The two most high-profile candidates for the leadership of Alberta’s new United Conservative Party are distancing themselves from Rebel Media.
Former Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean says he hasn’t had anything to do with the conservative online publication in seven months and won’t be involved with it in the future unless there is a significant change in editorial direction.
Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney says he hasn’t done a Rebel interview in more than a year and he publicly condemns the website’s “alt-right editorial direction of recent months.”
The two statements came after Alberta NDP cabinet minister Brian Mason called on both candidates to make their feelings on the Rebel clear.
Earlier in the week, rival leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer also called on Jean and Kenney to disavow the outlet.
READ MORE: Alberta Conservative leadership hopeful speaks out against Rebel Media
Watch below: On Aug. 14, 2017, Tom Vernon filed this report after an Alberta conservative said it’s time to take a stand against a popular right-wing website that covered the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
The Rebel’s coverage of last weekend’s deadly protests in Virginia has been criticized by some as sympathetic to the white nationalists who organized the rally.
One of the site’s co-founders and two contributors quit after the reports aired.
Following the rally, Ezra Levant, the outlet’s owner, issued a memo to his staff on their coverage of the so-called alt-right, a moniker attached to the white nationalist movement in the United States and elsewhere.
In it, Levant sought to distance his organization from the movement by saying that while he had initially viewed it as “unashamed right-wingedness with a sense of humour,” the term now means “racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism.”
Levant said the Rebel will still cover the alt-right, but with the same approach it takes to other groups on the left side of the spectrum.
“It is important, at this point, for everyone to be very clear where they stand,” Mason said at the legislature Thursday. “Our government stands for inclusion. It stands for non-violence. It stands for rational public discourse.”
Kenney used Twitter to call Mason’s attack ridiculous.
“Sad to see a decent guy like Brian Mason stooping to NDP McCarthyite tactics,” he tweeted in a reference to U.S. senator Joe McCarthy’s pursuit of suspected communists on flimsy grounds in the 1950s.
“I’ve been repeatedly attacked by the Rebel for criticizing them; refused to attend their events; haven’t done an interview with them for over a year; have publicly condemned their alt-right editorial direction of recent months.”
Jean said in a statement he has consistency denounced hate and racism in all its forms.
“I believe strongly in the sanctity of free speech and a free press, and do not believe it is the role of elected officials to dictate who is, and is not media,” he said.
“However, recent events have me concerned with the commentary and editorial direction coming from Rebel Media. I have not appeared on the Rebel in seven months and unless their direction changes in a significant way, I will not in the future.”
READ MORE: Rebel Media co-founder Brian Lilley explains decision to quit
Jean’s statement appeared to signal a shift in his position on the Rebel Media which he expressed earlier this week. On Monday, in the wake of criticism levelled against Rebel Media over its coverage of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Jean was asked specifically if the Rebel Media promotes bigotry and hatred.
“I have not seen that from that news organization,” he said at the time.
Matt Solberg, a spokesperson for Jean, confirmed his campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, has ties to the Rebel Media but is working to sever them.
When asked if Marshall currently serves as a board member for the Rebel, the spokesperson pointed to a Maclean’s magazine article published on Thursday which says that he is.
On Thursday, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he’ll do no further interviews with the Rebel until it changes its editorial direction, linking his decision to the Rebel’s coverage of last weekend’s deadly Charlottesville protests.
READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Scheer has a choice to make on the alt-right
“I believe there is a fine line between reporting the facts and giving those groups a platform,” he said. “I have a positive vision for Canada and I want to share that vision with Canadians and talk about issues that unite us all. Until the editorial directions of the Rebel Media changes, I will not grant interviews to the outlet.”
-With files from Phil Heidenreich