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How far is the UCP prepared to go to be tolerant of intolerance?

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Photo: CindyRoss.ca

MLA Richard Gotfried defeated candidate Cindy Ross on September 7 for the United Conservative Party (UCP) nomination in the Calgary-Fish Creek Riding.

Gotfried, narrowly elected as a Progressive Conservative candidate in a tight three-way race in the May 2015 Alberta election, has detractors within the UCP. Still, his victory has to be good news for the opposition, given the recent revelation of Ross's past comments about Muslims.

On September 6, an NDP news release based on some fairly basic opposition research revealed that three years ago, Ross published social media comments comparing Muslims to bank robbers in a 2015 commentary about plans to build a mosque in Fort McMurray.

"What better place to have a large mosque," she wrote sarcastically in the Facebook post that has since disappeared, but of which screenshots still exist. "Right in the middle of our greatest asset. This is bit like jailing the bank robber in the bank vault." (Emphasis added.)

Despite her loss to Gotfried, this kind of commentary raises questions about the attitudes of people who support the UCP, not to mention the effectiveness and consistency of the tough vetting process UCP Leader Jason Kenney has repeatedly promised to prevent the "bozo eruptions" that have plagued conservative parties in Alberta.

How tolerant is the UCP of intolerance? Still quite tolerant, it would appear.

Of course, I'm not talking about the UCP's political opponents, or people who advocate policies of which the party disapproves (for example, the anti-pipeline protesters in other provinces UCP supporters call "eco-terrorists") or those who look for one reason or another like they might commit rural crime. For them, there is zero tolerance.

I'm talking about candidates like Ross for the party's own nominations. The UCP's tolerance level for such people apparently remains quite high.

Having been busted by the NDP, Ross Tweeted a pro forma apology -- "I apologize for any offence my old posts have caused."

She emphasized she made the remarks a long time ago, said her views have changed, and claimed not to remember writing them anyway. "I have no recollection of the post or any context."

The UCP’s official response was swift -- and forgiving.

In a statement, UCP Executive Director Janice Harrington said Ross should be forgiven because "accepting that people can evolve is necessary for a tolerant province. People are allowed to grow and change their views over time."

Well, forgiveness is an important value, but perhaps not so much for seekers of political office. At least, political aspirants who have said inappropriate things need to demonstrate their change of heart is sincere -- and a couple of apologetic Tweets after you've been caught doesn't really make the cut.

So why was the UCP so willing to forgive in this case?

The revelation came less than 48 hours before the constituency vote, so dumping Ross at that hour would have entailed a delay. Still, most other political parties wouldn't have let her stay on the ballot.

Perhaps Ross's Tweeted repudiation of her past comments seemed like enough to leaders of a party in which such views would not seem out of place among elements of the party base.

The UCP didn't extend such an olive branch in July to the disallowed nomination candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat who said even more offensive things about Muslims, but there was no evidence Todd Beasley had changed his mind.

Another UCP official -- Political Operations Director Jeff Henwood -- reminded media in that case of Kenney's promise of a thorough vetting process for all would-be candidates, and added that Beasley's comments to a talk radio host (who was the leader of the Wildrose Party in 2012) were the sort of "vile, hateful views" the leader vowed would not be tolerated.

"Those who express hateful views towards entire groups of people are not welcome to run," Kenney said himself. Except when they are.

At the very least, it should have been a warning sign Ross's candidacy was endorsed on social media by Beasley!

Ross and Beasley are not the only examples of nomination candidates for a new political party already no stranger to bozo eruptions and similar political phenomena.

There was Sandra Kim, UCP nomination candidate in the Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin Riding who once posted a social media comment mockingly claiming veiled Muslim women are allowed to pass through Canadian airport security checks. She also indicated she was opposed to same-sex marriage.

Kim was also allowed to run for the nomination, although in her case too another candidate was chosen.

Then there was Devin Dreeshen, now the boy wonder of the UCP, revealed in July's by-election campaign in the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Riding to have gone south in 2016 to campaign for Donald Trump, who as president of the United States has been revealed not exactly to be a friend of Canada. No problem. After his victory in the by-election, Kenney rewarded Dreeshen by making him the party's trade critic.

And never mind the sitting MLAs who have racked up an impressive catalogue of embarrassments -- including comparing the NDP government's carbon tax to genocide (Rick Strankman) and Alberta led by the NDP to China under Mao Zedung (Gotfried himself).

The party stuck by a candidate who declared global climate change to be a hoax, but disallowed another who called former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne "a tranny."

There was no forgiveness for the ambitious Derek Fildebrandt, who was kicked out of caucus for failing to inform Kenney of problems with the law that had potential political repercussions. Fildebrandt now sits as a representative of the fledgling Freedom Conservative Party, an ideological effort in which he seems to play Friedrich Engels to Maxime Bernier's Karl Marx.

The UCP has not yet had a bozo-eruption of the proportions of the notorious Lake of Fire conflagration that brought down the Wildrose Party just before the 2012 provincial election, likely saving the day for premier Alison Redford's PCs.

That too was based on a blog post published long before its revelation, authored by Pastor Allan Hunsperger, a fundamentalist preacher with strong views on the eternal fate of LGBTQ people.

With Ross's past comments, though, it seems as if the UCP is creeping close enough to the flames for Kenney to think seriously about investing in a better fire extinguisher.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: CindyRoss.ca

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