Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a link to former UCP candidate Eva Kariyakos’ resignation video statement.
Dustin Franks has been involved in conservative politics his entire adult life.
The former member of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party is now helping to run United Conservative Party candidate Tom Olsen’s campaign in the riding of Calgary-Buffalo while supporting Doug Schweitzer’s run in the Calgary-Elbow riding as well.
“I have the distinction of being Doug Schweitzer’s board president. He’s been an ally for years, he’s been coming to Pride. Tom Olsen is another ally, very progressive; he’s been nothing but supportive,” Franks said.
As a gay man, Franks says hearing UCP candidate Mark Smith compare homosexuality and pedophilia stung, but not enough to leave the party.
“With the UCP, we do have 160,000 members and we do have many different views. Some of them I don’t agree with, but (that’s) being part of a big tent. I’d rather be part of a group and work with them to change their hearts and minds,” he said.
In recent weeks, several UCP candidates have come under fire for racist, Islamophobic and homophobic remarks. Before the writ dropped, candidate Caylan Ford resigned after some of her past comments, which have been described as white nationalist rhetoric, came to light. Calgary-South East candidate Eva Kiryakos resigned after she retweeted an article titled “Germany’s (migrant) rape crisis spirals out of control,” which carried an image that read: “RAPEFUGEES NOT WELCOME.”
On April 2, a recording of Smith delivering a 2013 sermon surfaced on social media. In the recording, Smith is heard questioning how anyone who has an abortion could say it’s done out of love.
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 … where pedophilia is love,” he said in the recording.
The incidents have made life difficult for UCP Leader Jason Kenney, who’s had to face tough questions about his party’s beliefs.
Speaking with Global News Radio’s Charles Adler on April 4, the UCP leader said he “condemns” Smith’s remarks but said he’ll keep the candidate, who’s running for re-election in the riding of Drayton Valley-Devon.
Kenney also faced a series of tough questions about controversies that have ensnared UCP candidates, the party’s diversity and how he responds to people who are “screaming at the radio” and alleging that Alberta conservatives have attracted members who “hate LGBTQ people.”
“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?” Adler asked him at one point.
“Charles, I reject that,” Kenney responded. “You know who is also attracted to this party? Thousands and thousands of Muslim Albertans.”
Political scientist Duane Bratt believes many Alberta voters are prepared to give the UCP a pass on this issue.
“Alberta has been in a lingering, deep economic recession for over four years — 130,000 job losses — so people go ‘I don’t like what Smith said. I think Kenney should have removed him but I’m still voting UCP because this is about jobs and pipelines and budget deficits,'” said Bratt.
Still, the rhetoric is coming with a cost. Polls suggest Kenney’s personal brand is now suffering, and with less than a week to go until the election, the race is tightening between the UCP and the New Democrats. The latest Global News Ipsos poll found that 47 per cent of decided and leaning voters would vote for the UCP, down five per cent from last month. In that same poll, 39 per cent of voters said they’d vote for Rachel Notley’s NDP, a four per cent gain from last month.
When asked who they thought would make Alberta’s best premier, 32 per cent of respondents said Notley while 28 per cent said Kenney.
“Kenney is likely to win on Tuesday, and he will be the most unliked premier we’ve ever elected in this province,” said Bratt.
Within marginalized communities, the director of the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity at MacEwan University says there’s a lot of fear and mistrust towards the UCP.
“If you’re kind of addressing things in this fashion and you’re not even in a position of power, what’s going to happen when you are in that position?” Irfan Chaudhry said.
LGBTQ advocate Mike Morrison also says he’s worried. The Calgary man is now trying to get as many members of the LGBTQ community to the polls as he can, concerned that if their voices aren’t heard now, the homophobic views of some UCP supporters may become more legitimized.
“That makes life for LGBTQ people in Alberta incredibly hard because that gives the everyday permission to say those things, to do those things and act on those things,” said Morrison.