Jason Kenney gave no indication in a radio interview Wednesday that he plans on dropping Mark Smith, a United Conservative Party (UCP) candidate who has come under fire for past remarks that have been labelled homophobic and anti-abortion.
Speaking with Global News Radio’s Charles Adler, the UCP leader said he “condemns” Smith’s remarks, but said he’ll keep the candidate who’s running for re-election in the riding of Drayton Valley-Devon.
Kenney also faced a series of tough questions about controversies that have ensnared UCP candidates, the party’s diversity, and how he responds to people who are “screaming at the radio,” alleging that the Alberta Conservatives have attracted members who “hate LGBTQ people.”
“Why are so many people who bash gays, and bash women, why are so many people who bash Muslims, attracted to the United Conservative Party?” Adler asked him at one point.
“Charles, I reject that,” Kenney responded.
Through it all, the UCP leader said he’s “proud of the candidates who are representing our party” and rejected as a “smear job” a list of candidates and party members who’ve been dogged by controversy.
Smith’s remarks were caught on a tape that recorded a sermon from 2013 – two years before he was elected as the Wildrose MLA for the riding of Drayton Valley-Devon.
Here’s what Smith could be heard saying on the tape:
“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 homosexual love is good love.
“Heck, there are even people, I could take you to places on the website, I’m sure where you could find out, where pedophilia is love.”
WATCH BELOW: Central Alberta UCP candidate Mark Smith comes under fire over homophobic, anti-abortion comments
Listening to the tape, Kenney said he hadn’t actually heard it before Adler played it for him on the air Wednesday.
That was one days after he issued a statement saying, “I personally find his comments from 2013 offensive, and Mr. Smith has rightly apologized.”
Smith did apologize — “if anyone was offended or hurt,” in a statement that was released on Monday.
“I condemn Mark Smith’s remarks that he made in his church,” Kenney told Adler on Wednesday.
“I make no bones about saying that what he said is deeply offensive to many people, and I think objectively so.”
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Kenney, however, betrayed no hint that Smith would be dropped as a candidate. If Kenney wanted to drop him as a candidate, he could not replace him as the deadline for doing so has already passed.
“I’ve never seen him or heard him, privately or publicly in that capacity , express disrespect toward anybody or any group of people,” Kenney told Adler.
“To the contrary, he voted in the legislature for the inclusion of rights within the Alberta Human Rights Act for transgender people, and for sexual minorities. He has supported the rights of students to create gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the schools, he’s written that he believes the Education Act should comply with the Charter of Rights and ensure students feel safe.
“In my interface with Mr. Smith as an MLA, he has demonstrated respect, civility and he has apologized, without reservation, for the remarks he made in his church several years ago.”
Smith is the latest of numerous UCP candidates to become ensnared in controversies over past remarks or social media posts during this election.
Before the writ dropped, Calgary-Mountain View candidate Caylan Ford resigned after past comments came to light that reportedly recalled “white nationalist rhetoric.”
Then, Calgary-South East candidate Eva Kiryakos resigned after it emerged that she retweeted an article that was titled, “Germany’s (Migrant) Rape Crisis spirals Out of Control,” which carried an image that read, “RAPEFUGEES NOT WELCOME.”
And those weren’t the only controversies to surface among potential UCP candidates either, CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen told Adler in a heated interview on Tuesday.
Jespersen said the UCP has a list of people with controversy surrounding them that’s “25 deep.”
He mentioned John Carpay, a lawyer and UCP member who compared the rainbow flag to a swastika in an anecdote talking about “hostility toward individual freedoms” at a November conference put on by The Rebel, a far-right media outlet.
Carpay apologized for making an “unintentional comparison” between the flags.
Jespersen also mentioned new Calgary-Mountain View candidate Jeremy Wong, who could reportedly be heard suggesting that wives should “submit to your husbands.”
The remark reportedly came during a sermon, and it’s similar to a passage in the Biblical book of Ephesians.
“I can’t believe that when you were helping to recruit people for the Conservative Party of Canada with Mr. Harper, Mr. Baird, and all those other mainstream Conservatives, that you would have had 25 bozo eruptions in just weeks,” Adler said.
“That’s rubbish, Charles,” Kenney responded.
“You know what, this is just going too far. There’s a list of people, some of whom never actually filed as applicants for Conservative nominations, some of whom were disqualified as candidates months ago, not weeks ago, were never allowed to run, this is a smear job.
“Listen, I am proud of the candidates who are representing our party, that represent the most diverse slate, certainly ever of a free-enterprise party in Alberta politics.”
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One of the most heated exchanges between Kenney and Adler concerned the number of openly LGBTQ candidates who are running for the UCP in Alberta’s election.
The number is zero.
Kenney said he knew of “at least two or three” openly gay people who ran for party nominations.
But none succeeded, he said, and he said he hopes that they will in the future.
“What’s the message to openly LGBTQ people in Alberta that there’s not a single one of them on the roster of the UCP?” Adler asked.
“This is a party that believes in equality of opportunity,” Kenney said.
“I actively encouraged openly gay Albertans to seek our nominations, including people who work in my office. I’m proud of the effort they made, I hope they will win competitive nominations next time.”
In an interview with Adler that followed Kenney’s appearance, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said her opponent “failed” a test when Smith’s remarks about homosexual love first emerged.
“Mr. Kenney had a choice to make, whether he kept Mr. Smith and defended the vile things Mr. Smith said, or whether he ejected him from the UCP.
“In my view, he failed that test.”
She said Kenney has demonstrated to the rest of Alberta that “we can’t trust him to stand up for the LGBTQ community or protect their rights, in that he’s keeping Mr. Smith in his caucus.”
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