Alberta’s NDP is calling on United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney to fire former education critic Mark Smith for offensive remarks surrounding abortion, homosexuality and pedophilia — an accusation Smith disputes.
NDP candidate Sarah Hoffman says Kenney must cancel Smith’s candidacy in the April 16 provincial election.
“Mark Smith’s comments are offensive, homophobic and completely neglect women’s rights,” Hoffman said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Jason Kenney must fire him immediately.”
Smith, a former high school teacher who is running for re-election in Drayton Valley-Devon, had served as the caucus education critic.
Earlier Tuesday, a snippet of audio surfaced on social media from a sermon he delivered in 2013 that was posted on the website of the Calvary Baptist Church in Drayton Valley.
On the recording, Smith is heard questioning how anyone who has an abortion could say it’s done out of love.
“I think there’s a real misguided sense of when we try to understand what love is,” he said.
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He also discusses how TV programs try to convince people that love among homosexuals is “good love.”
“Heck, there are even people out there, I could take you, I could take to you places on the website I’m sure, where you could find out that there’s, where pedophilia is love,” he said in the recording.
Smith issued a statement on social media later Tuesday.
In it, he said he doesn’t recall making the remarks, but said, “I did not say that love between same-sex couples was not love. I merely remarked on media commentary.
“That said, I regret how my commentary was framed at the time,” wrote Smith.
“Of course I do not believe that homosexuality is akin to pedophilia. I unequivocally apologize if anyone was offended or hurt. Obviously that would never be my intention.
“Our leader and party have been clear. It doesn’t matter who you love or how you worship. All are welcome in our party and I am fully supportive of that.”
On Wednesday, Smith posted another statement on Facebook, describing himself as a “practicing Christian,” like many other Albertans. He said his faith has informed his life and “importantly, that faith dictates that I respect the dignity of all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation, faith or ethnic background.
“One of the great things about Alberta is our pluralism. As a legislator, I strongly believe that Albertans must be afforded the right to live their lives as they see fit, and that we must respect each other.”
Smith added the comments were made several years ago, before he was an MLA.
“I want to be abundantly clear: I do not in any way equate homosexuality with pedophilia. I never have. That was not the intent of my comments in 2013. I believe that people have the right to choose to be in the relationship that they desire. My comments from 2013 did not reflect that belief and I unequivocally apologize for this. Period.”
The recording was posted Tuesday on Twitter by Gaywire, a show that airs on Edmonton radio station CJSR.
The UCP has already seen two of its Calgary candidates — Caylan Ford and Eva Kiryakos — resign over intolerant remarks on social media.
The issue of LGBTQ rights and protections for minorities have become an issue in the Alberta election, with critics of Kenney saying he cannot be trusted to enforce them.
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But Kenney, a Catholic, has promised that if he becomes premier he would not legislate on divisive social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage that have already been settled by courts and lawmakers.
However he has been criticized for promising to roll back some legislated protections for children who join gay-straight alliance clubs at schools.
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Late Tuesday afternoon, Kenney issued a statement in response to the criticism of Smith’s comments.
“I have been clear that ours is a party that respects human dignity of all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, people’s faith, or their background,” the statement reads. “The United Conservative Party supports the human dignity of all, and the protection of everyone’s rights.
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“The comments in question were made before Mr. Smith was a legislator. In Mr. Smith’s time as an MLA over the past four years, he has not, to my knowledge, made similarly offensive comments. Mr. Smith’s comments made prior to his election and the establishment of the United Conservative Party are not reflective of our party.
“I personally find his comments from 2013 offensive, and Mr. Smith has rightly apologized.”
Kristopher Wells, an associate professor who specializes in sexual and gender minorities at Edmonton’s MacEwan University, tweeted that he believes Smith’s comments show “hate and homophobia are still very much alive in Alberta.”
Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, tweeted about the comments as well.
“How much evidence is needed to explain why [the] LGBTQ community and their allies are concerned about the impact of a Kenney government?”
Leader of the Alberta Party called Smith’s comments “intolerant” and said Kenney was “unfit to govern” since he is “standing by his candidate.”
“Once again, we see that deep-seated intolerance lies under the hood of the UCP,” Stephen Mandel said Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, UCP communications adviser Harrison Fleming spoke about Smith’s comments and the reaction to them.
“It’s pretty surprising to see… everyone sort of jump out at Mark the way they have because when I first got my job with the United Conservative Party, I was actually the director of a group called LGBTory here in Alberta, and Mark came and sat down with me pretty quickly after I was hired to say, ‘How can we build a bridge between the LGBTQ+ community and the religious community?
“I really think that if you look at him… based on the body of his work and who he is as a person, that these comments are not reflective of the way he’s been as a legislator or… the way he is as a person.”
Fleming also said Smith’s comments about homosexuality reflect views shared by others.
“If you listen to his comments, what he’s talking about, fundamentally, is a view that many people in the religious communities… across faiths, share, which is… a traditional definition of marriage, which is between a man and a woman,” Fleming said. “I don’t think that’s a disqualifying view to have, if as a legislator, like Mark has, he’s committed to representing everybody in his riding.
“He was very clear, if anyone was hurt by his comments, it wasn’t his intention to do that.”
Albertans head to the polls on April 16.
WATCH BELOW: (From March 26, 2019) Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney said his government would support GSAs in schools, but also support the religious freedoms of faith-based independent schools.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich