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Death of Wildrose founder and journalist-ideologue Link Byfield a major blow to Alberta social conservative right

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Link Byfield

The death of Link Byfield at 63 is a major loss for the social conservative right in Alberta. He will also be missed by readers who want no part of the so-con right's enthusiasms and crusades but nevertheless admire good writing and lively opinionating.

Eric Linkord Byfield, who succumbed to cancer on Saturday after an illness of several months, was one of the founders of the Wildrose Party in 2007 but was best known for his articulate and strongly worded columns in the Sun newspaper chain and Alberta Report Magazine, the now defunct right-wing news magazine founded by his father Ted Byfield.

Had he not been gravely ill, the uncompromising Byfield is bound to have had some sharply worded things to say about the abandonment last month of the Wildrose Party, not to mention their principles, by its leader and 10 of her MLAs. Who knows, if he had been well enough, perhaps one of his columns might have been enough to nip the mass defection in the bud and save the party.

In 2004, Byfield won one of Alberta's non-binding senatorial elections, but was never appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives to a seat in Canada's Upper House, which I am sure was a great disappointment to him. To his credit, he campaigned as if he were running in a real election.

Byfield ran as a Wildrose Alliance candidate in Whitecourt-Ste. Anne in the 2008 Alberta general election and for the renamed Wildrose Party in the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock riding northwest of Edmonton in the 2012 provincial vote.

When he announced his second run, it looked as if he was going to have to take on Ken Kowalski, Speaker of the House and probably the most secure politician in the province at that time. This lent the whole affair an air of tilting at windmills, not an activity unknown to Byfield. But in the event, Kowalski retired and the Tories fielded a much weaker candidate, Maureen Kubinec, now Premier Jim Prentice's minister of culture and tourism. Byfield came within 341 votes of victory.

If Byfield had been a member of the Wildrose Legislative caucus, I very much doubt he would have humiliated the party he helped create by traipsing across the floor to join the Tory back benches as did leader Danielle Smith on Dec. 17.

Byfield's lack of political success can probably be attributed to the intensity and distance from the mainstream of his social conservative views -- his magazine featured eye-popping opinions opposing many rights for sexual minorities, birth control for unmarried women, worries that a feminist legal elite might declare "open season on men," and the evils of rap music, among many examples -- which were increasingly out of tune and out of step with the times.

This likely accounts for why even the federal Conservatives passed over him for a Senate seat, and almost certainly played a role in the the business failure of Alberta Report Magazine in 2003.

Byfield also had the habit of involvement in quixotic organizations to advance his family's social conservative enthusiasms, including one called the Society to Explore and Record Christian History and another called the Citizens' Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The latter stands, among other things, "against expanding influence of the Charter of Rights."

It would be a mistake, however, to assume from this that Byfield was not extremely influential in advancing the causes he believed in. His successes, though, came more through journalism.

Like those of his father, his own columns were focused, well written and entertaining to read, even when one disagreed profoundly. In particular, though, the platform offered by the Byfield clan's magazine, where he was at times both editor and publisher, gave training and opportunities to a generation of ideologically motivated journalists including Colby Cosh, Lorne Gunter, Ezra Levant and Kenneth Whyte, whose many successes make a mockery of the claim there is a liberal media bias in this country.

Byfield was honoured in September at a tribute night in Calgary organized by the neoliberal Manning Centre founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

Byfield is survived by his wife Joanne, also a successful journalist associated with right-wing causes, a daughter and three sons, as well as his father. One of his sons, Colman Byfield, continues the family tradition as one of the Sun's stable of columnists, albeit one of more moderate views than those often expressed by his father.

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

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