It’s been more than two weeks since Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called for an election, and NDP attack ads criticizing UCP leader Jason Kenney’s anti-LGBTQ record have been one of the dominating storylines.
In December, VICE reported on an audio clip that resurfaced on World AIDS Day 2018, where Kenney is heard boasting about his days as a student activist at the University of San Francisco. The audio was from a speech given to Canadian Alliance supporters back in 2000.
Kenney specifically took pride in mentioning his role in repealing a spousal law that allowed gay men to visit their dying partners in the hospital during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
“I became president of the pro-life group in my campus and helped to lead an ultimately successful initiative petition, which led to a referendum which overturned the first gay spousal law in North America,” Kenney said.
The other week, the Alberta NDP released a clip of that speech followed by a 10-minute documentary which featured San Franciscans who were impacted by Kenney’s early political activism. It includes two nurses, an activist and a gay man, who was denied access to his partner's apartment after his death.
Shortly after VICE’s original story broke in December, Cody Johnston, a UCP board member, quit the party and his position over Kenney’s comments about LGBTQ rights. Johnston was also working as a campaign manager for the Freedom Conservative Party at the time of this news.
“Jason Kenney has never gone on the record to apologize for his comments despite many opportunities to do so,” Johnston told VICE. “We’ve all seen his record—which is one thing—but to see someone stand in front of a group of supporters and brag about denying people basic human rights is much more serious. This was like definitive proof.”
In a statement to VICE at the time, Kenney’s spokesperson Christine Myatt said, “The event Mr. Kenney is referencing in the audio took place in San Francisco when Jason was a student there. He would have been roughly 20 years old at the time. Mr. Kenney’s views on these issues have evolved since then, as have society’s.”
While Kenney’s views could certainly have changed since his days as a student activist, his voting record and history of right-wing activism can’t be denied.
In 1998, Kenney advocated for Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to invoke the notwithstanding clause in order to block LGBTQ civil rights. In 2005, Kenney voted against same-sex marriage, and in 2013, he voted against a bill that would have added gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Last week, the debate over Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools was reignited when Kenney told reporters that he would implement the 2012 Education Act. This legislation would remove some of the legal protections for LGBTQ students and school staff, specifically in respect to confidentiality.
Some critics have warned that the parental notification policy would effectively allow teachers to “out” their students before they’re ready, causing them more harm.
When asked for comment on this story, a spokesperson forwarded the following statement that Kenney told reporters on March 26, “We support GSAs, we think kids should be able to set them up, we think it’s important for kids who might be facing bullying, or pressure at home because of their sexuality, or for other reasons, to have peer support. However, we think that using the blunt instrument of the law to tell a teacher that under no circumstances can they communicate with parents, is not a moderate approach.”
He added, “We say, let highly trained teachers and principals make a decision on a case-by-case basis, of what’s in the best interest of the child.”
Attacks on Kenney’s social record come from both the left and right side of the political spectrum.
Last week, Derek Fildebrandt, leader of the new Freedom Conservative Party expressed dismay over Kenney’s comments about gay rights and the impact he had on gay AIDS patients. This was followed by a tweet from Stephen Mandel, leader of the Alberta Party, who praised protesters at a GSA rally last Wednesday.
The latest political polls show the UCP leading by a wide margin over the NDP, suggesting Kenney is on pace to secure a majority government.
With less than three weeks until voters head to the ballot box on April 16, it’s not surprising to see the NDP challenge Jason Kenney’s record, says Jared Wesley, a political science professor at the University of Alberta.
“We know that the NDP have clear ownership over LGBTQ and social issues, but when it comes to Alberta voters, they are most concerned with the economy, pipelines and jobs. LGBTQ issues don’t have the same resonance with voters unless they’re embedded in another policy issue like children and education,” Wesley told VICE.
“With that being said, these issues have rose to prominence in the last few elections. In 2012, the Wildrose party was on its way to victory against the PCs, until the ‘lake of fire’ comment, which cost them the election.”
Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger wrote about his views on homosexuality in a blog post that resurfaced during the 2012 provincial campaign. Hunsperger unleashed a heap of criticism when he wrote that gay people “will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell.”
Since then, the infamous comment has prompted conservatives to drain their parties of similar rhetoric, but not to much success.
Beyond the criticism directed at Kenney, UCP candidates have also been making headlines for their radical socially conservative views.
Eva Kiryakos, a UCP candidate for the riding of Calgary-South East, stepped down after she learned someone was planning to expose Islamophobic and transphobic posts that she made on social media.
This comes just days after Caylan Ford, a star UCP candidate for the riding of Calgary-Mountain View, resigned from the race after reports that she echoed white supremacist rhetoric.
Ford’s predecessor, Jeremy Wong, has only been in the race for one week, but has already come under fire for alleged links to a Christian conversion therapy program.
Neither of these candidates will be removed from the party. Last Tuesday, Kenney said it would be impossible to police the views and social media posts of every UCP member. He went on to suggest that regular members who are not on the ballot and express white supremacist rhetoric, could stay in the party as long as they don’t belong to any organizations that are “actively promoting hatred.”
Back in October, the UCP disqualified the nomination of a member who was seeking to become the party's candidate in Edmonton-West Henday riding, after he defended a white supremacist group called the Soldiers of Odin.
In May 2018, a CBC News poll found the UCP dominating on issues most important to Albertans. However, when respondents were asked specifically, which party is best suited to handle issues facing LGBTQ people, the majority of respondents voted in favour of the NDP.
According to Wesley, it’s still too early to predict whether the NDP’s attacks will have an impact. But he says, it’s not surprising to see how they have framed their campaign.
Albertans are set to head to the polls on April 16, for what is promised to be another historic election.
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