrose Party and the Alberta punditocracy thought voters wanted to shift to the right. For whatever reasons, voters seemed content to shift a little to the left, as represented by Ms. Redford, who had campaigned as a progressive Conservative.

Whether or not the Hunsperger revelations made the difference on April 23 – they certainly had an impact – Ms. Redford’s PCs won a renewed majority. The Wildrose formed the Opposition with a disappointing (to them) 17 seats. Tory Matt Jeneroux won overwhelmingly in Edmonton-South West, with close to 60 per cent of the vote.

In hindsight, Ms. Smith’s reaction was clearly not the right one. She should have condemned Rev. Hunsperger – that close to the election it would have been impossible to dump him as a candidate.

She could even have pledged to make him sit in purgatory as an Independent if he won – although, to be fair, the political risks of that at the time must have seemed bigger than the risk of weakly supporting him. Her social conservative base would have been outraged. One seat could have made or broken a legislative majority.

This just shows, I guess, that sometimes the right thing to do is also the right thing politically.

Alberta’s right-wing political parties have never been able to crawl back out of the fiery pit Rev. Hunsperger led them into.

In fact, they keep making it worse, as the past three weeks have clearly illustrated. Like a kid with a scab, they just can’t stop picking at it.

Not only that, but it seems to me that, unlike Pastor Hunsperger, who at least was motivated by sincere religious conviction, when politicians like Wildrose-leaning PC Leader Jason Kenney stir this pot to rile up their social conservative base and wedge some voters their way, they’re doing it for reasons that are both cynical and hypocritical.

That’s far worse than a sincere desire to save people’s souls, no matter how wrongheaded.

Whatever happened in 2012, when Alberta voters became dissatisfied with Ms. Redford’s performance in office, and that of Jim Prentice who was brought in to replace her, they were quite happy to move even further to the left and elect a social democratic NDP government. As a result, Rachel Notley became Alberta’s second woman premier.

For his part, Pastor Hunsperger has returned to more familiar, and safer, territory.

Who knows what might have happened if Ms. Smith, under the influence of Preston Manning, had not blundered again and tried to get her entire caucus to join Mr. Prentice’s PCs in December 2014, opening up even more fissures on Alberta’s right.

Now it is 2017, and it’s Eastertime too – the season of redemption in Pastor Hunsperger’s eschatology. It seems unlikely there will be any redemption for the Wildrose Party this Easter.

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  1. The unfortunate political conundrum that faces right of center politicians is that followers of most religions tend to be in favour of less government and therefore land on the right side of the political spectrum. Therefore potential leaders attempt to satisfy both the social conservatives and those who lean more to financial conservativism like myself. In doing so they present themselves as easy targets for those on the left whose followers seem to have disdain for certain beliefs of organized religion. I find that the majority of devoutly religious people(of which I am not) to be very caring and charitable and am somewhat baffled by this outlook. Having said that, there is no doubt that the interpretations of scripture by some religions does cause one to shake his head. But this is Easter which I believe is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, enjoy the long weekend Dave 🙂

    1. re: ‘easy targets for those on the left whose followers seem to have disdain for certain beliefs of organized religion. ‘

      Farmer B … reflect on the upside-down perverse meaning of what you’ve written … You’re in effect saying Hunsperger (and his fellow believers are the ‘easy target’ because he believes anyone who isn’t heterosexual) “…will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell,’ Seriously? Hunsperger and fellow so-con believers are the victims? And you imply it’s uncalled for to have ‘disdain’ for those ‘certain beliefs’ the Hunsperger’s hold? No … it’s more than disdain … you don’t get it, you’ve got that too mild … more accurately those beliefs are in impact, quite cruel, despicable, nauseating, and contemptible. You’re baffled? Read the history of persecution of gays, and think about the present backlash.

      1. Actually Sam I was referring to both Brian Jean’s and Jason Kenney’s attempts to satisfy both the socially progressive and the socially conservative supporters with their poorly received statements on GSA’s. Take Calgary for example, I did some quick googling and there is roughly 290000 residents who consider themselves catholic. Now combine that with retired Bishop Fred Henry’s outlook and draw your own conclusions. The conclusion I draw is that there is a lot of potential voters with religious backgrounds. As for Rev. Hunsperger, I was loosely referring to him in the second last sentence when I referred to the interpretations of scripture by some religions does cause one to shake his head. Your reaction to what I said certainly exemplifies what a political minefield this topic is.

        1. Yes, there are a lot of people born Catholic, but that does not mean they all blindly follow every political utterance by a retired Bishop. Many of those people actually think for themselves when they vote !

          Rigid interpretation of religious doctrine does as much to alienate people, perhaps more than it gains in support.

    1. I recall during the 2015 Alberta general election, the Wildrose Party in general and Brian Jean in particular just couldn’t seem to stop talking about “Rae Days,” although it was not at all clear from the context that they understood what the term meant. (Forced days off to avoid paying public employees a far wage resulting from Bob Rae’s pathetic and ineffective effort to kowtow to the neoliberal right during his tenure as Ontario’s NDP premier.) Since Mr. Rae left office at Queen’s Park in 1995, partly as a result of his Rae Days, that was at least a 20-year-old story that was being resurrected by the Wildrosers. The only difference, of course, was that I had my facts right about the five-year-old story and used them because they happened to fit the argument I was making, whereas the Wildrosers were making up their own facts to fit their narrative. One other difference, of course, was that Mr. Rae was long gone from the Ontario provincial scene, while the Wildrose Party continues to be lousy with bigots, Mr. Jean’s basically decent instincts in this regard notwithstanding. DJC

        1. I understand that, CuJo. I have been in a cranky and trolliferous mood myself this Easter Sunday, no doubt the product of seasonal boredom. My mood is not lightening, and, if this keeps up, I am likely to make someone cry. DJC

          1. David, I honestly don’t know how you manage to keep up keeping up with everything that’s happening without snapping, running amok, and punching somebody in the throat. Your forbearance is commendable.

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