On November 10, 2013, Mark Smith took to the lectern at the Calvary Baptist Church in Drayton Valley, about 130 kilometres southwest of Edmonton. Speaking in a plaintive, slightly reedy voice, Smith denounced unnamed “TV programs trying to tell you that homosexuality and homosexual love is good love,” before casually suggesting such love is akin to the affection a pedophiliac has for his victim. Smith, a church elder at the time, also said some women abort their children out a similarly misguided sense of the word.
Last week, when Smith’s words became known to the greater public, Calvary Baptist went into crisis mode. Smith’s sermons were flushed from the church’s website, while reporter calls to the church ended quickly. “I’m sorry, but we’ve been getting a lot of calls about this,” pleaded Calvary Baptist pastor Kenton Penner. “You keep asking questions so I’m going to hang up now.”
Notably unscathed, though, is Mark Smith himself. A United Conservative Party candidate in the upcoming Alberta election on April 16, Smith has represented the riding of Drayton Valley-Devon since 2015, when he was elected as a member of the Wildrose Party. The unearthing of his 2013 sermon, by Edmonton radio program Gaywire, has seemingly done nothing to dampen his fortunes.
Though he condemned Smith’s remarks as “deeply offensive to many people,” UCP leader Jason Kenney refused to remove Smith, whose only acknowledgement came via a scripted apology “if anyone was offended or hurt.” In all likelihood, given the riding’s solidly conservative voting history, Smith will be re-elected as the representative for Drayton Valley-Devon.
That Kenney didn’t turf Smith is, in part, an electoral machination. Getting rid of him this close to the election would have left the UCP without a candidate in a friendly riding. Smith is also a prominent social conservative in a province where social conservatives hold considerable sway.
Yet there is another, abjectly depressing reason why Smith today remains in politics: Kenney has come to realize that, in their roiling hatred of the incumbent NDP government, most Alberta voters are willing to overlook a remarkable amount of race-, gender- and sexuality-based animus, not to mention demonstrable electoral skullduggery, on the part of the NDP’s only viable replacement, the United Conservative Party.
There is a natural tendency, often during times of economic hardship, to want to vote the bastards out. This is doubly true in Alberta, home to an oily, landlocked bounty that is often sold at a deep discount as a result, along with an entrenched sense of resentment at its reputation as an environmental pariah.
By dint of having governed through this downward swoop, the NDP is rightfully a ripe target. Yet as the UCP has repeatedly demonstrated over the last six months, one must worry about what bastards are voted in to replace them.
Consider the case of Adam Strashok, who was on Kenney’s leadership campaign team—and, as Ricochet Media and Press Progress discovered, a prolific poster of anti-Semitic, white supremacist missives on various social media outlets, as well as a partner in a venture that trades in the military reverie of Ian Smith’s White Rhodesia.
Or how about Steven Luft, president of the UCP’s Calgary Bow constituency association, whose 2016 twitter oeuvre includes the opinion that “refugees bring rape and violence with them and disrupt the host nation”? Then there’s UCP candidate Eva Kiryakos, who said supporters of gay-straight alliances seek only to “convert” children to homosexuality, and shared a link equating Muslim refugees with a “rape crisis.”
Finally — though the campaign isn’t yet over — there’s Caylan Ford, who resigned as the UCP candidate for Calgary-Mountain View after private messages from 2017 surfaced — messages in which she professed her sadness at the “demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands.”
This cascade of odious sentiment from the UCP ranks prompted radio host Charles Adler, in an astonishing interview, to ask Jason Kenney, “Why are so many people who bash gays and bash women, why are so many who bash Muslims attracted to the United Conservative Party?”
Kenney took great umbrage at Adler’s question, and to be fair to the UCP leader, those campaign workers and candidates promptly resigned or were expelled from the party once their digressions came to light. It is nonetheless telling that the many resulting embarrassments did exactly nothing to hurt UCP’s electoral lot. Despite it all, the party has maintained a healthy lead over the NDP for more than a year, according to an aggregate poll analysis by 338Canada.com’s Philippe Fournier.
Not even an RCMP investigation into alleged voter fraud during Kenney’s leadership run in 2017 hasn’t bitten into his lead. This is astonishing, if only because the alleged plot was so venal. To wit: in a bid to secure the UCP leadership, the Kenney campaign is alleged to have funded the faint-hope UCP leadership contender Jeff Callaway so as to undermine Brian Jean, Kenney’s chief rival for the job.
And yet this “kamikaze candidate” gambit, Nixonian in both spirit and alleged execution, was met with a collective shrug from Kenney supporters. “If it did happen, it’s just part of politics and part of life,” one supporter told CBC this week.
Little surprise, then, that Mark Smith remains in the race. Much like the party he represents, he won’t likely suffer the consequences of his hateful words. His social conservative bona fides have kept him safe. Alberta’s rage, and Kenney’s shamelessness, have rendered him near-bulletproof.
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