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Alberta conservatives shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to LGBTQ rights

Then-Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle, leader Danielle Smith and Jeff Wilson (all behind the sign) take part in the August 2014 Calgary Pride parade.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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,” 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.

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 peoples.

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

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

As for 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 Jean to remove the members who sent the messages and seriously address the problem.

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.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Wildrose Party.

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