Wildrose leader stands by controversial candidates
Published Friday, April 20, 2012 10:16PM EDT
Amid widespread criticism, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith continues to defend two party candidates who made controversial remarks about race and sexual orientation, saying she refuses to throw anyone "under the bus."
"I take it personally when accusations of racism and bigotry are aimed at me and at my party," Smith said at a campaign stop in Calgary on Friday.
"Let me be perfectly clear -- a Wildrose government will not tolerate discrimination against any individual on the basis of ethnicity, religion, beliefs, background, disability or sexual orientation... period."
Smith was reacting to outrage over comments by two Wildrose candidates: Allan Hunsperger, who is running in Edmonton, and Ron Leech, who is running in Calgary.
Last week, a year-old blog post by Hunsperger surfaced in which he warned gays and lesbians they would end up in an eternal "lake of fire."
The blog post has since been taken down. Hunsperger said he was merely expressing his religious beliefs and not being intolerant.
Then, over the weekend, Leech told a Calgary radio station that he had an advantage in the election because he's white.
"As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community," he told the multicultural station. He later apologized, saying he misspoke.
But another interview Leech did with a local Punjabi TV station, in which he makes a similar statement, surfaced on Friday.
"When a Punjabi leader speaks for the Punjabi, the Punjabi are listening," Leech said in that interview. "But when a Caucasian speaks on their behalf, everybody is listening."
"I agree," the TV host tells Leech.
Opposing parties and prominent leaders, including the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton, have called on Smith to denounce her candidates' remarks. But she has firmly defended them, saying they are entitled to their opinions.
In Edmonton, Premier Alison Redford said she would have removed the two candidates from her team.
"The candidates that we want to have elected from our perspective as Progressive Conservatives are people that are talking about the future of the province, moving past issues that were decided 20 years ago," she said.
A shift in poll numbers
The controversy has hit a fever pitch as Alberta's election race tightens ahead of Monday's vote.
A new ThinkHQ poll completed for CTV News showed that Wildrose's lead has diminished in recent days and the Progressive Conservatives are beginning to creep back up in provincial support.
The Wildrose Party has lost 2 per cent support since the last poll and now holds the support of 41 per cent of those polled. The PCs, meanwhile, gained 4 per cent support for a total 33 per cent support province-wide.
For the first time since the election began, the Progressive Conservatives are in the lead ahead of the Wildrose in Edmonton, gaining 2 per cent support for a total of 32 per cent support in the city.
Support for the Wildrose slipped by 3 per cent in Edmonton, hitting 27 per cent support.
Even in Calgary, which has so far been the Wildrose stronghold in Alberta, the party lost support while the PCs gained 10 percentage points over the last poll results. The Wildrose party still maintained the lead in Calgary, however.
Although support may be growing for the PC party, most of those polled still felt the government didn't deserve to be re-elected.
Just 28 per cent of those polled felt the PCs deserved to be re-elected, 21 per cent were unsure, and 51 per cent said the government did not deserve another term.
With a report from CTV Calgary and files from The Canadian Press