Edmonton Wildrose candidate said being white is an advantage
By Markham Hislop
Ron Leech is no Allan Hunsperger, but you’d never know it by the roasting he’s taking in the press and social media. And by Monday he may prove to be the big break Alison Redford and the Progressive Conservatives have been waiting for.
Leech is the former pastor and now Wildrose candidate for Calgary-Greenway. Hunsperger is the former pastor and now Wildrose candidate for Edmonton-South West. Both evangelical Christians are accused of making bigoted and intemperate comments.
But that’s where the similarity ends.
Hunsperger’s blog post from last year, wherein he said gays would spend eternity in a lake of fire for their sins and also criticized a public school system for daring to suggest students should be allowed to be who they are (presumably gay), was not something most Albertans want to see flowing from the pen of a candidate for public office. Candidates can demonize budget deficits or healthcare policy, but not a segment of their electorate. Hunsperger’s language was over the top and offensive.
Worse yet, Hunsperger defended his controversial comments and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith backed him up.
“When a person is making personal statements in their capacity as a pastor, which he was, I don’t think anybody should be surprised that they’re expressing certain viewpoints,” she said.
Perhaps so, but she might have at least expressed disagreement with the former church leader’s homophobic opinions. Surely that’s not to much to ask from someone who wants to be premier of the province.
Tongues have wagged across the country as a consequence. And when Leech stepped in his own cow patty during a radio interview, many were quick to draw the parallell with Hunsperger.
Here’s what Dr. Leech actually said: “I think, as a Caucasian, I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslin leader speaks they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community,” he said, according to CTV.
Frankly, I’m more horrified that Leech uses the honorific “Doctor” even though his degree is from a small, unaccredited Christian university in Georgia and he really hasn’t earned the right. What does it say about a man that he gets his doctorate from the bottom of a popcorn box, then wears the title like a down at the mouth Romanoff?
As they have throughout the campaign, Wildrose operatives immediately went on the offensive.
Airdrie -Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson embarrassed himself on Twitter Tuesday evening by badgering every journalist he could identify with a video link that purportedly showed a PC candidate uttering similar nonsense.
Turns out, he was right. Muhammad Rasheed is the PC candidate for Calgary-McCall, a riding in the northeast with a large southeast Asian population. Here is what Rasheed told a reporter:
“Same thing with other party (Wildrose). It is not good party to represent this riding because the demographic is very different and people like to see someone like them in the legislative assembly.”
Both Rasheed and Leech are arguing that their skin tone and culture give them a leg up as a candidate, albeit the PC candidate at least has the good sense to pick his words more carefully.
Neither is particularly offensive. Aren’t we always moaning about how there should be more women and minority candidates? Well, Rasheed simply makes that argument from the candidate’s point of view. And Leech tries to counter it from the perspective of the white bread, privileged male candidate running in an Calgary riding with a diverse population.
Both candidates could have chosen their language more carefully, I suppose, but these are the minor gaffes that plague every campaign. The candidates apologize or clarify, the media moves on, most voters have forgotten by the time election day rolls around.
But this campaign is different. Hunsperger’s faux pas reminded the media that other Wildrose candidates have made anti-gay arguments in public, including Leech, whose 2004 Calgary Herald column opposing gay marriage is coming back to haunt him. The media is now in full cry and smells blood.
More important than the press might be social media. Leech’s Caucasian comments are spreading like wildfire, as did Hunsperger’s blog post, helped along by PC supporters and operatives who finally see a chink in Wildrose’s armour. They’ve dug up intemperate comments by other Wildrose candidates, such as Link Byfield, former publisher and hardline social conservative, who is pictured shaking hands with a notorious white supremacist in a photo making the rounds on Faebook.
The social media world is atwitter with gossip about Wildrose’s supposed bigotry and intolerance. Danielle Smith is handling the controversy as smoothly as possible, defusing the media questions with a fair bit of aplomb for a political rookie, but the din is thus far drowning her out and may yet overwhelm her campaign.
If anything is going to save Alison Redford’s campaign, it might be the digital equivalent of the old telephone party lines, where everyone in a small community knew everyone else’s business in a hurry.
Can the PCs scare enough Albertans by reposting and retweeting Leech, Hunsperger and their colleagues’ comments? Redford better hope so, because her performance in public and the media hasn’t done the job to date.