UCP Drayton Valley-Devon candidate Mark Smith, cutting cake, with some of his supporters (Photo: Facebook).

With the revelation United Conservative Party candidate Mark Smith holds the offensive view gay love can never be real love, and equates LGBTQ people with pedophiles, it appeared that Alberta’s United Conservative Party was finally having its own genuine Lake of Fire moment.

But was it?

Pastor Smith in explaining mode (Photo: Facebook).

It certainly looked like it in the aftermath of the story that broke when CJSR, a campus radio station at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, played parts of a recording of a sermon by Mr. Smith to his Baptist church in the Drayton Valley-Devon riding made before he entered politics and left online. He was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015.

The reaction to Pastor Smith’s sermon was harsh, including from conservative commentators whom one might have expected to be more forgiving of offensive commentary by members of the party of Jason Kenney. After all, there have been more than two dozen bozo eruptions and Mr. Kenney has forgiven many of them.

But there was something different about Mr. Smith’s ugly message to his former congregants, delivered in a smug preacher voice, that “You don’t have to watch any TV for any length of time today where you don’t see on the TV programs them trying to tell you that homosexuality and homosexual love is good love. Heck, there are even people out there, I could take you to places on the website, I’m sure, where you could find out that there’s … where pedophilia is love.”

Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the perpetrator of the original Lake of Fire incident in 2012 (Photo: Twitter).

This was all the more troubling because Mr. Smith is an accredited schoolteacher, lately touted as a likely minister of education in a Kenney cabinet. He is the man, in other words, who would be in charge of satisfying the UCP’s many opponents of LGBTQ rights in the controversy about NDP legislation, unpopular with social conservatives, that prevents school officials from outing students to their parents if they join a gay-straight alliance.

In a scathing interview on Toronto conservative broadcaster Charles Adler’s program, Edmonton radio host Ryan Jespersen, a small-c conservative commentator, bitterly denounced Mr. Smith and, by extension, Mr. Kenney for tolerating him and his offensive and out-dated views.

“It does represent Jason Kenney’s values, and that’s why Jason Kenney’s not doing a damn thing about it,” Mr. Jespersen fumed to Mr. Adler. “Jason Kenney is beholden to the Wilberforce Project, he’s beholden to Right Now, he’s beholden to Parents for Choice in Education, he’s beholden to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, he’s beholden to Ezra Levant and Rebel Media, he’s beholden to John Carpay who has compared the Pride flag to the Nazi swastika, he’s beholden to home schoolers and anti-vaxxers, he’s beholden to anti-choice activists, he’s beholden to the people on the fringe that are providing a huge amount of support to him from the social conservative side of things.”

UCP Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

He continued: “What I want to do right now is ask my friends who are in the centre, or the centre right, of the spectrum, that have conservative values but that have a moral compass … how in good faith they are going to support a party that is supporting candidates that are making disgusting comments like the ones that Mark Smith made five years ago in front of a congregation full of people?”

The full clip is worth a listen.

The term Lake of Fire, by the way, is a reference to comments made by another evangelical pastor, Allan Hunsperger, that people who live a gay lifestyle are doomed to burn forever in a lake of fire. Pastor Hunsperger’s blog post was discovered just before the 2012 election that the Wildrose Party was widely expected to win.

It proved to be a dramatic turning point in that election. Albertans swiftly turned against the Wildrose Party, and the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected under Alison Redford.

But Pastor Hunsperger seemed sincerely motivated by a wish to help people avoid the eternal fate he believed they faced. In that regard, at least, his words were not as offensive as those of Pastor Smith, who, when discovered, said he didn’t remember speaking them, then issued an apology of the sorry-if-anyone-took-offence variety.

As for Mr. Kenney, he failed to live up to his long-ago promise to dump any candidate who expressed such opinions. It is also pretty clear that his promise the UCP would “rigorously” vet its candidates was never kept. The party seems to have had no vetting process at all, unless Mr. Kenney actually wanted these types to represent the UCP.

Edmonton radio host Ryan Jespersen (Photo: Twitter).

But to return to the fundamental question, as it were, whether or not this is a true Lake of Fire moment depends a bit on how you define the term.

If you mean it will change the course of the election from the longstanding narrative Mr. Kenney’s election is a certainty, that remains to be seen. No matter what, the NDP has a steep hill to climb, and little time remains before the election on April 16.

Even if, as some polls suggest, the polls are trending in the NDP’s favour, can they change fast enough?

If you mean it’s set back the Opposition party, even if it still wins, that too is unclear.

But if you mean it’s an embarrassment, Mr. Smith’s exposure should meet that low bar. But Mr. Kenney has played cute on that score several times already, telling people who are offended that he’s offended too – then doing nothing. That amounts to a wink to his social conservative base, despite many calls by moderate conservatives to toss the pastor out.

This has been true when the issue was LGBTQ rights. (Mr. Carpay, a founder of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom and the man who compared the Pride flag to a swastika, is still a welcome member of the party.) And it’s been true when candidates expressed sympathy for white supremacist views and publicly doubted climate change is a real thing.

One thing is for sure. Drayton Valley-Devon is probably the safest UCP seat in the province. Mr. Smith will be elected there no matter what he says. Even if Mr. Kenney were to do the right thing and kick him out, he’d be elected because it’s now too late to get another UCP candidate on the ballot.

So the jury’s still out on whether Mr. Smith’s undoubted bozo eruption will add up to a true Lake of Fire moment.

Tony Abbott, where is he now?

Speaking of Drayton Valley, what’s with the candidates Conservatives find to run there?

Tony Abbott, who back in the day was another Drayton Valley MLA (Photo: Presto Printing, San Antonio, Texas).

Alert readers will recall Tony Abbott, the PC MLA for the Drayton Valley-Calmar riding, and also an evangelical pastor, who famously accused Ontario MP Belinda Stronach of “whoring herself out for power” when she crossed the floor of the House of Commons from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 2005.

He later had some kind of a confrontation in the back halls of the Legislature Building, the details of which are unclear, with an Alberta Liberal MLA who had criticized him in the House.

It must be something in the water.

According to the Wikipedia, Mr. Abbott now lives in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Alamo, and runs a printing press called Presto Printing. Perhaps this is a tribute to Preston Manning.

Rule of law rears its head; judge punts Kamikaze Campaign injunction bid

Good try, but late yesterday, a Calgary judge punted the bid by six applicants to halt the investigation into in Jeff Callaway’s 2017 UCP leadership campaign by the Office of the Election Commissioner.

The applicants, who all played roles in Mr. Callaway’s campaign, had sought the injunction on the grounds the investigation into their past election activities interfered with their fundamental right to take part in the current provincial election campaign.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker ruled it is in the public interest that the investigation continue.

It’s that rule of law thing again.

Join the Conversation


  1. Mr. Kenney got exactly the candidates he wanted. However, he probably hoped that some of their past comments wouldn’t come to light at such a politically inopportune time. Mr. Jesperson got it right as Wilberforce leanings were not regarded as a liability in their vetting process, but an asset by Kenney and the UCP. This is exactly why we are at this point now.

    I never found the UCP protestations that they did not want to focus on social issues and just on the economy very convincing. They are chock full of social conservative activist candidates, past and present starting right at the very top. This protestation did reassure some moderate conservatives for a while, or at least it did until it became evident that like the grassroots guarantee and no kamikaze collusion it was just another politically convenient fairy tale told by Kenney to hold together an unweildly coalition.

    I think this is not Lake of Fire II, at least not quite yet. However, there are no shortage of UCP troubles right now and I think it will be the combination of all of them that ultimately does serious political damage to them.

  2. The rules are different now that the nomination deadline has passed, and the UPC cannot simply replace Smith with a (hopefully) more savory candidate. If the UPC were to expel Mark Smith, it would define a standard that warrants expulsion, which, of course, they would be expected to maintain for the rest of the campaign.

    Is the reason Jason Kenney isn’t expelling Mark Smith is because he is afraid of how many other candidates he would have to expel?

  3. David, you raise a very valid point with regards to Mark Smith as education minister, and I would seriously hope this issue will put an end to such talk. Smith was, I believe also the UPC education critic before the writ was dropped.

    A premier Kenney could have a hard time assembling a cabinet free of odious members.

  4. Rachel Notley needs to put a dagger straight in the heart of UCP intolerance and bigotry tonight. That shouldn’t be too difficult — given the overwhelming evidence and the abundance of parochial players in the UCP who have become Alberta’s newest national embarrassment.

  5. I’ve never witnessed a more toxic political environment. My wife and I are seriously considering leaving the province that we and the generation before us helped build. I’m at a loss to explain this. Sadness is much too gentle a term to describe how we feel!

  6. The real bozo eruption was Kenney’s response or lack thereof particularly his interview with Adler. It wasn’t his unwillingness to dump the candidate it was his lack of remorse for his San Francisco activities that was most telling in this interview. It’s a good interview in the sense that it shows his true character and wasn’t a partisan attack ad. I think a lot of middle of the road conservatives will start looking elsewhere this election.

    1. I agree, Jim. I wonder how many UPC candidates are hearing ‘Kenney skepticism’ from middle of the road conservatives when they are out door knocking. At this point I do believe Jason Kenney is the weakest link in the formation of a big tent conservative party.

      For a while I wondered if, fresh from hearing Kenney skepticism on doorsteps, we might see a caucus revolt once the UCP is safely elected, like we did with Alison Redford. I no longer think that, however; there seems to be so many extremist candidates I don’t think a revolt would take hold. Anti-abortion groups have bragged about how pro-life this caucus will be.

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