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Are candidates’ 19th Century views actually helping the Wildrose Party?

Edmonton gay activist Kris Wells

"Social conscience" and human rights issues continue to dominate the final days of the 2012 Alberta election campaign as the governing Progressive Conservatives and other actors try to derail the front-running Wildrose Party juggernaut.

But whether this emphasis on the 19th Century attitudes of some Wildrose candidates and party Leader Danielle Smith's unwillingness to do or say anything meaningful about them are hindering the party's seemingly unstoppable march to victory on Monday or actually helping it is not clear.

There's a theory out there that for every urban voter turned off by statements of Wildrose candidates that unrepentant gays are doomed to burn forever in a lake or fire or that voters really ought to choose the Caucasian candidate if they want everyone to be represented equally, a couple of votes are gained in Alberta's ultra-conservative rural south. Presumably that's where the party's vow to dismantle the provincial Human Rights Commission as an impediment to "free speech" is most popular.

Suggesting this sort of thing aloud about rural Albertans can earn a stern rebuke from Smith, along with some tit-for-tat bigotry accusations of her own.

So when a video suggesting that supporters of more progressive parties should vote for the moribund PCs under Premier Alison Redford to block a Wildrose Apocalypse began circulating, Smith quickly issued a press release accusing its makers of cruelly stereotyping "'Old School' Albertans" and using the F-word to boot. This, huffed Smith, was typical of the "bullying, intimidation, and fear-mongering are still pervasive within the PC culture." For their part, the PCs insisted they had nothing to do with the video, which, if it didn't exactly go viral, nevertheless proved mildly contagious.

But the rural-votes theory goes a long way to explaining why Smith refused to disassociate herself from statements made by Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-South West with the warning about the fires of Hell, and praised Calgary-Greenway candidate Ron Leech, the exponent of the Caucasian Albertan Advantage.

Instead, Smith gathered up what the Edmonton Journal described as "20 or 30 visible minorities who are supporting the Wildrose" at a news conference and proclaimed "Ron is a good person." Since Pastor Hunsperger's views on the soul-saving aspects of allowing gay young people to be bullied reflected his spirit-worldview, she added, she wasn't about to interfere with his religious freedom.

That, in turn, prompted large advertisements yesterday in Alberta's two largest daily newspapers, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, asking voters to "read this and pray for Alberta."

This was in fact an ironic headline and the advertiser, an unidentified group called "Proud of Alberta," turned out to be asking Albertans to pray for the electoral survival of Redford and the PCs -- in other words, it was another pitch to get progressively minded voters to cast their ballots for Big-C Conservatives.

The information number on the advertisement was answered by Kris Wells, an Edmonton gay rights activist, who said the three-quarter-page ads were paid for with funds raised by a group of like-minded Albertans fearful of the implications of a Wildrose victory Monday. The bill wouldn't have been cheap, probably in the realm of $15,000 to $20,000.

Proud of Alberta has registered with Alberta Elections as a third-party advertiser under the province’s contentious election advertising law, Wells said. Like the young Calgary videographer who made the "I never thought I'd vote PC video," he insisted that Proud of Alberta has no connection with the PC Party.

Nevertheless, more progressive opposition parties have been appalled by the cheek displayed by the PCs under Ms. Redford for their deathbed conversion to "strategic voting," not to mention to issues they once disdained as far too "liberal" for their Conservative base.

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

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