EDMONTON — Albertans will decide whether it was a mistake for Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver to support a march led by a vocally anti-gay religious group, says one of his contest rivals.
Thomas Lukaszuk said Monday he has turned down invitations to participate in events involving the street ministry headed by controversial pastor Artur Pawlowski because it promotes views that are not inclusive of all Albertans.
But Lukaszuk declined to call on McIver to drop out of the leadership race over his participation in the March for Jesus in Calgary last weekend.
“That decision actually has to be made by Albertans,” he told reporters in Edmonton.
However, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta issued a statement Monday condemning participation in the march by party members.
While it didn’t name McIver, it stated that “individual members are expected to follow our statement of principles, which includes that of being an open party that’s accessible to all Albertans.”
“Closed-mindedness or intolerance have no place in the PCAA,” said the statement from party president Jim McCormick.
McIver cut the ribbon to start the annual march organized by Pawlowski, who claimed last year’s flood in southern Alberta was caused, in part, by God’s unhappiness over homosexuality.
“He is weeping for the perversions of homosexuality,” Pawlowski wrote in his blog.
McIver responded to a social media storm with a statement Monday on Facebook that explained he was merely celebrating his Roman Catholic faith with other Christians.
“If chosen premier, I do and will continue to defend equality rights for all Albertans as defined in the Charter, including sexual orientation,” he stated. “I deplore discrimination against all groups and individuals, without exception.”
A spokesman for leadership candidate Jim Prentice said he “stands firmly against any form of intolerance, and his record over a lifetime shows that.”
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis was also caught up in the Twitter outrage when a letter he wrote in 2012 commending Pawlowski’s March for Jesus was posted.
His office said he was photographed with Pawlowski in 2012, but has never participated in March for Jesus events.
“At the time of the photo, he believed the walk was an opportunity for believers to publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ,” his office said in an email. “Minister Denis finds the language used on the website . . . to be deeply offensive and does not share those views or beliefs.”
Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said the situation is highly problematic for McIver’s leadership campaign.
“We’ve seen what happens in Alberta politics when you identify with causes that are inflammatory and repugnant to large parts of the population,” Taras said. “It goes to inclusiveness. . . . He’s put a question mark on himself.”
NDP MLA Rachel Notley said the controversy will remind Albertans of similar views that came to light during the last provincial election involving a Wildrose candidate who blogged that homosexuals will perish in a lake of fire.
“Many Albertans are frustrated when they see that kind of debate and conversation getting as much time and attention as it does here in this province, because most Albertans believe in equality,” Notley said. “What Mr. McIver’s actions demonstrate more clearly than anything else could have is that the Conservative party is almost indistinguishable from the Wildrose party.”
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said McIver made a “big mistake” that reflects badly on the PC party and all politicians.
“To participate in a public event with a group that openly promotes hatred . . . is wrong in so many ways because we expect our government officials to be leaders,” she said. “Shame on you Minister McIver. You should know better.”
In September, the Tories will select a new leader, who will automatically become Alberta’s next premier.
With files from James Wood and Don Braid, Calgary Herald and Mariam Ibrahim, Edmonton Journal