Less than a year after Ric McIver was chastised by his own party for cavorting with a notoriously bigoted church, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta appointed him its interim leader.
A few weeks ago, the Alberta New Democrat Party shockingly outed the PCs, who had been in power for 43 years. On the very night of their loss, before all votes had been counted and while the corpse of the PC party was still warm, now-outgoing Premier Jim Prentice stepped down as both an MLA and as party leader. They named Ric McIver as interim leader. It's McIver who will be expected to oversee the transition that will attempt to bring the party back to its typical dominant form.
However, it may not have been the best decision if the PC party was hoping to capture socially progressive voters.
Last summer, during the PC leadership race, it came out that McIver has ties to Street Church—a well known and controversial religious group. Street Church was founded in 2002 by street preacher Art Pawlowski in Calgary. They preach of the sins of the homosexuals and out them as followers of Satan. Within the confines of the Street Church web site you can find hateful posts such as this one written by Pawlowski in regard to the Calgary floods:
I do not believe that what we have seen in the past few months with the flooding was a major judgment of God. I believe it was just a tear that came from the eyes of God, a little wake up call for all of us. When Jesus looked at Jerusalem He wept. I think that's what we have seen here. Jesus is weeping for this province, for the over 10,000 murdered children by abortion per year in Alberta alone. He is weeping for the perversions of homosexuality which includes the walking out the pride of their abominations in the streets of our cities; in front of our kids and in front of those who fought wars for freedom (but not this kind of freedom).
McIver regularly attended Street Church events in the past, in particular, their large annual March for Jesus. McIver cut the ribbon at the 2013 walk and has previously referred to Pawlowski as a friend. In 2014, after his connection to Street Church came to light many progressive Albertans called for McIver to step down. Among them was Dr. Kris Wells, the Director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta.
"I think it is problematic for progressive Albertans who believe in the value of diversity, equity, and human rights. It's all a question of character. Your mother was right all along; it's the company you keep," Wells told VICE about McIver's appointment. "You can try to whitewash it, and you can try to change it, but we haven't seen any evidence that his values and beliefs are any different then when he was marching with that group."
At the time, Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta president Jim McCormick chastised McIver in a written statement. "Closed mindedness or intolerance have no place in the PCAA," the statement read. Since then much has changed. The PC's are no longer in power and McCormick has since resigned with his statement proving only to be a mere slap on the wrist.
"I think that it's a questionable decision by a party that is rapidly [shrinking] and trying to grab onto any life preserver that they can find," Wells said. "The question is will it seal their fate or will they collect the errors of their ways and really learn from Albertans and move forward on progressive issues."
"Not backward with questionable leadership."
McIver smartly distanced himself almost immediately from Street Church after the story broke. Releasing a statement claiming that he had no idea that Pawlowski's views were that extreme and that he serves for all Albertans.
"I deplore discrimination against all groups and individuals without exception," McIver said at the time.
Wells points out that some may view McIver's appointment as the interim leader as a good thing. It would mean that McIver most likely will not be selected as party leader. But Wells believes that giving McIver this position of power is still an endorsement of the politician as an MLA.
"It's clearly an endorsement. It's a statement of values and beliefs; that's what your leader is designed to represent for a party," Wells said. "There is no other way to really explain it. For a party that needs to be moving forward this is a big step backward.
"Albertans are tired of their elected officials continuing to act in discriminatory ways. These are not the beliefs of Albertans," Wells added. "We are a young, progressive and modern province and yet we have tired old leadership and I think that last election Alberta spoke and said that it's time to change."
The PCs were facing stiff competition in the 2012 election as well, but against the Wildrose party, not the NDP. The Wildrose was looking very strong until, at the tail end of the election it was discovered that a Wildrose candidate thought that homosexuals were destined for a lake of fire. The flub was a major one, and the PCs took the election by a large margin. Now, three short years later, the roles seem to have been reversed. Socially progressive Brian Jean is at the helm of the Wildrose party and McIver is, for now, at the helm of the damaged ship that is the PC party.
"Just a twist of fate has their roles reversed," Wells said. "It's like one of those bad teenage comedy drama's where you're in the wrong body but, in this case, you're in the wrong party."
"It's like Freaky Friday."
McIver did not respond to request for comment by time of publication.
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