Oscar Wilde

To paraphrase Johnny Cash, they fell into a burning Lake of Fire, they went down, down, down and the flames went higher. And it burned, burned, burned … the Lake of Fire!

Well, you can bet on it, the Lake of Fire ain’t ever again gonna consume Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose Party.

The Lake of Fire, of course, was where an evangelical pastor named Allan Hunsperger reckoned the planet’s gays were destined to end up spending an exceedingly uncomfortable eternity.

That someone like Pastor Hunsperger felt that way wasn’t exactly a news bulletin, notwithstanding the kinder, gentler approach to hellfire most North American evangelicals nowadays take, from the pulpit anyhow.

It was just that the preacher had written a blog post about it, and then left it lying around on the Internet when he got the nomination to run for the Wildrose Party in an Edmonton riding during the 2012 Alberta provincial election campaign.

Most inconveniently for the Wildrosers under Leader Danielle Smith and her coterie of cagey Harper Conservative campaign strategists, this news flash hit the airwaves just as Albertans seemed about ready to give the flagging Progressive Conservative dynasty under just-appointed premier Alison Redford the heave-ho at last.

With a little help from some nervous members of Alberta’s public service unions, the homophobic pastor’s blunder into the purging flames was enough to save the Redford Tories’ sizzling bacon, one more time at least.

The disappointed Wildrosers, who hours before had nursed high hopes of forming a majority, won only 17 seats — enough to form the Opposition, but leaving the Redford Tories with a comfortable enough majority.

Since then, though, the PCs don’t seem to have learned a thing — least of all a little humility — as they lurch from crisis to crisis, alienating their former friends and repeatedly dropping the proverbial political ball.

The Wildrosers, though, have learned plenty, and they’re about to prove it this weekend in Red Deer, a small city exactly halfway between Edmonton and Calgary — a place so deep in Stockwell Day Country there’s a sign on the edge of town that says “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” OK, I made up the bit about the highway sign, but you get the idea.

Red Deer will be he site of the Wildrose Party’s 2013 policy conference, and, bet on it, the policies coming out of this event will be considerably kinder and gentler than anything we’ve seen from this bunch before.

When the dust has settled Sunday night, you’ll think the party’s sizeable social conservative contingent has been chained to its chairs in a darkened back room — and maybe it will have been!

Mark my words, this event will be stage managed with an iron hand that will make federal disciplinarian Stephen Harper look like an old softie who can’t maintain order in his Sunday School class.

As former Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan declared back in the fall of 2012: “The lesson for the future: message discipline. You’ve got to stick with the script.”

Flanagan may have hit a message-discipline speed bump of his own not so long after that, but it was handled with a swift brutality Harper seems unable to summon up to solve his current Senatorial imbroglio, and the former professor’s spirit continues to guide the Wildrose forces.

Count on it, by the time the first snows hit Central Alberta on Sunday afternoon, the Wildrose Party will have warmed to the rights of sexual minorities, enthusiastically abandoned its skepticism about global warming, dumped its notion teachers, doctors and nurses should be allowed to opt out of duties that conflict with their religious beliefs, and tossed the promise to dismantle human rights commissions over the side.

Abortion opponents in the Wildrose ranks will also be instructed to keep their normally loose lips tightly zipped.

If the Wildrose’s considerable population of social conservatives don’t like it, well, what are they going to do?

They’re much more likely to stick with the party for the time in the hope it will be more sympathetic to their notions after it forms a majority in 2016. It’s said here they’ll talk rebellion only if that if strategy fails to produce results.

Smith — who is no social conservative — won’t abandon her market fundamentalism, of course, but nowadays in Alberta, that’s practically mainstream thinking anyway.

The idea is that by the time the Redford Tories blunder into the 2016 election Red Zone, Pastor Hunsperger and the rest of the party’s nutty history will have disappeared down the Memory Hole and the party will seem so welcoming that Oscar Wilde would seem at home in its ranks.

The only heat Albertans will feel then, Wildrose strategists hope and expect, will be the burning passion Johnny was singing about.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...