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MLA Rob Anderson suffers torments as Lake of Fire returns to haunt Wildrose Party

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Rob Anderson

There is nothing the brains behind the Wildrose Party would like to do more than put the whole Lake of Fire fiasco that torpedoed their election chances in 2012 so far behind them it’s in another country, out of sight and out of mind.

But Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the evangelical Christian Wildrose candidate in an urban Edmonton riding whose stern warning to gays and lesbians in his rural church's blog that they faced a fiery eternity sparked the politically deadly firestorm, appears to haunt them still.

Not Pastor Hunsperger personally, of course. He's long gone, consigned to utter political Darkness for all of eternity by the party's leadership -- presumably at least partly on the advice of strategist Tom Flanagan, the disciple of message discipline whose own loose lips got him into similar trouble for a spell not so long afterward.

But it's hard for a party that has made its stock in trade appealing to "social conservatives," many of whom try to pass off their homophobic attitudes as scripturally based and sincerely held religious beliefs, to escape this problem.

It happened again this week with one of the party's key players in hot water over a controversy that reminded lots of Albertans of Pastor Hunsperger's famously ill-timed commentary.

"Two family members of a Wildrose MLA currently sit on the board of an Airdrie private school enforcing a dress code that some have declared homophobic," is not the kind of news story that Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith wants to see about a prominent member of her caucus just as election fever begins to infect the province.

But there it was on Thursday in the Alberta editions, handed out everywhere, of the free Metro newspaper.

Wildrose strategists would rather see reports that attest to the party's changed nature and improved attitudes on this contentious topic, like the cheerful update that appeared on CTV News and other sites in the fall of 2013 proclaiming that members had denounced intolerance against anyone, "including gays."

"We believe, in this party, in the equality of all Albertans," Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson told delegates at the 2013 Wildrose meeting covered by CTV. "… But we need to be loud and proud and put this to bed once and for all. Let's pass this and send those PC fear mongers scurrying back under the rocks from where they came from!"

How embarrassing, then, that it was the same Anderson, the party's House Leader and finance critic, whose relatives are on the board of the Footprints for Learning Academy in the small city just north of Calgary that was mentioned in dispatches by Metro.

Anderson's mother Jane Anderson is chair of the school's governing society. His sister Laura Bancroft is the treasurer. His wife is listed as the society's vice-chair, although the family says that's an error. The family has long been associated with the Mormon Church, and Anderson attended Brigham Young University in Utah and spent two years as a missionary in Taiwan.

In addition to a dress code that restricts the clothing worn by students to traditional interpretations of what's gender appropriate -- no earrings or sparkly things for boys, for example -- the mother of a child who wanted to read to his classmates from a book called "My Princess Boy" claims to have been told by an administrator, "you can't spread your gay agenda here."

This may not quite put the party back where it was immediately after Pastor Hunsperger's own loose-lips moment sent the Good Ship Wildrose plummeting beneath the waves, resulting in the confirmation of premier Alison Redford as people's choice for leader of Alberta. But it's not good news for the Wildrose Party given the timing.

Redford, as is now well known, made short work of that mandate herself, and the Wildrose Party is again reported to be rising in the polls and the hearts of Albertans -- so the last thing the Wildrosers need now is a public reminder of this excruciating disaster from their past.

Their problem is that if they distance themselves too much from their most socially conservative members' beliefs, they are also inevitably distancing themselves from their most enthusiastic and generous supporters.

This is how the Wildrosers shot themselves in the foot back in April when they couldn't bring themselves to vote for Calgary Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr's motion calling for the Legislature "to introduce legislation … requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity."

All the Wildrose MLAs in the House -- Smith was absent -- voted against the non-binding motion. Quite a few supposedly Progressive Conservatives did too.

Well, the Wildrose Party is going to have to do better than that, and soon, if they don't want the ghost of Pastor Hunsperger's literary indiscretion to haunt them again the next time the writ is dropped.

And Smith might want to begin the process of getting right with urban Alberta by quizzing her caucus on whether any more of them have potential embarrassments lurking in their families like the one that just emerged from the Anderson family closet.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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