Year after year, about now, Alberta conservatives shoot themselves in the same foot

Posted on June 12, 2017, 2:19 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: Then-Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle, leader Danielle Smith and Jeff Wilson (in Wildrose T-shirts behind the sign) take part in the August 2014 Calgary Pride parade. Below: Wildrose staffer Cory Johnston, current party leader Brian Jean, former leader Smith (Photo: Dave Cournoyer) and Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley. Bottom: Calgary blogger Susan Wright.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

That is to say, for those Albertans who are still upset about having French “stuffed down their throats” with their cornflakes in the 1960s … the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Exactly one year ago, I wrote on this blog about former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s remarkably blunt comments on the damage done to her former party and the broader conservative movement by the powerful, social conservative cabal within it bitterly opposed to LGBTQ rights.

Since then, everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Today, Alberta’s two main conservative parties are well on their way to uniting into a single party. But under the leadership of former Harper Government cabinet minister Jason Kenney, the Progressive Conservative Party is now dominated by the same core of homophobic social conservatives.

Indeed, in many cases, they are now exactly the same people in both parties.

Back in the day, the PCs were the big tent that welcomed conservatives of many stripes, including so-called Red Tories (who were always more Tory than Red) and socially liberal people like Ms. Smith who also believed in conservative market economics. In Alberta’s dynastic political system, that meant many people who in any other province would have been Liberals or New Democrats were Tories too.

No more. Today, while groups in both parties have slightly different agendas and may favour Mr. Kenney, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean or some other candidate to lead the new United Conservative Party, social conservatives are in control of both parties – and the Wildrose so-cons in particular just can’t seem to shut up about their anti-social views.

As they made abundantly clear this past weekend, if you’re a conservative who is not a social conservative, and if you don’t share their anti-gay obsession, you’re not welcome.

Just before Saturday’s Edmonton Pride parade, a Wildrose legislative assistant posted on Facebook messages he received from party insiders after he let it be known he planned to take part in yesterday’s Edmonton Pride Run and Walk. Cody Johnston has worked for the party for seven years and is openly gay.

The messages sent to Mr. Johnston are at once shocking and, given everything that’s gone before, completely unsurprising.

“We wear our Wildrose T-Shirts at Wildrose approved events,” said one correspondent. “Your event does not have approval of the membership of the Capital Region of the Wildrose Party. You certainly may do whatever you wish in your own private time; but do not give viewers the impression that this is Wildrose approved.”

“What kind of crap is this you’re mailing out in the name of the Wild Rose party,” asked another. “Everyone has the right to do whatever they want in life, but flaunting and forcing this kind of stuff down the throats of everyone else is not.” (Emphasis added; historical bilingual cornflakes reference intended.)

“The parades have become nothing but sexual lewdness and it should not be tolerated or allowed in public,” continued Mr. Johnston’s agitated interlocutor, who obviously has never attended an Alberta Pride parade. “Now quit sending out this crap and promoting something that does not belong in this party.”

“Keep the Wildrose name off your person if you participate in this event,” huffed yet another commenter.

PC members have maintained better message discipline – so far – but for Mr. Kenney himself. However, the new leader at least had the sense to flee the province for a few days after being caught suggesting students who join legally mandated gay-straight alliances in schools should be outed to their parents.

Which brings us back to Ms. Smith’s comments at this time last year. She said she believed her participation in the Calgary Pride parade in August 2014, along with then Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle and Jeff Wilson, led directly to an anonymous, targeted, telephone push-poll designed to keep Wildrose voters at home in the October 2014 by-elections

“I am convinced it cost us the Calgary-West by-election,” Ms. Smith told me last year. “Had we won just that one, everything would have been so different.” Instead, the Progressive Conservatives then led by Jim Prentice won them all, by only 315 votes in Calgary-West.

Ms. Smith said in her blog she later learned the poll “was done by a Wildrose organizer and supported by a Wildrose donor.”

At the party’s November 2014 annual general meeting, resolutions she supported in favour of progressive positions on the issues that infuriated the party’s social conservative rump were voted down. “The effort at the AGM to vote down the LGBTQ equality rights policy was apparently part of an effort to teach me a lesson for marching in Pride,” she wrote. She also made it clear many members of the same group oppose reconciliation with Indigenous citizens.

It wasn’t long after that, in December 2014, that Ms. Smith tried to lead here caucus across the floor of the Legislature to join Mr. Prentice’s PCs – a strategy that had unintended consequences, including, arguably, election of an NDP government.

At this time last year, similarly, Mr. Jean was facing a revolt by the group of same people over his efforts to make the party more inclusive.

As for Mr. Johnston, he told media on the weekend, “It’s incredibly disheartening to have received these messages from Wildrose members about attending an event that is supposed to promote love and acceptance.” He urged Mr. Jean to remove the members who sent the messages and seriously address the problem.

Mr. Jean will likely try to pass this ruckus off as the work of a few bad apples. If he actually tries to do anything about it, he will face the same reaction he did when he attempted to discipline his finance critic, MLA Derek Fildebrandt, after the Strathmore-Brooks MLA endorsed a homophobic slur of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on social media.

The Wildrose Party is not going to change. The PC Party, meanwhile, has changed for the worse.

Movers and shakers in both clearly believe they can win a general election without compromising on these issues.

Socially progressive conservatives can find another political home, or they can put up with bigotry, but it’s unlikely they can do anything about it.

Given that, you can hardly blame Premier Rachel Notley for drawing the obvious comparison between the homophobic snakepit on Alberta’s right and the inclusive policies of the province’s New Democratic Government.

“Love is Love,” the premier Tweeted Saturday, announcing the Alberta Legislature would be lit up with a rainbow to celebrate Edmonton Pride.

Blogger usefully deconstructs Wildrose reaction to Fort Mac fire report leaks

Blogger Susan Wright has done Albertans a favour by deconstructing the Wildrose Party’s tendentious and misleading attacks on the NDP Government for its response to two reports on the Fort McMurray wildfire leaked to media last week.

“A three-week delay from the day the government received the final versions of the auditors’ reports and its release of the reports plus its implementation plans is not a shocking display of arrogance or a blow to democracy,” the Calgary lawyer writes in her Susan on the Soapbox blog. “It’s a prompt professional response by a government that wants to get the job done right (and a much faster turnaround than anything Ms. Soapbox has witnessed in the private sector).”

Moreover, Ms. Wright pointed out, if you actually read the reports, which were scheduled to be released four days after the Opposition got ahold of them, it is clear they do not support Mr. Jean’s cherry-picked and inflated allegations.

2 Comments to: Year after year, about now, Alberta conservatives shoot themselves in the same foot

  1. David

    June 12th, 2017

    Yes, the more things change the less the social conservatives who now control the Wildrose and PC parties seem to stay the same.

    We should not be surprised by the reaction of Wildrose members. After all, did their leader bother to show up at the Edmonton Pride Parade? Nope. Of course, neither did PC leader Kenney. They both apparently had better and more important things to do. The implicit message of both being – LGBT issues and rights are not a priority of either party

    At least Ms. Smith made an effort to drag her party kicking in screaming into the 21st century, but in the end she was not successful.

    If the anti LGBT members were a small, but vocal minority, they might have been a bit embarrassing, but in the end Ms. Smith would have prevailed. The truth, which Wildrose does not want to admit, is those members views are closer to the views of most of the party’s members. This is one reason why it is so hard for Mr. Jean to deal with them. Maybe Mr. Jean is more politically astute on this than Ms. Smith – he is not going to pick battles in his own party that he does not think he can win. He also, has another social conservative – Kenney, looking right over his shoulder. If he does clamp down, they will probably all go over to supporting the often more vocal social conservative Kenney, or perhaps they already have.

    If the e-mail the Wildrose staffer had sent out had been for say a rally for home schooling, there would have been no kerfuffle like this among party members. It might have even attracted a lot of support.

    It’s too bad Wildrose has taken these steps back since Ms. Smith. Even if I don’t agree with some of their ideas it would have been good to have them in the Edmonton Pride Parade, but I guess Mr. Jean is afraid of the reaction of his members and perhaps Mr. Kenney is afraid of something too. However, while these two parties are moving backwards, I think the rest of Alberta is moving ahead.

  2. brett

    June 13th, 2017

    What remains clear to me about both Wildrose and Conservative parties is that they are not parties for all Albertans. They are apparently political parties for some Albertans. And their respective gutless leaders do absolutely nothing to dispel this.

    Voted for them in the past, but could not bring myself to vote for either, or for a united party, today. If not for the folks who control those respective parties, simply for the leadership (or lack thereof) of Jean and Kenney.

    They sometimes make me feel ashamed to be an Albertan. Just read FP this AM, it is on the front page of their online edition. Very embarrassing.


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