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Are Mark Smith's comments on gay love a 'lake-of-fire' moment for the UCP?

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

With the revelation that United Conservative Party candidate Mark Smith holds the offensive view gay love can never be real love, and he 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?

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 Smith to his Baptist church in the Drayton Valley-Devon riding made before he entered politics. 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 Kenney has forgiven many of them.

But there was something different about 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."

This was all the more troubling because 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 Smith and, by extension, 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," Jespersen fumed to 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."

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 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 Kenney actually wanted these types to represent the UCP.

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 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, Smith's exposure should meet that low bar. But 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. (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 if climate change is a real thing.

One thing is for sure. Drayton Valley-Devon is probably the safest UCP seat in the province. Smith will be elected there no matter what he says. Even if 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 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?

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 Wikipedia, 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 Jeff Callaway's 2017 UCP leadership campaign by the Office of the Election Commissioner.

The applicants, who all played roles in 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.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Mark Smith/Facebook

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