The National Post
The rise of extremism is of grave concern to observers across the political spectrum, and conservatives are suffering. The increasing susceptibility of mainstream conservative parties to “bozo eruptions” is creating something of an identity crisis among traditional right-of-centre voters.
Big-tent progressives in the mould of Peter Lougheed or Robert Stanfield must cringe to see the tent pegs being yanked up and knuckle-dragged to the far right by the twin forces of ignorance and intolerance.
Some, inspiringly, have refused to take it lying down.
We saw it in Ontario with the updated sexual health curriculum. Noted Christian conservative Michael Coren — who took the trouble to read it — criticized opposition rhetoric that “bordered on the hysterical.” An undercurrent of homophobia ran through many protesters’ objections, he observed. Yet they found a champion in Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives.
Former Arizona senator Jeff Flake struck a blow for the resistance when he bowed out of re-election, denouncing President Donald Trump’s “flagrant disregard for truth or decency.” The world waited with bated breath for a gathering moral resolve of other Republican skeptics still standing for re-election. Their complicity echoed with deafening silence.
The latest face of the conservative resistance is radio host Charles Adler. His spirited interview with Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, has resonated widely. Kenney has refused to denounce his education critic, Mark Smith, who delivered a guest sermon in which he obliquely and grotesquely compared homosexual love to arguments for abortion and pedophilia.
With a massive lead in the polls, Kenney’s UCP stands to sweep Alberta in Tuesday’s election. But the path has been littered with bozo eruptions. Scores of candidates have been barred or dropped after remarks that were Islamophobic, transphobic, homophobic or sympathetic to white supremacists.
Kenney dispatched these eruptions, though some UCP members have remained in the party fold after damaging revelations, including John Carpay, who infamously compared the rainbow flag to a swastika.
It shocked many when Kenney allowed Smith to remain on the UCP ticket after a recording of his 2013 sermon came to light.
Smith’s formal response, tweeted by the party, would tick off several squares on a Bad Apology Bingo card: “I don’t specifically recall”; “I regret how my commentary was framed”; “that would never be my intention”; and a bonus square for going on the attack: “Albertans are tired of revisiting old, divisive debates from many years prior.”
The MLA’s words, lo these 5½ years ago, are consistent with his views in a 2015 memo arguing Christian schools should be able to fire gay teachers, along with the UCP’s persistent efforts to undermine the safe refuge of gay-straight alliances.
But as Adler told Kenney, his real concern wasn’t Smith’s extreme views, but Kenney’s welcome embrace.
“Your condemnation doesn’t mean anything because he’s running for you,” he said, pulling no punches. “Why are so many people who bash gays and bash women, why are so many people who bash Muslims, attracted to the United Conservative Party?”
Kenney defended a “diverse” slate of 87 candidates though, when pressed, admitted not one openly LGBT candidate had secured a nomination.
Adler hammered: “Right now, people are screaming back at the radio and they’re saying, ‘People who hate LGBT people are highly attracted to the party and running for the party, but … LGBT people — the targets of the hatred — they’re not running for the party.’”
Adler told CBC’s Carol Off many mainstream conservatives had thanked him for the interview, though it might cost votes. “They’re very concerned about whether it’s the federal party or the provincial party becoming too much of a safe space for extremists.”